Remembering Tony Paul

Terry Sweetman pays tribute to a Brisbane-born legend of the craft who “moved in a post-colonial world of clubs, courtiers and royal physicians, politicians, prime ministers, diplomats, dictators, generals, businessmen, spies, spooks, spivs and pimps.”

Anthony Marcus Paul: June 17, 1937 — July 14, 2018

Anthony (Tony) Paul was born in Brisbane and died in Brisbane, two events that were bookends to a remarkable international journalistic career.

He was born in 1937 to a former Malayan rubber planter turned manufacturer of blinds, and a woman descended from one of the 19th century cattle queens of the arid Channel Country.

Thwarted by myopia in his ambitions to become a Royal Australian Air Force pilot, he parlayed his high school English marks and co-editorship of the University of Queensland newspaper into a cadetship with The Courier-Mail.

Such was his promise he was assigned to cover the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Three years later, with an eye on an overseas posting, he successfully applied for a subeditor’s position with Australian Associated Press-Reuters.

In 1961, even as he was angling for a posting to Singapore or Saigon, he won a World Press Institute fellowship in the United States.

For a year, as one of a group identified as “outstanding young journalists” from around the world, he was plied with lectures in US history and politics at Macalester College, Minnesota, and taken on a tour through 30 states interviewing what he said were “state governors, jailbirds, schoolteachers — America at work and play”.

The highlight was a White House interview with President John Kennedy.

He later wrote that four continents delineated his life: Australia where he entered his trade; North America where he polished it (and met his wife-to-be Anne); South America where he, well, tinkered with it; and Asia where he turned it into a craft.

His extraordinary CV included editorship of the Australian edition of Reader’s Digest (then a massively influential publication), editor-in-chief of the Asian English language edition of the Digest, roving editor for the US edition of the Digest and Asiaweek magazine, editor-at-large (Asia) for Fortune magazine, founding editor-in-chief of Asia INC, editor-in-chief of Business Tokyo, and contributor to Singapore’s Straits Times.

In Asia he variously lived in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok and Singapore — when not visiting the festering and erupting hot spots of the region.

His first Asian beat was the war zones of Vietnam and Cambodia, during which he memorably covered the fall of both Saigon and Phnom Penh.

His adventures and anecdotes were legion, including tracking down and interviewing Malayan communist insurgency leader Chin Peng. But his great coup was to be among the first to break the story of the Cambodian genocide, in a book called Murder of a Gentle Land based on interviews with more than 300 refugees.

The book (and its Reader’s Digest parentage) was excoriated by the liberal left who remained in denial of Pol Pot’s crimes but was vindicated by events. It was a hurt Tony could never forgive.

Apart from covering the Indochina conflict, he also reported on the Soviet-Afghan War and the communist insurgencies in Thailand, Malaya and the Philippines.

He “retired” to Brisbane but after the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2002, Tony, then well into his sixties, inveigled his way into Baghdad (wearing the flimsy disguise of a bushy beard) and was foiled in his last bid to enter Afghanistan when he came a cropper at the airport.

Tony moved in a post-colonial world of clubs (deliciously, he interviewed Ching Peng at the British Club in Bangkok), courtiers and royal physicians, politicians, prime ministers, diplomats, dictators (including Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf), generals, businessmen, spies, spooks, spivs and pimps. And all the while racking up legendary expense accounts that remain the talk of foreign correspondents’ clubs throughout Asia.

A gregarious, kind and generous man, Tony could not bear anything that smacked of intolerance, more than once casting from his company or his house someone who descended into even casual racism.

He took his craft of journalism seriously and he despised those debased it. He left it stronger for his presence.

Tony was a giant in life and indomitable in the face of death.

He is survived by his wife Anne, sons Brodie and Bruce, their respective wives Lucy and Ailsa, and grandchildren India, Kaya, Tari, Adam and Robyn.

Terry Sweetman is a columnist for The Courier-Mail and The Sunday Mail. Now semi-retired, he is a former editor of Brisbane’s Daily and Sunday Suns.

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Inside the Australia and New Zealand media – stories by and for journalists.

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