Analysis UP THE CHINA RABBIT-HOLE - The TV Docudrama Series

Mar 26, 2013
Happy Valley Bar & Grill, Hong Kong
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Port Adelaide
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Thread starter #1
Fifty years ago today - on Friday, 14 February 1969 - Peter Chant was killed in action in Vietnam. Pete is in this story of mine. Of course Pete is in it. And, yes, he was KIA on Valentine’s Day. Worse ... he was due to go on R&R to Singapore, link up with his fiance and tie the knot. No-one knew that the quiet little bloke was engaged. He told no-one. She would wait in vain in Singapore for Pete to show up. Lest we forget. If nothing else, this story proves we remember.


(Above): This could be the last photo ever taken of Pete. He and his 9 Platoon mates are kitted up in 9RAR Charlie Coy. lines in Nui Dat waiting for transport to Kapyong Pad. From there they will be choppered north into the dense jungle of the Hat Dich region to the east of Saigon to resume Operation Goodwood. Their objective will be to contribute to heading off any repeat of the NVA/Viet Cong’s full-scale surprise offensive a year earlier during Tet 1968. Infantry movement through dense jungle entails the risk of passing between the buffalo horns of an enemy bunker system without knowing it until too late. That is what will happen.


(Above): 1961 minor premiers, the Port Adelaide Football Club squad with Pete cross-legged on the grass. Count the Magpies champions he played with that year.

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Mar 26, 2013
Happy Valley Bar & Grill, Hong Kong
AFL Club
Port Adelaide
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Port Adelaide Magpies
Thread starter #8
UP THE CHINA RABBIT-HOLE - The TV Docudrama Series


(Reproduced without objection from Netflix.)


There is a tightly-kept secret at Alberton. Wet-suited and waterproof, zipped up and leakproof. May 2015 was when the cover went on and the secret came to life, so to speak. May 2015 was when the first confidential happening, in a long sequence of confidential happenings, took place inside a private room of a Chinese restaurant in the Melbourne CBD. Now that cover is off.

It is remarkably ironic that the secret could already have been exposed, by the club’s chairman, no less ... as portrayed in Episode 6 - ‘The Alberton Papers’. If he’d kept the public promise he made last March to update his fellow members and supporters through the rest of 2018 on the push to fund the Alberton Oval Precinct Redevelopment in time for PAFC’s 150th anniversary in 2020 - and had he done so fully and fearlessly, warts and all - this secret would be old news.


This mini-series, once Prelude 2 gives way to the story proper, takes up PAFC’s adventure into China in August 2014, not bothering with the first twelve baby-step months. It brings us up to the present. It brings us through the 2014-2015 foundation years, through the highly unexpected Hi Shanghai of 2016, through the diplomatic coup of 2017 highlighted by Premier Li Keqiang’s tour de force at the SCG, after that into 2018: the Year Everything Went 180.

It doesn’t stop there. Make that here.

Here we have a story unafraid to bypass today and to travel into the future, to the very top of the China rabbit-hole. How far that is into the future is not made precisely clear. But with the ending, or ‘epilogue’, bearing the title ‘Great Hall of the Port People’ a feel can be gleened for the story’s final destination.


The series has seven episodes in chronological order, plus the preludes and the epilogue which is essentially an eighth episode with a difference in that it hasn’t happened yet:
Prelude 1 - Tuesday, 2nd October 2012
Prelude 2 - Saturday night, 17th May 2014
Episode 1 - Poles and Wires
Episode 2 - Business Class
Episode 3 - Brunetti
Episode 4 - Tribal Instinct
Episode 5 - The Mammoth, the Mouse, and the Fox
Episode 6 - The Alberton Papers
Episode 7 - Inside Every Mountain a Dragon Sleeps
Epilogue - Great Hall of the Port People

Beyond belief

The Alberton secret starts to reveal itself as a specific strategy focus within the broader China Strategy. It becomes a partnership deal in the long, long making, a step by step negotiation between PAFC and an enormous Chinese SOE (State Owned Enterprise). This mammoth-and-mouse dance steps off thanks to the worldly vision of, and at the instigation of, a trio of volunteer China advisors to PAFC in February 2015. Two of them live in Hong Kong, the other in Melbourne. In Episode 6, in Beijing, the negotiation takes on a dimension beyond belief. It is mid-January 2018. PAFC Chief Executive Officer Thorold Keene makes a daring cross-table move, and redevelopment of the Alberton Oval Precinct is suddenly on the table.

