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Nov 10

APARTMENT LIVING: Highs and lows

Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2018 in Flat Chat

About 15 years ago my partner Sue and I bought a new apartment off the plan and had a truly hellish time with corrupt committee members, self-serving building managers, incompetent strata managers, rapacious developers, mendacious attack-dog lawyers and neighbours who refused to help but then were quick to point the finger when things went wrong.

Our saving grace was that we are both authors and journalists and we decided to write a book about it to warn other people about the pitfalls.

That was Apartment Living which was published by ABC books. From it came my weekly Flat Chat column, first in the Sydney Morning Herald, now in the Australian Financial Review, which has now been going for 15 years, and from that came the Flat Chat website which offers advice and empathy to the tens of thousands of others who are struggling with the new realities of strata living.

I also turn up once a month on the James Valentine show on ABC radio 702 to talk about apartments and answer questions Title screen shotfrom listeners and I frequently get asked to speak at conferences and seminars.

If you were wondering, that’s why this website is called The Accidental Guru.  I never set  out to be an expert on strata living but, hey, if no one else was going to do it, it might as well be me.

In 2014 Sue and I launched a magazine called Title, promoting the positive aspects of apartment living. The website is still going strong although the realities of the print market, the vagaries of advertising and the cost of distribution have overwhelmed its physical incarnation.


Nov 10

TV: A drama every day

Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2018 in TV

rainshadowNearly 20 years ago, when I was a struggling sitcom writer, someone at Channel 7 told me that a new production company called Screentime was looking for an afternoon teen soap.

My then co-writer Steve recalls that by the time I had driven from Epping (Sydney) to the city centre for coffee, I had nutted out a proposal for series that would eventually be called Breakers and run to about 400 episodes.

Screentime meanwhile went on to become one of the major players in Australian TV .

After that I created Crash Palace for Fox and Sky (UK) and co-created (with Tony Morphett) Rain Shadow for the ABC .

In between times, following my philosophy of never turning down a paying gig, I wrote for some weird and not-so-wonderful TV shows.

You can find out more about my TV career HERE.

Nov 10

TRAVEL: Are we there yet?

Posted on Saturday, November 10, 2018 in travel

Considering I hadn’t set foot on an aeroplane before I was 30, it’s remarkable that in the intervening decades I have begun to enjoy travel for its own sake.DSC_3530

My partner Sue is even more of a travel addict so we tend to clock up the air miles whenever we can.  Our philosophies, however, take us in different directions.  When we have been somewhere we like, I want to go back, she wants to find somewhere new.

Being writers, of course, we write about these places and have been published in the travel pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Sun-Herald, the Australian Financial Review, the Australian and too many magazines to mention.

For the past few years I have been a guest lecturer in travel writing at Boston University’s Sydney campus, introducing young American students to the joys of writing about something you love … and, if you’re lucky, getting paid for it.

Meanwhile, I have become a bit of a Vietnam addict and have even started leading tours there.  All of which has led to the creation of my website where you can find stories and pictures from some of the places I have been.  There are also details of my next tour of Vietnam, for readers and writers, in October 2016.

You will find most of my travel stuff by clicking on but there
are still a few pieces HERE. You can read more about Sue on her website.

May 11

Great reviews for Perfect Criminals

Posted on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Uncategorized

Blah blah blah


Jun 26

Vietnam Romance and Intrigue

Posted on Sunday, June 26, 2016 in Books, Featured, travel

Ever since I led my first tour to Vietnam I have had this sneaking sense of unease.  I don’t at all understand why the Australian government so willingly joined America’s war in Vietnam but I do get why Australian troops went there, especially the ‘Nashos” (National Servicemen).

Britain decided not to get involved (we had a Labour government at the time) but since we Brits had basically created the bloody mess by handing the country back to the French, rather than the Vietnamese, at the end of World War II, our hands aren’t exactly unbloodied.

