1927 - | Victoria, NSW | Investigative journalist
Peter Game was the Melbourne Herald reporter who tracked down the shady Pakistani commodities dealer Tirath Khemlani and disclosed the key evidence that brought down the Whitlam Government in 1975. The Labor Government was engulfed by disclosures that it had been secretly negotiating off-the-books loans to finance national infrastructure projects. Khemlani’s evidence showed Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor had lied to Parliament by stating he had broken off negotiations through Khemlani. The story won Game the Walkley. His 61-year career included stints as a foreign correspondent, columnist, feature writer, news executive, leader writer and investigative reporter
When Peter Game walked through the imposing bronze doors at 44 Flinders Street in Melbourne to join The Herald as a first-year cadet, the newsroom was filled with cigarette smoke and clacking with the noise of black Remington typewriters.
The year was 1947 and Game had been hired by Keith Murdoch, a man known for hand-picking his young reporters, and who first met Peter (“inspected” him) when he came in to buy a belt from Game, then working at his father’s menswear store in Frankston.
At The Herald, the chief of staff sat in a glassed-in office, yelling the names of reporters across rows of timber desks to assign stories. A bank of telephone cubicles lined a wall for the roundsmen to ply their inquisitive trade.
Reporters banged out words on slips of copy paper, sent hand-to-hand from copy boy to sub-editors. A collection of the paper’s senior reporters sat towards the back of the room — Clive Turnbull, Kim Kean, Bill Tipping, Osmar White and Denis Warner. They were held in awe by Game and other cubs.
Game’s first duty was walking to the docks each day and typing up the names of ships coming in and out of Melbourne, a job that earned him three pounds a week. His first day was nearly his last as he contemplated whether such formulaic subject matter was to be his career in newspapers.
Thankfully, he stayed and much later as an investigative reporter he lifted the lid on the Khemlani loans scandal, a series of exclusive reports which helped bring down the Whitlam government in 1975, as well as an exposé on Calabrian crime links to Australia and the killing of Donald Mackay.
But even in those early days, a fresh-faced Game was showing promise and promoted to cover suburban courts, the Coroners Court — with its distinctive formaldehyde-smelling newsroom beside the Yarra morgue — and the excitement of police rounds.
At St Kilda courthouse, a constant parade of ladies of the night were brought before the bench for their latest transgressions. The coalface reporting was an education in gritty reality for a young man, born in rural Balranald and raised in the shelter of suburbia.
Game’s first published yarn was a five-paragraph tale — without byline as was the style — recording the unfortunate demise of a worker who fell into an acid bath.
Journalism and alcohol in those heady days were a ready mix. An office telephone extension was installed in the upstairs bar at the nearby Phoenix Hotel and the subs room at The Sun News Pictorial had a refrigerator always packed with beer.
“I also remember in my early years how Sir Keith would show the flag by striding through the reporters’ room in his topper and claw-hammer coat en route to the Melbourne Cup,” Game said when he retired in 2008 after 61 years at the keys.
“He was very concerned that his young men, as he called us, kept up appearances by wearing hats. This meant that countless hats were left behind in suburban courts by reporters when they took them off out of respect for the bench, put them under their seat, then rushed out to catch an edition.”
During his four-year cadetship, Game spent time at The Herald’s Sydney office, where he says his list of spelling mistakes was posted on the office wall, before returning to Melbourne as a general reporter. In 1956 he was sent to the London bureau and worked in Fleet Street. Returning to Melbourne, he spent more time “chasing cops and robbers” and was promoted to deputy chief of staff in 1960 before becoming chief of staff in 1962. Four years later Game was appointed assistant to the then editor, Archer Thomas.
Game also wrote the In Black and White column, produced some great feature writing and counts his reports filed from Antarctica in 1970 as among his most satisfying work.
His landmark story on the Khemlani loans affair was an example of grassroots, persistent journalism and follow-up which left the Whitlam Labor government in a terminal spin. It began when Game wrote a simple letter to mysterious commodity trader Tirath Khemlani, who had been linked to attempts by Whitlam ministers to raise money for national projects. An acting editor told Game not to write the letter because it was such a long shot.
Game was in Hong Kong on another story when a local commodity dealer revealed Khemlani had two mandates from the Australian government to raise a total of $US8 billion in loans.
After tracking the Sindhi broker down through his daughter, Game spent four weeks in London secretly amassing 19 hours of taped interviews with Khemlani for a cracking exclusive. It set out the extent of the government’s covert attempts to circumvent Australia’s Loan Council and raise multibillion-dollar loans from Middle East oil sheiks.
Such was the sensitivity of the exclusive, only Game’s wife Betty, the editor and the company chairman knew Game was in England talking to Khemlani.
Then Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor threatened to sue The Herald over the report but Khemlani stuck by Game, guaranteeing him access to documents which confirmed Labor’s finance plans.
Game said: “The final straw for Whitlam came when among documents Khemlani handed to me was a telex which showed Connor had lied to Parliament when he said he had not had any further dealings with Khemlani. So he had to go. He also dropped his writ against us.”
Connor resigned and Malcolm Fraser had the “reprehensible circumstance” he said he needed to justify blocking supply to the Whitlam government. The crisis culminated with Governor General Sir John Kerr’s dismissal of Whitlam on 11 November 1975. Game won a Walkley Award for his coverage.
Game later became the longest-serving leader writer at the Herald Sun, retiring at age 81.
Long-time Herald Sun editor in-chief Peter Blunden said: “I was privileged to have such an icon of our profession as chief leader writer during most of my years. Peter’s insights, historical perspectives, sound judgment and sheer professionalism made our daily meetings a pleasure. His resilience and longevity can be largely attributed to his genuine passion and care for the profession. And Betty has played no small part in that either.”
Over a six-decade career at the Herald Sun, The Herald, and filing special reports including from the South Pole for The Sun, as well as extensive coverage of runaway British MP John Stonehouse for London’s Daily Express, Game was a top reporter, diarist, feature writer, assistant editor and investigative reporter.
Game was recognised with the Melbourne Press Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
Mark Dunn has been a journalist at News Corp for more than a quarter of a century, including as an editorial writer and prize-winning reporter.
Game using the Herald’s new radio system. Courtesy of the Game family
Peter Game in London. Courtesy of HWT
Tirath Khemlani and journalist Peter Game at West Eaton Place in 1975. Courtesy of HWT
Peter Game, Herald Reporter. Courtesy of HWT
'Peter Game: Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient speech, John Trevorrow, 2000
'Newshound Peter Game gives up game after 61 years', Herald Sun, 2008