Then, no less suddenly, momentum dies. Communications break down. Silence rules. Darkness falls. The lights go out on the mammoth-and-mouse dance.


And yet, today, with the blind trying to lead and the blind tentatively following, the dance in the dark is still proceeding. This is despite the senior unpaid PAFC China advisor, who drove the project at critical junctures, being obliged to take cover, the consequence of an inevitable clash of personalities with the essential villain of the piece, that promise-breaker - haughty club chairman Karl ‘Kaiser’ Krupp. (Boo to him.) From his tall stool, immaculately contoured by his regular occupation of it, in the Pro Drinkers Corner near the Race Course on Hong Kong Island, the defrocked advisor keeps an eye on, a deft hand in, the labyrinthine, delicately nuanced methodology ... or so we’re led to suspect from the ending, a shoo-in for a 10 from the Alberton judge in the imaginative category: ‘inspired by true events’.

Each character in the mini-series is an actual person, a true identity. There are those who make a brief appearance or more under their real names. The rest of the characters, the mainstayers, perform their roles wearing stage names as a camouflage out of respect for, or in recognition of, what continues as a work in progress. Disguise applies, too, to the principal business corporations that are woven into the storyline. Yet it would take a modicum of perception, even less research, for any investigator to make an educated guess as to who this or that masked man might be.

Way beyond

But there is a much bigger question, one that goes to the core of the plot. What motives propelled this recently so fragile football club from Alberton, suburb of Adelaide, South Australia to seek an ambitious, even outrageous, dialogue with what is essentially Beijing itself? The agenda has gone beyond prospecting in a distant, unprecedented, uncrowded ‘clear air’ market for financial security. Way beyond. Whatever those motives were, and whatever will be the final result, this is the ultimate off-field challenge, the supreme test, for which the Port Adelaide Football Club was gearing up from the start of its unique China Strategy.

If it wasn’t, it should’ve been. Otherwise, what is the point of making a decision to enter the China super league of deal-making, winning through the qualifying rounds, and then not stepping up to go all out for the premiership?

Mar 26, 2013
Happy Valley Bar & Grill, Hong Kong
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Port Adelaide
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Thread starter #9

UP THE CHINA RABBIT-HOLE - The TV Docudrama Series

Prelude 1 - Tuesday, 2nd October 2012

Theme music: ‘Park Avenue Beat’ (Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra)

Background and director’s notes:
Reprised newsreel-style: a chronological sequence of doomsday headlines, TV interviews, video clips, scoreboard footage from 2011 and 2012 - recording the accelerating demise of the almighty Port Adelaide Football Club as it sinks en masse into a black hole ... disoriented by failure, disintegrating in shame, next stop bankruptcy: its operating loss in 2012 totalling more than $6,000,000.

The board is sacked. On 2 October 2012 a new president is appointed under a different constitutional title. This ‘president’ is the Chairman of the Board.

If digits were letters of the alphabet 2.10.2012 would be a palindrome. Forward or backward, it’s the same. The new PAFC Board, however, had no room to go backward. The only direction remaining was forward. Absence of choice can be the best, the simplest, the least challenging of positions from which to set out.