Another thing that intrigues me is why so many Vietnamese (especially in the south) are so welcoming of Australian tourists. But I suppose a story told by someone I met on my second visit kind of sums it up. His father and Grandfather had fought on opposite sides in the “American War”.  When the south fell to the Viet Cong, the father was evacuated out, leaving his family, and given a new life in the USA.

Years later, the father came back to Saigon and the grandfather came south from Hanoi to see his son again. It was a meeting they both longed for and dreaded.  But then the grandfather said: “We both fought for what we believed in and that’s all that matters.”

My next tour,  Vietnam Romance and Intrigue, will try to see beyond the battlefields and bravado. Sure we’ll see the tunnels at Cu Chi – we know their story better than most – but we’ll also visit families in Saigon and Hanoi to find out how they are living now.

Mainly we’ll be following inthe footsteps of Graham Greene and his novel The Quiet American, visiting the locations in the book as well as the 2001 Phil Noyce directed Michael Caine move, and soaking up the splendours of Ha Long Bay as deepicted so spectaculalrly in the 1992 film Indochine (starring Catherine Deneuve) .

It’s a varied itinerary and you can find out more by clicking HERE.

Dec 1

Crash Palace: Bonking, Boozing Backpackers

Posted on Sunday, December 1, 2013 in TV


Stephanie Waring soon after got her dream job on Coronation St. But then her abandoned baby storyline coincided with the disappearance of Madelaine McCann and was dropped.

CRASH PALACE, 65 episodes of sex, drugs and soap, set in a Kings Cross, Sydney, backpackers hostel was – as they say – seen all over the world. But then, any Australian show is going to turn up filling a slot somewhere on the TV schedules of the planet, even if it is at 2am in Latvia.
I saw the old Aussie drama Sons and Daughters in Vietnam where they had neither over-dubbing nor subtitles. Instead a voice-over explained what each of the characters was saying to each other. Our tour guide explained that they’d tried overdubbing but these attractive Anglo-Aussies speaking perfect Vietnamese looked ridiculous. And subtitles didn’t work because too many people couldn’t read or write.
I saw Crash Palace on a Spanish language channel in Los Angeles with normal voice track (uncensored, I might add) and Spanish subtitles. Not exactly sure how “Happy now, you slag!?!” translated but I’m sure they got the drift.
I know I’m biased but I reckon CP would do all right as a DVD
release. It was the biggest drama on Foxtel back in 2002 but that was a long time ago before Pay TV was doing the numbers it now does. There were a lot of very talented young actors and writers involved in that show (and you could look out for the one who went all anti-topless on us and is now the advertising face of a major health fund). Email me on if you agree and I’ll pass it on to the powers that be.
Anyway, here are some of the cuts. This material was collated by the excellent Australian TV website.
JT 06


Victoria Hill is possibly the only person on the planet who wouldn’t enjoy massaging Tori Musset. Shortly after this “Carla” left for Alice Springs.

Ricky gambles

I caught up with Warren Derosa (John, in the background) and Dan Billet (Ricky) in LA a couple of years ago. Both trying to make it in Hollywood. Danny still does a brilliant Warren impression.

