Suzie doesn’t live here anymore – The night old Wanchai died

I have been following the blog written by Sally Baxter Girl Reporter for some time. She posts on a variety of subjects, all of which I find fascinating. Her most recent post is a splendid trip down Memory Lane, and I am most grateful for Sally’s permission to republish it here.

The Sally Baxter Girl Reporter Series

Bargirls and journalists have a lot in common. They are basically lazy, but work very hard for short periods of time – Arthur Hacker.

The numbers of foreign journalists in Hong Kong ebbed and flowed to the tides of the war in Vietnam so it’s fitting, and not entirely uncoincidental, that the Hong Kong Press Club was opened in Wanchai in December 1973, just months after the rock n roll war finally ended.

Its arrival sits right in the middle, between the end of old Wanchai, made famous as The World of Suzie Wong, and the new one, with its smart office blocks and trendy bars.


During the war of course Hong Kong was awash with young Boy and Girl Reporters who came from all corners of the world hoping to make their names as war correspondents. Many stayed and took jobs on local newspapers and magazines, both during and after the war.

They included my parents, who arrived in 1967 and stayed 20 years. They had founded the Hong Kong Journalists Association in 1968 and five years later the Press Club in Luard Road was to be its first official home.

Until then, meetings had often been held at our place in Macdonnell Road, and members could also get together once a week at the Singapore Hotel which gave them use of a conference room at no charge.

But when it came to socialising – as many journalists are wont to do – there was the Blue Sky Bar in Jaffe Road, the unofficial press club throughout the Vietnam War.

According to the late Hong Kong artist and historian Arthur Hacker, the Blue Sky Bar gave credit and beer was only $1.20 a glass. And, unlike the bargirls in the big clubs, the Blue Sky girls did not pester the locals to buy them girlie drinks (set at an unaffordable $4.90, according to Hacker). Girl Reporters were also welcomed, or at least tolerated, at the Blue Sky.

Chief among the Blue Sky girls was Brandy Nancy. I met her once, many years after the bar had closed. I was working for my father on Computer-Asia magazine, out of a tiny office at the back of the, by then, new and expanded Press Club in Lockhart Road, also in Wanchai.

My father had several styles of introduction – conspiratorial, deferential, a careless throwing together – and the one he used when he introduced me to Brandy Nancy was deferential, identical to the way he introduced me to Clare Hollingworth, the greatest Girl Reporter of them all.

“Brandy Nancy bought the young journalists drinks, lent them money, paid their bail and visited them in hospital. She drank her brandy neat and in large quantities. But woe to the journalist who didn’t pay his bar bill on time. The moment his wage packet appeared so did Nancy, who would chase him around his desk, to howls of abuse from his colleagues, until he was shamed into paying his bar bill.”

Arthur Hacker’s Wanchai – A Social History from the Qin Dynasty to 1997

Like Brandy Nancy, many of the Blue Sky bargirls had nicknames. Hacker records Nature’s Child, Dirty Diane, the Skull and – my own personal favourite – The Splendour that once was Maria.

The end of the Vietnam War in 1973 brought hard times to Wanchai with many bars, including the Blue Sky, closing down. In an effort to boost business, licensing hours were lifted that year and the surviving bars no longer had to close at 2am.

That forced the closure of the Professional Club in Luard Road, which had been exempt from the 2am licensing laws as a ‘professional’ organisation. Until 1973 it was the place in Wanchai, where you could eat and drink cheaply if you worked late.

According to Arthur Hacker, American sailors would wander across the road from Pinky’s tattoo studio to the Blue Sky Bar to show off their new artworks. Here’s the original version of Arthur’s cartoon depicting a sailor and a journalist at the bar. When he included it in his 1976 Hacker’s Hong Kong he significantly altered the middle figure, in case my father sued him for defamation, he said. Hacker gave it to me when Dad died, saying he was probably safe now with the old man out of the way. Over to you, lawyers, on whether I’m ok to reproduce it here.

