This book is dedicated to my mother, Inga, who gave me enough rope to swing like Tarzan...
What matters is not the story but the story of the story
…as for modern journalism, it is not my business to defend it. It justifies its own existence by the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarest. I have merely to do with literature. What is the difference between literature and journalism? Oh! Journalism is unreadable, and literature is not read. That is all.
Over the years I wrote outrageous, outlandish, farcical, shameless and titillating stories. In between I managed to squeeze in a few informative and award-winning articles for magazines and newspapers as well. For eight truly amazing years I was given a roving commission to travel Australia sensationalising, dramatising and trivialising every subject I wrote about. It was larrikin journalism at its very best or worst, depending on your view, and nobody was more motivated than me because, unlike my employers and workmates, I lived and breathed every politically incorrect word I ever wrote.
I lived what some people might regard as The Dream interviewing fascinating and exciting people everyday but I was under no illusion about what I was writing. I wrote what many people wanted to read, and enjoyed myself as much as I could along the way. The millions of people who lived for the day and looked forward to tomorrow were my ready-made market. Our readers craved instant gratification, and I was only too happy to provide that in spades. I was an entertainer taking my readers on an amusement ride with words. I’ve never taken life too seriously but I’m very serious about whatever makes us happy. Some people might find this book rude and a little bit crude, and I make no apologies to them other than to remind them not to shoot the messenger. I’ve written this book for those of us who fly in the face of authority. As you'll read, I didn't become a tabloid journalist by accident. I was born to it. Each day I caught the Manly Ferry to work, and that 30 minute trip across magnificent Sydney Harbour was all the inspiration I needed. Some people might doubt the veracity of this book, but I’ve got the pics to prove it!
Frankly, my problem has always been that I can't get enough good times into me and I was privileged to have found a profession that catered for all my needs. I was one of the last hacks who regularly consumed several schooners of beer and a couple of joints for lunch and still got the job done in the afternoon; albeit some of the time on autopilot. My life and my work overlapped with alarming regularity and, while I was lucky to win awards for journalism, I only had to look around me for something sensational to write about because I was usually standing in the middle of it. The women in my life flowed as freely as the beer I drank. I had found my true vocation without even trying. I was able to play at work, much like a politician on a fact-finding trip, and be paid for it. But unlike politicians, I didn't have to pretend to be anything other than a sleazebag journo on the prowl and being single with no commitments or responsibilities I was able to give it my total, undivided attention.
I interviewed the famous, the infamous and the ordinary bloke in the street. I have never written fiction, well, that's not entirely true but fact was far stranger, and sold a million more copies. The bizarre was out there larger than life. My job was to turn over rocks and expose the underbelly of life that never usually saw the light of day.
I believe that good journalism, as in good policing and governance, can be attributed on the whole to informants and not to any great power of deduction. So, I didn’t need an excuse to visit the pub and bars where my informants were ripe and ready, so long as the complimentary drinks flowed thick and fast.
The Larrikin’s Hat is a rollicking recount of larrikin journalism. When all is said and done today's newsprint fuels tomorrow’s fire. I recommend it as essential reading for anyone thinking about a job in media and communications.
This book is an historical account of newsprint journalism as we used to know it because the internet is now our primary source of information and news gathering. Absolutely anything we want to see or read is instantaneously available at the touch of a screen. Most reporters aren’t given assignments on terra firma anymore. It’s cheaper to assign someone a desk, a computer and give them free rein to explore cyberspace looking for anything they can use as news. Many journalists today develop a severe case of piles instead of getting out from behind their terminals, and getting amongst it like I did. The Larrikin’s Hat is a celebration of life because there is a little bit of the unconventional in all of us.
Footnote: The meaning of the term larrikin’s hat has been lost over time so I had to reinvent it, and you’ll find my interpretation in Urban Dictionary. A larrikin’s hat is Australian rhyming slang used to describe a male getting so excited over someone or something that he gets an erection, or fat. A larrikin is a likeable rogue while an erect penis resembles a hat, hence the term larrikin’s hat.