Welcome to the hotel vice
Sex, drugs, and lithe young bodies have been deemed a winning formula by broadcaster Sky One.
Its new drama Crash Palace, set in a backpackers’ hostel in Australia, unashamedly combines the ingredients.
As Rob Hawthorn in Hollyoaks, Warren played a psychopath. In his new role, he dabbles in drug dealing and uses smarmy charm to seduce women.
No sooner are the backpacks off, than the comely residents are indulging in some nefarious activities.
“On the outside, he seems a bad guy,” says Warren, 25. “But he is different—he has a light side.”
Leading the descent into abandon are former Hollyoaks stars Warren Derosa and Stephanie Waring.
Warren has a string of sex scenes. “When I saw the script I thought ‘oh my God’, but we had complete control.”
“It’s completely different to Hollyoaks,” says Stephanie, 23, who played teenage mum Cindy Cunningham in the Channel 4 soap.
The English stars spent four months in Sydney shooting the Sky One drama.
“The whole feel of it is different. It’s a lot more adult and aimed at a much older audience. We use much stronger language and there’s lots of nudity.”
But while their characters enjoyed an odyssey of abandon, life off the set was far from hedonistic.
Stephanie gives a highly-revealing performance as man-eating Tina Clark. “The sex scenes are really graphic,” admits the cheeky star. “They wanted it real, and in real life people don’t wear underwear. But they did it very tastefully.”
“Our work schedule was so heavy, from six in the morning to 8pm, five days a week—there was just no time to party,” says Warren.
But Stephanie’s boyfriend, actor Ben Maguire from Queer As Folk, wasn’t happy. “He’ll be leaving the room when those scenes are on,” she says.
“We did have a trip to the zoo but that was it!”
The actress’s career is definitely on the up since she left Hollyoaks last spring. As well as Crash Palace, she’s set to star with The Royle Family’s Ricky Tomlinson in new BBC drama Nice Guy Eddie.
Not content with filming down under, the actor has Hollywood ambitions.
“He seems a nice, down-to-earth family man,” says Stephanie, who starts work on the show in November.
“I was supposed to be going to LA recently but it’s all been put on hold for a while after the attacks of September 11,” reveals the intense star.
She is also contracted to shoot another series of Crash Palace.
“I have an agent out there and I was supposed to be there for the pilot season (when new shows are tried out by the networks). There were some shows that I was looking to do but I must now wait until it calms down.”
Some viewers may be shocked by the racy content of the Sky One show but Stephanie insists it’s true to life.
“It’s just the backpackers’ life, isn’t it?” says the actress.”People go to these places to have fun and having fun means having sex with lots of men.”
So, has Stephanie ever backpacked round the globe herself? “No, and I certainly haven’t got a taste for it now,” she smiles.
By Jonathan Donald
October 18, 2001
Dark young man with a light side
Crash Palace sees the return of Warren Derosa as a young man with a dark side.
As Rob Hawthorn in Hollyoaks, Warren played a psychopath. In his new role, he dabbles in drug dealing and uses smarmy charm to seduce women.
“On the outside, he seems a bad guy,” says Warren, 25. “But he is different—he has a light side.”
Warren has a string of sex scenes. “When I saw the script I thought ‘oh my God’, but we had complete control.”
The English stars spent four months in Sydney shooting the Sky One drama.
But while their characters enjoyed an odyssey of abandon, life off the set was far from hedonistic.
“Our work schedule was so heavy, from six in the morning to 8pm, five days a week—there was just no time to party,” says Warren.
“We did have a trip to the zoo but that was it!”
Not content with filming down under, the actor has Hollywood ambitions.
“I was supposed to be going to LA recently but it’s all been put on hold for a while after the attacks of September 11,” reveals the intense star.
“I have an agent out there and I was supposed to be there for the pilot season (when new shows are tried out by the networks). There were some shows that I was looking to do but I must now wait until it calms down.”
By Jonathan Donald
October 18, 2001
Crashing in on drama
FOXTEL will launch its first made-for-pay TV local drama series, Crash Palace, on March 11 on its Fox8 channel. The series, shot last year at Fox Studios Australia by Fox Television, will run on Mondays and Tuesdays.
The series is being produced as a group initiative for a number of leading cable/satellite television networks worldwide. They include Foxtel, BSkyB, Fox International Entertainment Channels in Spain, Latin America, North America and Sky Perfect TV in Japan.
It is already screening in the UK and in some Latin American countries. Cast member Tory Mussett reports she has already received some fan mail from there.
The series is set in a Sydney backpackers’ hostel and follows the lives of a group of young adults holidaying in Australia.
Cast members include Mussett, Jess Gower, Dieter Brummer, Jenni Baird (now in All Saints), Kristy Wright, Tandi Wright (ex-Shortland Street) and UK actors Stephanie Waring and Warren Derosa.
February 07, 2002
The Daily Telegraph
A crash course for pay TV’s backpack
Apart from movie channels, Fox8 is regularly the most-watched pay TV channel in Australia. Which possibly explains why its cautious and relatively late investment in a local drama has been the subject of industry grumbling.
Pay TV drama channels must invest at least 10 per cent of their programming budgets in new local productions. (To be fair, back when the rule was voluntary, Fox8 was one of the first channels to commission a local drama, the long-forgotten 1996 Shark Bay.)
Though the quota was designed to trigger additional local production, the legislation allowed channels to invest in projects that didn’t even end up on pay TV, to provide “top-up” funds for network shows and, in one case, to send money offshore.