It was hidden up a narrow stairway, easily missed if you weren’t in the know, and all the night people gathered there – the waiters, the coppers, the musicians, the bargirls, the journalists.

Now the night people were dispersing from the crammed little quarters of the Professional Club into the bright lights of the new, brassy, high rise Wanchai that was rapidly taking shape around the small, old fashioned building, just off the main glitter strip of Lockhart Road.

But the journalists stayed, taking over the lease and giving the Hong Kong Journalists Association its first official headquarters, the Hong Kong Press Club, which was officially opened in December 1973 by the Governor Sir Murray Maclehose.

The HKJA committee took up a collection to buy and engrave a pewter beer tankard, to present to His Excellency in honour of the occasion.

“Sir Murray became a favourite of everyone when he braved the narrow staircase of our less-than-grand building in Wanchai to open the Press Club,” my father said.

“Someone checked with the right people, or so we thought, and we had the tankard on the bar, chilled and shiny, when he strode in the door. ‘What will it be?’ I asked confidently, as the waiter prepared to fill it with one of our small selection of tap beers.”

The Governor ordered a pink gin. Wanchai had changed forever.

© Sally Baxter 2016

Hong Kong Press Club opening night in December 1973. I think that’s Reuter’s Phil Wardle on the left in conversation with Sir Murray Maclehose, right. Sorry, bloke in the middle – I don’t know your name.

315 thoughts on “Suzie doesn’t live here anymore – The night old Wanchai died

  1. BK,

    Perhaps because that would involving admitting that the Liberals’ God, Little Johnny, stuffed up mightily during his 11.5 years’ rule (albeit with Sweetie Pete’s only too willing assistance)?

    • Use his nickname, from before his Hammock Dweller days. “Dollar Sweetie” .Keep alive his background of kicking the crap out of working peasants.

      The Dollar Sweets dispute in 1985 was a small industrial dispute with major legal ramifications in industrial relations where an employer resorted to a common law verdict and damages in a case in the Supreme Court of Victoria to resolve a dispute after industrial courts proved ineffective. It was the first time a trade union was forced to pay common law damages to an employer for losses suffered through picketing in Australia. The dispute was also significant for boosting the career of the barrister representing the company, Peter Costell

      Peter Costello described the case as “It came to be bracketed with the Mudginberri Abattoir case as a great victory against militant unionism”.

      Doug Cameron, the secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, with which the Federated Confectioners Association amalgamated, saw the dispute as a turning point. “It was when the social contract between workers, business and the government started to collapse,” and “It became a cause celebre for the big end of town and lawyers started to realise they could make money ripping off the pay and conditions of workers

  2. The SBS TV news coverage of the tragedy at Amatrice was very very good. Very factual and no tearing-up.

  3. ABC did a bit of “but now not about to look for survivors” but but was quite good.

  4. Leigh Sales and Matt Bai had a very good conversation. Worth a watch.

    Well, Not Sold, it was about USA politics.

    • I sarcastically preferred the 7.30 berkini story.

      Sales has too much ground to make up for credibility.
      Over the last 12 months her executive producer certainly has been made aware of such.

  5. Hi BK
    I don’t get the Harold Holt bottom left corner as per Broelman says it all.
    Any leads?

    • I did walk the beach many times as I had a holiday house in Portsea and the back-beach is very rough & rocky.
      But clearly a Chinese mistress whisked him away in a sub didn’t she.

  6. I wanted a birkini as soon as i first heard of them a couple of years ago. No more sunburn on bits missed by slip slop slap! What us not to like.


    Report slams banks’ funding argument
    The Australian 11:37AM August 25, 2016
    Michael Bennet Reporter Sydney

    The big banks’ attempts to justify holding back half the Reserve Bank’s rate cut have been dealt a blow after new research claimed their overall cost of funding was “very similar” to the cash rate.

    Weighing into the heated debate surrounding the banks’ response to the RBA cut, analysts at investment bank Citi today warned clients the banks were battling to explain their re-pricing of mortgages, which saw them hold back around half the official 25 basis point reduction.

