He’s the journalist whose scoop led to one of the most momentous events in Australian history, and today Peter Game celebrates a momentous event of his own.
Mr Game, who blew the lid on the 1975 “Khemlani loans affair” that ended with the fall of the Whitlam government five weeks later, celebrates his 90th birthday today.
It was the biggest story in an extraordinary 61-year career – Mr Game retired only nine years ago, age 81.
Reflecting this week on the events of 1975, Mr Game said the scoop resulted from a letter he was told not to bother to write.
It was to Pakistani commodity dealer Tirath Khemlani, who had been named as the central figure in a covert bid by PM Gough Whitlam’s government to raise billions of dollars from Middle East oil sheiks.
After learning from another commodity dealer that Mr Khemlani had been authorised by the Australian government to raise $US8 billion in loans, Mr Game tracked down Mr Khemlani’s daughter, Shanti, in Singapore.
Mr Game told Shanti her father ought to tell his story because his name was being blackened in the Australian parliament.
“When I got back to Melbourne, I decided to write a letter (to Mr Khemlani via Shanti) and I was discouraged by somebody in The Herald at that time, who shall be nameless but who is no longer there, saying, ‘Oh, it’s not worth writing that letter’,” Mr Game said. “As it turned out he was very wrong.” Mr Game was sent to Darwin to report on the arrival by boat of refugees from East Timor, and on the way back was at a Mt Isa motel when he received a call from The Herald.
“They said Khemlani had rung, and when they said I wasn’t there, he said he wouldn’t speak to anybody else,” Mr Game said.
So Mr Game phoned Mr Khemlani in London, and they arranged to meet at the Sydney Hilton, where Mr Game eventually persuaded him to tell his story.
The next week, Mr Game met Mr Khemlani in London and over the next month recorded 19 hours of interviews in the commodity dealer’s West End basement office, mostly at night. Game’s scoop, in which Mr Khemlani revealed he still had the go-ahead to raise the loans, appeared in The Herald on October 8, sending shockwaves through Australian politics.
After further revelations by Mr Game, minerals and energy minister Rex Connor resigned, giving Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser the “reprehensible circumstance” he had sought to justify blocking supply. The crisis culminated with governor-general Sir John Kerr’s dismissal of Whitlam on November 11.
Mr Game won a Walkley Award for his scoop, the highlight of a career that began when he was hired as a cadet by Herald and Weekly Times chairman Sir Keith Murdoch in 1947, initially writing The Herald’s shipping column for three pounds a week. Over six decades, Mr Game was an investigative reporter, feature writer, editorial writer, chief-of-staff, and assistant to the editor.
He worked in Fleet St in the 1950s, filed stories from Antarctica in 1970 and wrote the In Black & White column in the early ’70s.
These days the retired newshound is kept busy officiating at motor racing events, sailing, and travelling with his wife of 63 years, Betty.
For more news from NewsMediaWorks, click here.