Edited excerpts from linked Fairfax article above: 0300 hours 3 October 2012:

... After surprising four board members - Nick House, David Basheer, Bruce Abernethy and Mick O'Connor - with an ultimatum that they must resign, Port will in mthe next week appoint corporate lawyer Jamie Restas, television producer Cos Cardone, lawyer and accountant Sam Sangster and accountant Ross Haslam to the board.
It leaves one spot to be filled.
Cardone and Sangster live in Melbourne but, said (the new chairman), who lives in Sydney, that is irrelevant because corporate business nowadays is often done by electronic media.
Also, of the new board, only one has played senior football - Haslam more than 30 years ago at Port.
The appointments came from the AFL. Only one board member will be selected by the club members, a change from four under the soon-to-be-discarded club constitution.
The new board will appoint the new coach - Hawthorn assistant Leon Cameron - in the next week.

... “I believe my role as chairman of the board is to make (the CEO), the team and the operation super stars. I won't be a high-profile chairman.”

.... There was ... mention of (the new chairman’s) business empire ...

... Among the challenges is funding, and (the new chairman) believes Port can make terrific inroads. ''That's the reason why we are setting up ... a structure that is very east-coast orientated.”

... (The new chairman proclaimed): “It is amazing the number of born-and-bred Port Adelaide business people that have moved on to great success nationally and internationally who want to help.''

There were, or there have turned out to be, errors in the above excerpts. Take, for example, the idle remark about the new chairman’s non-existent ‘business empire’ and his disingenuity in promising not to be ‘a high-profile chairman’.

The final statement (emboldened), on the other hand, was right on the money.

Made on his very first day in the job, the Chairman of the PAFC Board is yet to come out with anything as insightful, anything so prophetic ... or anything else so worth writing about.

Prelude 2 - Saturday night, 17th May 2014.

Theme music: Soundtrack from ‘The World of Suzie Wong’ (George Dunning)

Cantonese restaurant, Luk Kwok Hotel, Gloucester Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong.

On screen: A 1930s view of Wanchai, looking down and north towards Victoria Harbour from Kennedy Road on Mount Cameron. It shows the Luk Kwok Hotel standing by itself as the tallest building on the Wanchai Reclamation, a solitary multi-storey harbour-side structure towering over a broad slab of three-storey shop-houses all exact same height, maximum for buildings with a single stair-case. The slab is subdivided into right-angled blocks by a surveyed road grid.

Camera travels back from the vintage scene. We can see it’s a framed photo, blown-up, very big. Camera pulls out further and we can see the framed photo is one of a gallery, with a caption in English text and Chinese ideograms next to each one. There are vintage photos of the Wanchai waterfront, which the hotel rises above. We see a merchant ship, a rusty freighter, tied up to the wharf and being serviced by sampans, lorchas and junks. We see a Royal Navy pinnace, its woodwork polished, the white ensign dangling above its stern. On the road in front of the hotel entrance, seemingly out of place, we see a gleaming black Buick with a capped chauffeur at the wheel. Along the wharf there struggles a Chinese coolie, skin weathered, back bent nearly double under a bamboo pole across his shoulders, balanced by a bale of cotton waste hanging at each end.

The camera travels out some more. The screen view widens. We can now see that the gallery of vintage photos is in a hotel lobby, four-star by the look of it.

It is the Luk Kwok Hotel, Wanchai, Hong Kong.


The view withdraws from the lobby, as the camera reverses out of the hotel and then elevates into the sky above. We are looking down on the 2014 evolution of the Luk Kwok, seeing how things have changed. The hotel has been enveloped by a conglomeration of high-rise commercial buildings, many with ground-floor automobile showrooms. From the front it is largely concealed behind a tangle of highways, flyovers and pedestrian bridges.

Night is falling. Camera closes back in on the Luk Kwok. Around the hotel Hong Kong Island’s lights come on. Camera travels inside again, through the window into the Cantonese restaurant.