The Larrikin’s Hat
Confessions of a Sleazebag Journalist
By Jens Ward
When a dog bites a man that is not news but when a man bites a dog that is news
Charles A. Dana
Just like larrikins journalists demand an audience too
AUSSIES love sporting events. They love the action at the ground and they love their beer. Throw a pair of big unbridled breasts into the mix and you’ve got the makings of a riot, and a great photographic opportunity.
My motivation for doing this story, and many others like it, was that sometimes I couldn’t wait for news to happen so I just had to create it myself instead. Journalism for me was about looking for a news angle and a photographic opportunity and then beating it with a very large stick before massaging it with a rolling pin so it could be spread out like a large family sized pizza over several pages for the reader to devour.
The cricket fans were primed for a top-notch tussle between the Aussies and the Indians at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The beer was flowing freely in the outer and the Aussies were smacking the ball all over the paddock.
Up in the exclusive members stand, I was flashing our tickets to security while Annie was bowling them over with her beaut bod.
I had three tickets - one for me, one for my photographer and one for Annie, a good sort, with a fine bod who just loved getting her gear off.
My plan? To get shots of Annie flaunting her best bits to the crowd and watch the mayhem unfold from the relative safety of the members’ enclosure.
This was uncharted water, even for a sleazebag journo like me, who made his living writing rousing and evocative stories for Australia’s leading men’s magazine.
We had to get in and get out very quickly before security or even worse the coppers threw us out of the ground. We didn’t make it past the front gate. The ground umpires didn’t have to take it upstairs to the third umpire for a final decision. She was given out on the spot.
Security stopped us at the entrance to the members when they saw what Annie was wearing, just tattered denim hot pants and not much else on top. “We’ve got dress regulations in here, you know,” grunted the attendant as he cast his eyes down to her tanned rounded rump falling out of her shorts. “I’ll change them,” Annie said.
“You won’t get in with that top on either,” he said.
“OK, I’ll take the lot off.”
We bundled Annie into the public area before she could carry out her threat. It was like throwing a bloody carcass to the wolves. Here we go, I thought.
The idea was to get Annie’s funbags,the spectators and the players on the pitch all in the one frame. Sounds easy enough, but the truth was we caused a near riot when she whipped off her top revealing all to the crowd and to our cameras. Police and security came running from everywhere, but we scampered off into the crowd to find another location in the stadium for the shoot. It was adrenalin-pumping stuff. The police were hot on our trail and I knew we had to get more shots pronto before they collared us. The 40,000-strong crowd roared when Annie appeared briefly showing off her tits on the ground’s big screen. The crowd worked itself into a frenzy wherever we went. They even did a Mexican wave for us. Annie was happy, so long as we paid the fine, to drop all her clothes there and then and run starkers onto the ground. In this game I try not to push my luck too far.
Inevitably, the police caught up with us. They cornered us when we ducked into a block of toilets to escape. They accused us of inciting a riot but I could see by the look on their faces that they enjoyed Annie’s show just as much as the crowd did. The photographer snapped pictures of Annie and me being questioned by police and a wink from him told me he’d got the shots. I apologised profusely to the police, and promised to send them copies of the magazine, which I did. It was always good in this game to keep on side with coppers. Most law enforcers loved the magazine, and consequently they always gave me some good inside information. More than 60 punters were either arrested or ejected from the ground for behaving badly that day after seeing Annie running around the SCG semi-naked. HOWZAT? ANNIE OPENS FOR AUSTRALIA including the photos of our arrest was spread over four pages in the magazine where I worked and Annie received $250 for the shoot. I reckon she would have done it for nothing.
We were all shaking with excitement after that harrowing experience, so no one complained when I suggested we have a stiff drink or two on the company account.
Now at this point in my story you might be asking yourself is this bloke for real? Was he deprived as a child? Did he have a normal and healthy upbringing? Was he ever molested in any way? I have to say during my formative years I never developed any sociopathic tendencies despite my father, a doctor, overdosing on drugs he prescribed for himself. He was also a heavy drinker and had a gambling habit. I was eight years old when he disappeared, so I have no real recollection of him other than he kept to himself mostly and I usually got what I wanted from him despite my mother’s protestations. My mother cried when I returned home from the barber shop one day sporting a shaved head after my father agreed to it. It wasn’t a marriage made in heaven from all reports, and I guess I saw things as a child that I wasn’t supposed to see. My mother gave me the name Jens but my father called me George while my friends nicknamed me Chickenhead, so I guess I had an identity problem right from the very start. Anyway, I developed a stutter which wasn’t ideal for anyone thinking about a job in journalism.