But even one of the most fierce critics of the legislation is ready to applaud Fox8 for investing in the contemporary youth drama series Crash Palace. Sixty five episodes have been produced so far and another series is about to be commissioned.
Nick Murray, president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, argues that productions such as Crash Palace, and TV1’s comedy-drama Shock Jock, honour the true purpose of the drama quota.
“Like Shock Jock, Crash Palace has been commissioned by a local pay TV channel, and you can only see it on that channel,” he says. “Given the success of local content on freetoair television, it’s something you’d hope to see more of on pay TV.”
According to Jimmy Thomson, the creator of Crash Palace, the brief for the 30-minute serial encompassed creative and pragmatic business concerns.
Thomson, a British journalist turned scriptwriter, had been developing projects at Fox Television in Sydney when a call went out to writers at Fox channels around the world for a concept to which all could contribute and from which all could benefit.
“At the time I was living in Kings Cross, backpacker central. Drinking cappuccinos at my favourite cafe and watching all these foreign people living in Sydney, the penny dropped. We can make a drama about backpackers,” he says.
“It had the right elements from the business angle, but in terms of dramatic possibilities it had so much to offer.
“My theory was that these people are at a crossroads in their life; they’re between school and work, but they are all at the threshold of their adult life.”
Thomson says the notion of young people in this situation “becoming someone else” is not as farfetched as it seems.
“It sounds weird but it’s quite common. People will take a year out, come to Australia and decide, ‘I’m not going to be the victim, the office nerd, that kind of person that I don’t like.’
“It’s as easy as that when you’re not in the environment that reinforces all the things you don’t like about yourself.”
In one storyline, a character who desperately needs money turns to working in the sex trade. “She doesn’t have the social and moral pressures of her home life, and it’s a much easier choice to make than she ever thought it would be,” he explains.
As the trailer for the show and a prominent ad featuring Tory Mussett in her knickers amply demonstrate (the Pepsi Chart Show host plays a carefree, liberated 23-year-old from Buenos Aires), Crash Palace makes no secret of its bid to be racy, provocative, edgy and sexy.
Knowing it was made for cable markets—primarily Australia and Britain, where it aired late last year on BSkyB—had a huge influence in how the show dealt with issues, Thomson admits.
“The obvious things are language, nudity, sexual references and drugtaking, but probably more important than that are the attitudes we have allowed people to have. We are allowed to have people who are really, really nasty and get away with it. You’re not allowed to do that in your early evening teen drama. You can have nasty characters but they have to be punished.”
At the same time, he says, the show isn’t trading on nudity or swearing, but on remaining realistic to its target audience. “Our first responsibility to our audience is to give them something that justifies them giving up half an hour of their lives. What the media portrays as a reasonable way to behave is very different to what people in the street actually believe.
“I was a journalist for 15 years and I’ve been part of that whole double standard in which we all operate. Young people today are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been and the worst thing you can do is make them feel that you think they don’t know what’s going on.”
Humour, he says, is an equally big part of the show, and his first love as a television writer. “It’s incidental humour, the kind you have in ordinary conversation, and that’s the kind of humour I’m interested in, less than ‘Bob and Cookie are going to build a barbecue and accidentally burn down the hostel’.”
Crash Palace screens on Fox8 on Mondays and Tuesdays at 8.30pm from March 11
ByÝPaul Kalina
February 28 2002
The Age
Secret life of a backpacker
FORMER The Secret Life Of Us guest star Jess Gower found out just how much her character was loved when she was killed off. Gower, who debuts next week in her next major role, in the Fox Television series Crash Palace, still receives the commiserations of fans who were devastated when her character, Sam, was suddenly hit by a car and killed in the Network Ten drama.
“One lady came up to me when I was in a cafe and told me how Sam’s death really rattled her and how she hadn’t been able to sleep the night after it aired,” Gower recalled.
“But Sam was designed to die—she was too nice, she got the dream job and the dream man—it was all just too good.”
The vivacious 24-year-old actor stars in Crash Palace as Miranda Watts, a 16-year-old New Zealander on the adventure of a lifetime with her mother, Penny.
It also stars Tory Mussett, Dieter Brummer, Jenni Baird and Kristy Wright.
The half-hour adult soap, which will air on Fox 8 from next Monday, debuted in Britain before Australia, like The Secret Life Of Us.
It attracted rave reviews and has already been sold to 11 countries. A second season has been ordered.
Crash Palace pulls no punches when it comes to the hedonistic sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of your average backpacker.
“The show gets pretty dark as it goes along,” Gower said.
“Playing a teenager is an interesting change, because this one gets to do some serious growing up pretty quickly.
“And I loved the challenge of doing an accent and 20 scenes a day.”
Gower had always been intrigued by the prospect of an acting career, but she didn’t consider it seriously until late in her high-school years.
Although she has done the odd commercial—remember the Telstra ad, where she confuses John Farnham’s manager, Glenn Wheatley, with Paul Hogan?—Gower avoided the traditional soap-opera apprenticeship.