Nine people sit at each of two circular tables. One table is in a corner, the other by a window overlooking the multi-lane double carriageway between the Luk Kwok and Wanchai North, beyond which is Victoria Harbour, beyond which is Kowloon and the Nine Dragons, beyond which is China. All of the land between the Luk Kwok Hotel and the edge of the harbour has been reclaimed, in stages, starting in the early 1960s. Half a century ago the road that ran east-west past the frontage of the Luk Kwok Hotel was known as ‘Waterfront Road’.

The Luk Kwok indeed possesses its fair share of history. It has attracted, too, its fair share of fiction. But the Luk Kwok’s best known fiction was based on fact. In his mid-1950s classic novel, ‘The World Of Suzie Wong’, Richard Mason gave the hotel a name of his own making: the Nam Kwok. Its bar was accessed off the ground-floor lobby. In it Suzie and her sorority chattered like birds, sipped cha from fingerprinted and lipstick-stained glasses, and eyed off the clientele. That bar was actually there, as were the short-time rooms upstairs where the horizontal component of the working girls’ vocation was enacted. Mason sat in his chair in a corner of the bar, living on noodles and San Mig beer and putting his tale together. He based his bestseller on what he saw and heard, what he could smell and sense, going on around him.

The original Luk Kwok was demolished in the 1980s and a new hotel built on its grave. Its Cantonese restaurant on the mezzanine floor, reached by lift and by escalator from the modern-day lobby where the vintage photo gallery registers the hotel’s journey through time, came into being.

Thirty years later, on this particular Saturday night, the eighteen diners, all in a group, all but two of them visitors to Hong Kong, come to the restaurant for an eight-course banquet, the finale to their short visit. They are not looking out for, but they nevertheless mingle with, the ghosts of innumerable Suzie Wongs who haunt the premises.

The two locals - an expatriate Australian and his Chinese-born wife of thirty-four years who both organised the banquet - know that the ghosts of the girls in tight, stiff-collar, brocade silk cheong-sams split to high on the thigh are no folk tale. They know the ghosts are no work of fiction, that they’re really there.

So what’s going on?

It was time, the organisers decided, that these tourists who were so fleetingly in Hong Kong, who knew so little about the place, its traditions, its exoticisms, its dynamism, its can-do attitude to life and its can-make attitude to money, were given a taste of local colour. It was time for these tourists to be given a chance to sample a small dose of what had gone before, to understand that this place they call Hong Kong wasn’t always as futuristic as it is today, that not long ago it was a destination for the destitute and the desperate, for those determined to risk all they had in a bid for security. It was time for these tourists to submit to a little education in a culture so unlike, so divorced from, their own. A culture that deserves more than a second glance from afar. A culture that has to be lived in to become aware of, that has to be lived in longer to be believed.

Here’s the rub. Fourteen of the eighteen diners in the Cantonese restaurant are directors of the Port Adelaide Football Club with their spouses and partners.

Eighteen months have gone by since the Club was threatened with extinction.

Now this replacement board, charged with confronting that threat head-on and dealing with it, are in Wanchai, trying out their chopsticks on beggar’s chicken, drunken prawns and siu lung bao dumplings, talking amongst themselves with the inflections that tourists use ... while the ghost of Suzie Wong listens in, and looks down her nose in overdone Suzie Wong style - just as she does, played by Nancy Kwan in the screen adaptation of Richard Mason’s novel, when Robert Lomax (William Holden) awkwardly tries to chat her up on the ‘Star’ Ferry.

There’s something that has never changed, that icon of Hong Kong, the eternal ‘Star’ Ferry - wading at its own pace, the same momentum it’s always used, to and fro across the harbour, a beetle on a pond that is being shrunk by power and progress ... a reminder to those in the PAFC tour group who noticed it, or who even rode on it, that a fight against extinction is a fight, not a negotiation.

A fight, at all levels, in all directions, with all weapons. A fight to the death. For extinction means just that - death.

Voice of Narrator:
The new Chairman of the Board is standing beween the two tables. He has made a speech. He has reiterated the decision ratified by the directors of the PAFC that morning at the first board meeting ever held internationally. It is a decision that has made official something called the China Strategy.