    While claiming the banks’ profitability was their “Achilles’ heel” in the debate, analyst Craig Williams said attempts to explain they they are intermediaries passing on higher input costs to borrowers was “also not offering much strength to the argument”.

    “While the major banks don’t fund their loan books with the RBA, their overall cost of funding is very similar to the RBA cash rate,” he said.

    “This is because most (not all) debt securities and deposit products either automatically adjust or are hedged using interest rate derivatives against adverse interest rate movements.

    “(And) while wholesale funding costs have risen in key observable markets, the impact has been limited so far.”

    The research provides fresh insight into the banks’ opaque funding and pricing that the banks will soon have to explain after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this month ordered the big four banks’ CEOs to appear at least annually before the House of Representatives standing committee on economics in the wake of the rates controversy.

    Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank blamed rising funding costs, more onerous regulation and the need to satisfy shareholders, borrowers and depositors for holding back the rate cut and increasing a handful of term deposit products for new customers.

    The banks also claimed mortgages were not directly priced off the official cash rate and they had to charge a margin for providing “maturity transformation”, or facilitating long-term loans for borrowers from short-term deposits.

    But Mr Williams claimed the banks’ were struggling to win the debate and warned investors that the big four had relied to heavily on mortgage re-pricing in recent years “to solve the industry’s profitability challenges”.

    “Our analysis shows the major banks face an increasing challenge in convincing the public of the need for continuing mortgage re-pricing given…profitability is still high by international standards,” he said.

    “Group profitability has subsided since the GFC, but it has been mortgage customers that have had to bear the brunt of re-pricing to support falling bank profitability.

    “(And) recent net interest margin and revenue growth pressures have been largely self-inflicted as successive mortgage re-pricing has increased the profitability for smaller providers. This, in turn, has intensified competition and asset spread compression, which has lowered bank return on equity, but has benefited borrowers.”

    According to Citi, 65 per cent of the banks’ total funding is sourced from retail and business customers’ deposits. A further 15 per cent comes from short-term wholesale money markets with the remainder from the most expensive source — long-term debt markets, primarily offshore.

    Despite higher funding costs since the GFC, Citi claimed mortgage repricing had lifted the banks’ ROE from home loans from 15 per cent in 2007 to around 36 per cent. But this would fall to around 23 per cent following stricter “risk weighting” rules that recently increased mortgage capital requirements.


  9. I linked this before but I just can’t believe how little about her has changed over 20 years.

  10. This is agony. Been up since just after six. Lots of pop stars rubbish, bits of news………… wonder when it comes to voting people are so dumb.

  11. 2gravel

    THE most depressing experience was a couple of waits in a hospital waiting room and seeing in all it’s glory Morning TV on the commercial networks. I could feel my IQ tumbling as each minute of viewing went by. Mindless mindless drivel and it gets pumped out everyday on every station !. No wonder so many Turkeys vote for the Coalition’s “Thanksgiving Day”.

  12. Enough. They have Kennet and Latham on, talked about it for a minute or two………..can’t watch anymore. If there is anything intelligent coming on, I won’t be watching it. TV now off.

    • I understand.

      You really can feel your brain cells dying as you watch. And the ads! There are more ads than program, and even a lot of the actual program content is advertising anyway. And there’s never any program outline so you can tune in just for the few minutes you want to see, just a ‘coming up later’ where ‘later’ means in an hour, or two hours.

      I don’t know what’s worse, being stuck in a waiting room with that stuff being blasted at you, knowing there’s nothing you can do to escape it, or being stuck somewhere with Jones or Hadley being blasted at you.