My father took me to see renowned psychologist Enid Phyllis Wilson at the Australian Institute of Industrial Psychology. The name alone was enough to frighten a seven year old into stony silence. Wilson won the Frank Albert prizes for both psychology and anthropology, and gained first class honours and the university medal in psychology at the University of Sydney. She was also an accomplished carillonist, or bell ringer. Wilson asked me a lot of questions while I played with a train set on her office floor. I remember understanding fully what she was saying to me but I wasn’t answering simply because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of her with my speech impediment. Her report about me wasn’t glowing. Wilson wrote, “Jens just reaches an average level on the general scale for his age group. He has less facility with words than numbers.” Well whoop dee doo, Wilson. I fared pretty well in school, but I always considered the outdoors my real classroom.
From my earliest memories I always wanted to be an actor. I reckon I had the physicality and the presence of mind but unfortunately not the voice. So I found a voice in poetry and abstract art, and journalism appealed to me because every day was like rocking up to a paid audition.
I couldn’t wait to get home some days from school and pick up from where I left off in any book I was reading. I was in high school when an English teacher made me stand up in class and read a passage from King Lear. Shakespeare was difficult enough for anyone to read let alone someone who stuttered. Reading out loud to an audience was about as difficult as anything got for me. I’d rather take corporal punishment any day, so over the years I developed a tolerance for pain. I remember feeling pretty pleased with myself as I stumbled my way through the first scene, but my classmates weren’t having any part of any public humiliation. In my defence, they howled in protest, and one student even rose to his feet and gave the teacher a Nazi salute. The classroom erupted in utter pandemonium. Several of us, including me, were ordered out of the classroom. The end result was that the teacher didn’t take any disciplinary action, and she never made me stand up again and read in class. She didn’t have to. In hindsight, she did me a huge favour because after the hullabaloo I was always putting my hand up to read while my classmates groaned.
My mates were always putting words in my mouth and I guess they just wanted to help me finish my sentence so we could get down to the park before dark to play touch footy.
There are two types of journalists: there are those who believe the articles they write will make a difference, maybe even win them an award or two, and then there were others like me who wanted to make the reader die laughing, sizzle with excitement or throw up in disgust.
It was my job as a tabloid journalist to both shock and amaze my readership, and that was a responsibility I took very seriously. I wanted my articles to literally jump off the page like the Aussie pig hunter who’s bloody and bleeding mongrel dogs stood between him and a 150kg bastard boar gone ballistic. Feral pigs become vicious swine, especially with mongrel dogs biting at their balls, and they'll go any bastard stupid enough to stand out in the open with a camera and silly tape recorder so our courageous news team scampered up a tree to take the shots of our brave bushman’s brush with death from the safety of the branches.
Our magazine's motto: We're daring, diabolical and downright dirty, but we're real, we're Aussie and we tell it how it is.
Yep, we gave the punters what they wanted to read and I got to live out fantasies people only bullshit about. Sometimes I had to give myself an uppercut just to remind myself what a truly lucky bastard I really was but most of the time I got ironed out by the booze. But hey, I always woke up with the photos and sometimes the girl and between the garble on the tape I usually got the story as well.
This is my story about a men's mag sandwiched on the fourth (sleaze) floor of an 11-storey Sydney publishing house occupied by other, more reputable, magazine titles. Now that the publishing giant had gone public everybody loved our mag, or rather the shareholders did, because of the huge circulation (fourth in the country behind three women's mags) and because the smutty advertising was a veritable goldmine of revenue. Everybody wanted the advertising bucks but we were the only publication where smut sat happily on the pages. Our pages literally dripped with listings about the latest men's sex aids like the next generation of pump action masturbators called Robo Suck. At $85 it was cheaper than half-an-hour with the love goddess above the laundromat and then there was the latex lady which cost $495 including postage from the US or for just $2.60 the budget conscious punter could pick up a copy of our publication and turn to the centre spread for a bit of light hand relief.