In his large hands the new Chairman of the Board is holding something red. It is a presentation pack, wine bottle size. Inside there is indeed a bottle, of fine wine: vintage 2008 Penfold’s St. Henri shiraz. It’s for the man standing at his side, a man inches shorter than him, years older than him, ostensibly no match for him. This is the local Australian expat. The shiraz is a gesture of gratitude for whatever it is that this true believer has contributed thus far to assist the resurrection of the Port Adelaide Football Club.

Whatever it is, it’s only the start.

“Tell us,” the new Chairman of the Board had earlier asked in private of the recipient of the bottle of 2008 St. Henri shiraz, “how we can own Australian Football, senior and junior, in Hong Kong and South China.”

The local Aussie expat makes his own speech. It is short, to the point. It is not an oration. It is no Churchill, no Obama, no Whitlam, no Dunstan and no Mick Young. It is, if anybody, Bill Shorten: not to be taken undue notice of. Conscious of his position in the current pecking order, the expat picks his words as if they are pins in a tray of needles. He’s quite content for now to settle for being, in the eyes of the Chairman of the Board, an example of those ‘born and bred Port Adelaide business people that have moved on ... internationally who want to help’ to whom the Chairman referred on 2nd October 2012, his first day in the job.

But the Aussie expat is not ‘an example’. Australians who ‘go international’ grow into something else, something individual. They are outside the bowl looking in at the goldfish, seeing the land of their birth from a distance and thus able to fit more of Australia into any lens. Automatically, they can see what is called the ‘bigger picture’ and that’s said to be an asset. Especially, you might’ve thought, in Adelaide - where there is one newspaper, room for only two AFL clubs, and a thirty-minute handicap conceded to both eastern capital cities looked upon as the main competition.

In truth, the Chairman of the Board has no idea who the man standing next to him in this Hong Kong restaurant actually is. The Chairman has neither compunction nor clue how to accurately define him, as he is as unfamiliar with him as he is with what the expat has grown into during a full, fulfilling, adult life in Asia - during which he has at times lived on the edge and been honed accordingly.

The Chairman has made the easy, the lazy, assumption that because he’s still an Australian, this expat, he’s just the same as every other Australian, including all of those the Chairman looks out at, so to speak, on the inverse side of the national portal, the TV cameras, in his Sydney studio. So, to the Chairman, he’s no more than one more of the Chairman’s accessories, this expat Australian. An accessory who happens to still keenly support the Port Adelaide Football Club after living in Hong Kong for forty-plus years.

Gradually but inevitably, the Chairman will wake up to his misjudgement, to the fact he’s just tipped, with a bottle of fine wine, an accessory to nothing.

What he unknowingly has done has been to grant a licence for action to an individual of action. What he’s done is recruit, with that bottle of fine wine, a PAFC ‘ambassador’ whose personal intention for the Club is that it will be nothing less than the best and the brightest at its business, that it will be the first at everything new that it will be taught how to do, thereby making itself the envy of the sporting world, the Champions of Australia ... again.

The Chairman of the Board will also awaken, inevitably, to another reality. If he fails to back up the Club’s new international ambassador based in Hong Kong, fully and faithfully, flawlessly and forever, this shorter, more elderly, ostensibly inferior expat Aussie by his side will morph without fear or falter into an agitator, a campaigner, a future tick under his toilet seat.

Now ... how could I possibly know all this?

Key Corporations:
  • Electricity Grid of South Australia (EGSA) - Sole owner and controller of South Australia’s UHV and EHV power transmission network.
  • Ten-66 Funds Management Pty. Ltd. (Own 20% of EGSA.)
  • China State Gas & Power Net (more simply: China State Net) - 100% China State Owned Enterprise. A Fortune 500 top ten corporation with more than 1,500,000 employees worldwide. (Own 46.5% of EGSA.)
  • Zhudan Jinan Development (100% owned subsidiary of China State Net.)