Her next major role, with co-stars Matt Newton and Mark Priestley, will be in Blurred, a film about the infamous annual schoolies’ week on the Gold Coast.
“I’m playing another teenager. I could probably stay in my teens for a few more years,” Gower laughed.
“The film is really about the characters and their first big life experience.”
By Kathy McCabe
March 03, 2002
The Daily Telegraph
Living in a hostel world
A new series delves into the backpacking world of the young and restless who visit our shores. JENNY DILLON checks in.
THEY’VE taken over our best beaches and pubs and created some ugly early morning disputes with the locals, but backpackers also pick up the jobs no one else wants and the estimated 250,000 who arrive each year spend about $4400 each on local goods and services.
And now the global backpacking hordes who have been invading our city are set to entertain us on television.
Crash Palace, a half-hour serial drama that premieres on Fox8 next Monday, portrays the more racy, energetic lives of those who are living it up in the estimated 100 licensed backpacker hostels in Sydney.
It claims to be a ground-breaking look at the “hedonistic, hard-partying world of the globe-trotting backpacker”. But is this based on the true backpacking experience or is this just a male fantasy?
“Well it could be both,” laughs series creator Jimmy Thomson, who confesses to not enjoying backpacking at all, but whose knowledge of the scene comes from living in Backpacker Central itself, Kings Cross.
“From everything I have heard in talking to backpackers, from the people who work on the show and have backpacked and also from living in Kings Cross… the notion that there is a hedonistic lifestyle led by people coming to Australia and going nuts is absolutely accurate.”
That doesn’t mean all backpackers are like that, he stresses. “We’ve just chosen to focus on the bunch who are. That way, you can say that it’s not inaccurate, that we’ve taken a slice of the backpackers world, basically of those who are misbehaving.”
Crash Palace is centred around The Royal, a fictional 120-bed, three-storey terrace in King Cross.
In the first episodes we are introduced to Isabella and George (Lisa Bailey and Tim McCunn) who run the Palace with its eclectic collection of guests.
There’s Wendy and Ricky (Amelia Barrett and Daniel Billett), Americans slumming it on a platinum credit card; and struggling Kiwis Miranda (Jess Gower) and her young mother Penny (Tandi Wright).
The snap-happy singles include Inez (Tory Mussett), an adventurous, spoilt little princess from Buenos Aires; and Tina (Stephanie Waring) from Manchester who’s half naive, half smart and full-on party girl.
Adding to the cosmopolitan energy are the Scottish temptress Angie (Simone McAullay); and Bryan (Toby Truslove), a loser from Essex. On the fringe are local drifter Dave (Dieter Brummer), who claims honest and open relationships with women, and Londoner John (Warren Derosa), who prefers his relationships devious.
They are characters carved by Thomson from his numerous forays into the local hostels with slabs of beer and sausages for the barbecues. He’s heard their stories, understood their emotions and is now redrawing their experiences.
But how true to life are they? Do these travellers act like this when they are in their own countries, or do they change when they come to Australia?
“The latter. Absolutely,” says Thomson. “It’s happening at a very significant point in young people’s lives—that gap year, the gap between school and university, or the gap between university and work.
“For some, the travelling experience is trying to establish who they really are.
“For others it’s more a case of having the last great wild time in their lives before they go home, get engaged and married and get a mortgage and basically have to settle down.”
Most are half a planet away from their family and friends and the peer groups that can force then back into their mould.
“For some people, and apparently this happens more than you would think, it’s a chance to shed the personality they’ve grown up with and become somebody else.
“They say, ‘I’m tired of being the nerd, the loser, the one everyone picks on. I’m going to be the tough guy, the party girl.’ There will be no payback, they won’t be confronted, they can do whatever they want and the consequences are only temporary.”
But for Australia, the consequences work out at about $1 billion a year from these travellers—not a bad sum of money.
Crash Palace, Monday and Tuesday, Fox8, 8.30pm
By Jenny Dillon
March 07, 2002
The Daily Telegraph
Sex and drugs and naughty words
SAYING Fox 8’s new serial drama is a little edgy is like saying the Pope is a wee bit religious.
Crash Palace goes where other Australian soaps have feared and failed to tread.
It features drug use, sexual references, bad language, loose morals and lots of flesh.
And, according to Foxtel director of television Brian Walsh, that was just what the pay TV provider ordered.
“We felt that we could develop a serial drama that was edgy, contemporary and pushed boundaries in a way that Home and Away and Neighbours couldn’t do because they are on free-to-air television and play it safe,” he says.
“(Crash Palace) deals with the issues that face young Australians and young people travelling the world.”
It does this through its unique setting—a backpackers hostel in Sydney’s King Cross.
At The Royal, the show’s 15 characters stage huge parties, have holiday flings, share drugs and fight over use of the shared kitchen.
While its focus on the younger audience may bring comparisons to Ten’s The Secret Life of Us, Walsh says Crash Palace is aimed at a much “younger audience and is not as high brow”.
The show’s mainly Australian cast includes former Pepsi Chart host Tori Mussett, ex-Home and Away actors Dieter Brummer and Kristy Wright, ex-The Secret Life of Us star Jess Gower and All Saints newcomer Jenni Baird.
Crash Palace, Fox 8/Foxtel, Monday and Tuesday, 8.30pm.
By Jennifer Dudley
March 07, 2002
The Courier Mail