Occasionally, we broke big stories like the Mongrel Mob murder in New Zealand, Aboriginal deaths in custody, and NUDE PARASAILORS BUZZ MANLY FERRY. And sometimes we created national news ourselves by organising dwarf throwing contests on the Gold Coast. Dwarfs were doing cartwheels 'cause they were getting paid for being runts; pubs were delirious because everybody was getting drunk and our readers were getting their money's worth of earth-shattering stories. But there was always one who didn’t enjoy the fun we created. The sport of dwarf throwing was dumped after pressure was put on politicians by the mainstream media who denounced it as demeaning to little fellas. The general media portrayed us as exploiters not saviours of the work force. For several weeks debate raged on talk-back radio and in the letters pages of the metropolitan newspapers about the dwarf dilemma while the sorry state of the economy was once again put on the backburner.
We were the pariahs of our profession and the mainstream media loved us for it because we took some of the heat off them. We drummed up more publicity by organising a demo of little people chanting Dwarfs Have Rights Too but it didn't fool the censors, those champions of righteousness, who upheld their ban on dwarf throwing contests. It was no great loss because we just turned our attention to another story about freaks in the street.
We were taken off the newsstands for several weeks after we published a photo of a girl wearing a dog's collar. Nothing wrong with that, I say, except we showed her on the cover, naked, on all fours, and on a leash. I reckon everybody got upset over nothing. The censor claimed we were dehumanising females but we never heard a whimper from the model. We were subsequently classified Category 1, like Hustler, and forced to seal editions in clear plastic bags in Tasmania while newsagents in South Australia and Western Australia were ordered to place copies behind the counter in case sex mad teenagers went crazy at the sight of our magazine out in the open. Our readership was forced to flick through lingerie catalogues and back copies of National Geographic showing bare breasted natives for a while until they plucked up enough courage to ask for a copy. It reminded me of the days when chemists did a roaring trade because blokes were coming out of the shop with everything except the packet of condoms they went in to buy in the first place. The sexual revolution of the 60s got into full swing when women took the initiative by buying their own and popping the pill as well just to make doubly sure.
Women are in the enviable position of depriving men of what they really want, so there will always be a place in society for adult entertainment. “I want my man to be silly in the bedroom and smart (financially) out of it,” a girlfriend once said to me before we had sex. And I wasn’t about to argue with her.
Our sales figures plummeted as a result of people having to ask for a copy of the magazine at the newsstands. As it turned out the doggy collar episode was the beginning of the end for us. We never fully recovered our previous sales figures after we were put back on the newsstands, but we had a heap of fun trying.
COPS & DOBBERS
Wowser dicks seize sleaze
One of our diehard distributors ran a little country store in Boddington, WA. A couple of burly detectives travelled down from Perth one day to bust the battling shopkeeper after they received a complaint that she was selling our mag out in the open when it should have been kept under wraps behind the counter. "They burst into the shop flashing their badges like a couple of Keystone Cops," said Doreen's son Rodney, who was manning the till during the raid. "They started stacking mags in different piles and photographing them on the shop counter for evidence. It was a joke."
Doreen pleaded guilty in Boddington’s magistrate’s court and copped a $420 fine. Doreen couldn’t believe the hypocrisy. “We’re permitted to display magazines like Hunk which show full frontal nudity of oily men with half erections but not your magazine which is pretty tame by comparison."
Naturally, we rallied to her defence. I was going to milk this for all it was worth. Money couldn’t buy this sort of publicity. We needed photos, and we weren’t prepared to pay a professional photographer, so I convinced the little old dear to get pictures taken of her comparing our mag with Hunk. We weren’t allowed by the censors to publish pics of hard-ons but anything flaccid was OK. Doreen used all 36 exposures because, as I said to her, if enough shots were taken some were bound to turn out beauties. Anyone who knows the magazine business will tell you that without pics the story doesn't usually get a run. There was no holding Doreen back. She directed her son to take snaps of her clutching our mag in one hand with the cover plug reading Teachers give lust lessons after class… You get A for a lay. In her other hand she held up the cover of Hunk which read Masturbation, Don't know it till you've tried it our way. I called it a draw. We gave it the full treatment in the magazine, but after a week it was all forgotten as usual.