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Thorold Keene (CEO of PAFC)
Robin ‘Rockin’ Robbins (Hong Kong based volunteer China advisor to PAFC)
Daryl Ander (Melbourne based CEO of Ten-66 Funds Management)
Lockhart Road (as himself)
Mrs. Road (as herself)
The Great Man (as Himself)
Rick Mattinson (GM, International Memberships & Merchandise of PAFC)
Thomas Doolittle (Senior Manager International, Ten-66 Funds Management)
Karl ‘Kaiser’ Krupp (TV anchorman, media heavyweight, chairman of PAFC)
Carlito ‘Chicken’ Cacciatori (Director of PAFC, CEO of Mick McGuane Media)
Ugo Alsthom (Director, The PAFC International Sports Diplomacy Program)
Dirk Struan IV (Chairman of Electricity Grid of SA)
Primrose Yao (Executive Officer, PAFC China Partnerships Division)
Xiao Junxi (VP International of China State Net, and director of EGSA)
Rong Qi (Melbourne based manager of China State Net, director of EGSA)
Ms. Fu Mingfeng (CFO of China State Net, International Division, Beijing)
Ablert ‘Able’ Kwang (GM of Hongkong Guohua Power Engineering Ltd.)
Zhang Ai (Deputy GM of Zhudan Jinan Development, Beijing)
Zhen Pugu (Deputy Director, China State Net, International Division, Beijing)
Oliver ‘Subito’ Sutton (CEO of Electricity Grid of SA)

Real-life guest appearances by:
Michelangelo Rucci and Tom Richardson (InDaily)
Andrew Fagan and Nigel Smart (Crows brain trust, singular)
Sam Agars (Sports journalist, South China Morning Post)
Caroline Wilson, Mark Robinson, Patrick Smith and Gerard Whateley
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan
John Schumann
Mick Mummery OAM and John England OAM (WTFRW: ex-C Coy., 9RAR)
Graham Cornes
Eric Edmonds (WTFRW: ex-C Coy., 9RAR)
John Leigh (Director of CLP Group: China Light & Power, Hong Kong)
Gui Guojie
Ambassador Frances Adamson
Zhang Bin (CCTV-5 China national sportscaster)
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
[1971] Johnny (Bartender, Miami Bar, TST, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
[1971] Barrie (Sub-editor, South China Morning Post)
[1971] Sir Robert and Dame Patty Menzies
[1971] Christina Hui (Hong Kong fashion model and Bond girl in ‘Moonraker’)
[1971] Maurice Green (Chairman of Arnhold & Co., Ltd., Hong Kong)
Premier Li Keqiang
Darren Cahill (International tennis coach, son of Jack Cahill)
Lockhart Road’s son and daughter (as themselves)

Special guest appearance by:
Angelica Cheung - Editor-In-Chief VOGUE China published in Shanghai: (print version distribution 1.6 million glossy copies per month, and 370,000,000 page views per month on-line).

Posthumous appearance by: L/Cpl. Peter Chant (WTFRW, C Coy., 9RAR)

Narrator: Lockhart Road

Next: Episode 1 - POLES AND WIRES - August 2015, August / Sept. 2014
  • Fagan stirs up more than lols, with his sideshows, and rabbit-holes.
  • Robbins and Ander meet by chance at Adelaide Oval; is Krupp dinkum?
  • Road and Robbins in Wanchai eat Mexican, talk PAFC in China.
  • The Great Man at FCC lets slip a portentous character assessment.
  • The Hong Kong Football Club: the Shangri-La of Sports.
  • Road thinks big, expects big, based on personal experience.

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Nov 16, 2004
AFL Club
Port Adelaide
Other Teams
The Mighty Blacks
Ten-66 Funds Management Pty. Ltd - took me a few minutes but I worked that one out and CEO Daryl Ander (edit not Thomas Doolittle as I had before)
Zhudan Jinan Development - need some more time to confirm who this is, but I got an idea who they are.
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