Nov 30

Wendell Sailor: Crossing The Line

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Books

Late last year (2012) I was just getting to grips with my latest project, a first person Wendell Front Cover 1biography of sports star Wendell Sailor.  I was chatting about our work with my partner, Sue Williams.  She was working on her biography of father Bob Maguire and we joked about how you haven’t really got through to your subject until you can make them cry.  We wished each other luck on that front, given that we were both dealing with very tough nuts.

The very next day, Wendell was sitting in my home, sobbing his heart out.  His wife, Tara, had read the first few chapters of the book (which I thought were pretty good anyway)  and had pulled Wendell up.  “I thought we agreed if you were going to do this, you were going to do this properly?” she’d said. “I though you were going to tell the whole story!”

And the next day I discovered why it had been so hard for Wendell to be honest about his past and why he had developed his happy-go-lucky, big boofy bloke shell.  As he told me about his mother having given him up when he was two days old to neighbours who were as poor as church mice.  He described how they never hesitated to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to allow him to pursue his dreams.  He sobbed as he told me how his beloved father – the man who took him in when his own mother didn’t want him – had died without Wendell having a chance to tell him how grateful he was.

It was then that I knew we had a book that was different from any standard sporting biography.  This was a story about struggle, sacrifice, stuff-ups and ultimately redemption.