Using professional photographers to cover outback yarns was pricey so I often had to resort to calling up the local cub reporter on the Woop Woop Gazette to take the photos with the promise that his by-line would appear in 16 point bold and a cheque for beer money was already in the mail. I added that working for us looked great on the resume and it was only a matter of time before an editor in the big smoke snapped up the talented cadet photojournalist from Cunnamulla after seeing his scintillating shots and reading his gripping yarns in our mag. Meanwhile, I explained, we'd continue to use him to cover stories whenever news broke on his patch of dirt, which was never going to happen. It wasn't a hard sell because country folk loved the mag. We gave them something to look at besides their nervous stock and they would roll out the red carpet whenever I arrived in town. When news broke out west I also became a master at sweet talking the locals over the phone into supplying me with exclusive photos. I gave them a quick lesson on how I wanted the pictures taken. I paid them a modest fee to retain the copyright so I could flog them overseas at an exorbitant rate. I had a loose arrangement with the editor that as long as he had first use of the yarn or photo he didn't care about what I did with it later on. That way he could fend off any future argument from me about a pay rise and look good with the bean counters upstairs for not blowing his precious budget.
A career in journalism looked good on paper and for picking up freebies to footy games or the latest show. But if you had expectations of putting your kids through private school, paying off the mortgage in 15 years and still making the annual pilgrimage to the Hong Kong Sevens rugby tournament then forget about a job in the print media. The only people who made real money in this business were the execs, talking heads and the photojournalists. The rest of us were just there to make up the numbers.
World's your oyster when they’re on the house
Journalists lived for freebies and giveaways. And promoters were more than happy to shell them out with the expectation that we as journalists would write something positive about whatever they were trying to sell. They also wanted to fill the room for appearances, and we were more than happy to oblige. It didn’t get much better than receiving an invite to a beer promotion where the fare on offer also included as many Sydney rock oysters as you could stomach. Normally, I would work an angle for a story into the mix, but on this occasion I didn’t want anything interfering with my gluttony. It was held straight after work at the Ritz Carlton, a swank hotel in Macquarie Street, Sydney, just a 10-minute walk from the magazine’s offices and another five minutes stumbling distance to the Manly Ferry, and home. Perfecto! There was the usual rent-a-crowd to help launch the new beer called Eagle Bitter. It wasn’t a bad drop, but it was the mounds of shucked oysters that grabbed my immediate attention. So I found myself a quiet table away from the maddening crowd, and proceeded to eat my way through two-dozen oysters, washed down with cold ale. And that was when I recalled a classic scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman. In the film, Newman backed himself to eat 50 hard-boiled eggs. Now that was tough going compared with what I was washing down, so I backed myself to eat 50 dozen oysters. Everybody was chatting away in their groups, not bothering with the oysters, but taking an occasional swig of the beer to show our hosts that it wasn’t half bad. It was all for show but that’s how the promotional game worked. Pretty soon I had a crowd around me watching with feigned interest at my piggery. I gave up on the beer because it just bloated me. The mob started taking a real interest when the mounds of molluscs disappeared in front of me and the shucker was battling to keep up with the supply and demand. I didn’t say a word to the crowd because I was too engrossed in what I was doing but they could see by my nametag on my shirt that I was just another ratbag media type bent on getting stuffed at somebody else’s expense. The crowd started egging me on, and even the shucker miraculously increased his output. After two hours, I had to loosen several notches on my belt but still I plugged away. I reckon I made their night, and the throng slapped me on the back after the 50 dozen came and went. I eventually waddled down to the ferry, and I reckon they had something to talk about at their dinner parties. People often asked me how I felt after the disappearing oyster act. A lot better than Cool Hand Luke, I replied.