I won’t tell you any more because I’d like you to read the book But here, to give you a little more of the flavour, here’s the publisher’s blurb.  And if you want to buy the book, click HERE.

A warts-and-all insight into a sporting hero’s very public fall from grace and his comeback to elite sport.

Superstar Brisbane Broncos and Kangaroos winger Wendell Sailor shocked everyone when he switched codes to play union in 2001. The King of the Wing, the huge explosive player whose thunderous runs intimidated anyone in his path, surprised even himself when he went on from the Queensland Reds to be selected for the Wallabies, becoming the first Australian player raised in league to represent his country in both codes.

But in 2006, all of this fell apart.

During a routine drug test for his new team, the Waratahs, he tested positive to cocaine and was banned from the game for two years. And those two years away would prove to the toughest challenge of his life. The self-confessed party boy who constantly sought the public spotlight was now forced to do some soul-searching, and most of it wasn’t pretty.

But in the way that only Sailor can, he fought back hard and worked through the shame. Pitting himself against his old ways, Sailor threw himself into charity work, mentoring young people in alcohol and drug awareness programs and, with the help of his family and old coach and mentor, Wayne Bennett, began his path to redemption.

When the ban was up, Sailor made a triumphant return to the code that had first discovered him at age 17, and the St George Illawarra Dragons had a new winger – a player ferociously determined to prove to Australia what he was capable of until his final game in 2010.

But this isn’t just Wendell Sailor’s story as the comeback king. Written with Jimmy Thomson, Dell reveals a dark secret that has haunted him since childhood and goes to the very core of his identity.  He tells us what it’s like to be a black man in a white man’s world and the toll racism takes on elite sport. He also shows us how good friends and mentorship are so important to our public national heroes. But he also demonstrates how crucial the bonds of family – and the love and trust of good people – are for anyone, hero or not.

About Wendell Sailor

Wendell Sailor exploded into the national rugby league competition at age 17 for the Brisbane Broncos under coach Wayne Bennett. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Broncos’ star winger, earning him household name status for his size, speed and try-scoring prowess, his reinvention of the traditional wing position and his party-boy antics off the field.

Just one year into his professional career he was selected to play for the national NRL team, the Kangaroos, and represented his country – and his state in Origin football – til he made the controversial decision to swap codes and play union for the Queensland Reds in 2001. In 2003 Sailor became the first Australian league-raised player to become a dual international, when he was selected for the Wallabies in the World Cup and went on to represent his country until 2006, also the year he switched clubs to play for the New South Wales Waratahs.

That year would prove to be a disaster for Sailor, who was banned for two years from representing the Waratahs and the Wallabies for returning a positive drug test for cocaine. Those two years out of sport – any sport –  saw Sailor hit rock bottom physically and emotionally before he pulled himself together and became heavily involved in charitable drug awareness programs and corporate speaking. In 2008 Wendell Front Cover 2another shock announcement saw him signed back to the NRL, this time the St George Illawarra Dragons. In 2009 he would be reunited with his old Broncos coach, Wayne Bennett, who joined him at the Dragons.

Sailor’s second coming in NRL saw his customary speed and strength on the field – in 2008 he was named in the Indigenous Australia squad for the Rugby World Cup, in 2009 he was influential in the Dragons’ Minor Premiership and was short-listed for the Dally M Winger of the Year award. Sailor announced his retirement from the Dragons at the end of the 2009 season and his final match was in 2010, for the Indigenous All Stars, during which he scored the opening try.

Sailor went on to a career in television both as a football commentator and as a participant in entertainment programs. He is a promising rugby league coach, an obsessive golfer and a tireless charity worker.


Nov 30

Tunnel Rats

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Books

Tunnel RatsAllen & Unwin published  Tunnel Rats at the beginning of July 2011.  It’s a major rewrite of ‘No Need For Heroes’ the first-person memoir I wrote for Sandy MacGregor about 15 years before, but updated and re-tooled as a full-blown military history rather than a personal memoir. It’s a real “Boys’ Own” adventure – only for grown-up boys – telling the story of the young Australian Army engineers who, when they weren’t having a whale of a time, often at their own officers’ expense, were the first Allied troops to go down the Vietcong tunnels and discovered their underground city.

What I love about this story – and what made me want to go back and rework it after all this time – is that these guys were not only genuinely courageous and endlessly resourceful, they had a spirit of adventure and mischief that sustained them through what was a pretty horrific time.  There are plenty of outrageous stories like the time they booby-trapped their own shower block – which they had built with money from their own little casino – rather than let it fall into the hands of recently arrived officers; then there was the ‘car chase’ through the streets of Saigon in which two sappers evaded the combined might of the US, Australian and South Vietnamese military police by commandeering a tuk-tuk and, ultimately, driving it under the barrier gate of their camp.

There was the investigation of the Tunnels, of course and the discovery of the underground city – they were the first Allied troops to venture down there, regardless of who lays claim to that honour.  And then there was the day-to-day engineering tasks that varied from building bridges to “de-lousing” booby-trapped rice caches, embodying their unofficial motto Facimus et Frangimus – we make and we break.

Tunnel Rats went into reprint in only its first week on sale and has been selling well in various formats since. The follow-up book A Sappers War was published in 2012. It traces the involvement of Australian Army engineers in Vietnam from the start of the “American War’ – before Australia’s official involvement – to the very last convoy out of the country.

Meanwhile, you can listen to an interview with Sandy and me on Radio National, with Geraldine Doogue, HERE,  read an extract (as a PDF)  HERE, or buy the book, either as a paperback or an eBook HERE.

Nov 30

Apartment Living

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Books, Flat Chat


Apartment Living was written by my partner Sue Williams and me in response to the fairly troubled times we faced when we first moved into a new apartment block in Sydney.

We ran the whole gauntlet of issues, from a dodgy Executive Committee the chair of which was a little too autocratic and close to the developers for comfort, to a building manager – also employed by the developers – who was not only utterly incompetent but ran nasty little vendettas against any residents who dared to criticise the way the building was being run.

It took a group of committed owners nine months to resolve this scandalous situation, sack the original EC and the building manager and get things running smoothly (for which I can take no credit).

Both being writers, our instinctive response was to get it down on paper and make some of the stuff that we’d discovered available to others. We also tried to make the book as entertaining and informative as we could.

It was published by ABC Books in June 2004 and one reviewer for The Age in Melbourne called it “The Lonely Planet for apartments” which was just about the feel we were looking for.

many of the laws referred to in the book have changes and are about to change even more in 2014 when the new NSW strta laws come in.  I plan to have a new version of the book available then. Check the Flat Chat website for updates.


Nov 30

No Need For Heroes

Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 in Books

heroes-cover-5-crop1After the Koala Who Bounced was finished, my agent Selwa Anthony put me with a former Australian army major called Sandy MacGregor who won the Military Cross for his exploits in the Vietnam War.

His men in 3 Field Troop were the first to go down the and explore the incredibly complex Viet Cong tunnel systems. The Americans intially just blew them up until Sandy’s guys discovered these underground cities. The name Tunnel Rats rightly belongs, originally, at least, the the men of 3 Field Troop.
The resulting book was called “No Need For Heroes” and it details the adventures of his whole troop. The book was a bit unsatisfactory because I was trying to write in Sandy’s voice while I had found a rip-roaring tale in the “Virgin Soldiers” vein that I wanted to tell in my own way.

The result is a bit bi-polar and Sandy and the guys of 3 Field Troop deserved better. Just as soon as the mainstream here loses it’s paranoia about Vietnam, I might use my notes from all the interviews I did as the basis for a novel. By the way, the cover shown here is for the re-issued version and I designed as a favour for Sandy.  I reckon it looks OK. And it was only very recently that I realised I must have subconsciously stolen the tile from the lyrics of the Cold Chisel song Khe San.

I have a few copies of No Need … (with the old cover) available for $25 including postage. Use this Paypal button and we’ll get a copy to you.