  13. Good morning Dawn Patrollers. There’s plenty to get your teeth into tioday!

    Peter Martin tells us that Morrison has finally decided that the economic earth is round as opposed to being flat. We do have a revenue problem after all.
    Jess Irvine tells Morrison that ripping $4 a week out of NewStart is now way to fix the budget.
    Michelle Grattan tells Morrison to watch his language.
    The Australian’s David Crowe says that Turnbull, Morrison and the Liberals are unprepared for the new parliament. A telling piece. Google.
    Mark Kenny on Morrison’s debt disaster rant and Peta Credlin’s advice.
    A very good piece in The Australian from Richo. Google.
    Rob Burgess and the truth Morrison refuses to see.
    Phil Coorey reckons the government’s budget plans have fallen on deaf ears. Google.
    Sam Dastyari and other senators are determined to re-establish the senate inquiry into corporate bribery after recent further disclosures.
    Mungo McCallum explains why Labor should not support the omnibus bill.,9389
    Tim Fischer has had more than enough of the US gun problem and comes up with a novel suggestion.
    When it comes to female MP representation Labor outnumbers the Coalition two to one.
    Mike Baird faces some tough decisions (and consequences perhaps) on the lockout laws.

  14. Section 2 . . .

    How job agencies bully the unemployed and get away with it.
    Oh dear! Mesma’s embroiled in some funny money Chinese donations to the WA Liberal Party.
    The Grattan Institute reports that Shorten’s superannuation plan does stack up. Google.
    Surely Arrogant Apple can’t get away with this general defect. Consumer laws should be strong enough.
    Greg Jericho writes that we have a new normal and that this means we need to shake up economic policy.
    The Coalition’s climate numbskulls are back flogging carbon capture as the answer.,9394
    Luxury car sales are rocketing as inequality does too.
    A group of consumer advocates has warned Turnbull that establishing his proposed new banking tribunal would lead to worse outcomes for consumers, bigger delays and confusion over what legal options are available.
    his SMH editorial says that the problems of NT politics will not go away with a thumping of Giles on the weekend.
    Canberra public servants won’t have a bar of Barnaby Joyce’s enforce move of a whole department to Wagga.
    One Nation’s Culleton is ordered by the court to pay a damages settlement of $200000 he doesn’t have. His tenure as Senator may become quite short-lived.

  15. Section 4 . . . Cartoon Corner

    Broelman puts the priorities of the “apolitical” AFP into perspective.

    Ron Tandberg with Mitch Fifield’s QandA appearance.
    A BRUTAL effort from David Rowe. MUST SEE!

    Alan Moir with Baird’s problems with the WestConnex compulsory acquisition compensation problems.
    David Pope illustrates Turnbull’s tactics to address climate change issues.
    Mark Knight with one for the Melbournites.
    Broelman on the taxed and taxed-nots.

    I could not resist this. Compare the images of Bill Shorten and Stan Laurel.

  16. This Culleton idiot – I’ve been following his legal adventures and I keep asking myself how he could have been chosen as a senate candidate in the first place, His bankruptcy alone should have disqualified him, without the two charges hanging over him.

    It says a lot about Hanson and One Nation that either no-one bothered to do a simple background check, or ON is so full of itself they believed they didn’t need to follow proper procedure. Or more likely, both.

    The party is already imploding and they haven’t even got to sit in the senate chamber yet! As expected, really.

    And then there’s Pauline believing being a senator entitles her to say she is a member of the government. We all know Hanson and her party are a bunch of loonies, those who voted for them must be even loonier.

    To cap it all off, I’m still reading comments from journalists and even usually reliable indie writers telling me I should respect the ON senators because they were democratically elected. Pfffft to that!

    • ” because they were democratically elected”
      As were those friendly chappes of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party


  18. The fig/wasp story from BK’s links –

    I don’t like figs anyway, just as well. If I had liked them it would be a real turn-off.

    • Dried ones are OK, fig jam is wonderful (and I’m not supposed to eat it) but fresh figs I’ve never really cared for at all.

  19. “I have two practical proposals for you to consider,” Mr Turnbull wrote to Mr Shorten.

    He asked Mr Shorten to appoint some of Labor’s “keenest minds” to a parliamentary committee that would grill the heads of the major banks on an annual basis in order to improve the sector’s accountability and restore public confidence.

    The second proposal was to discuss with Mr Turnbull’s senior ministers any additional measures Mr Shorten – a former Superannuation and Financial Services Minister – believed would be most valuable in protecting consumers.

    “Given your long experience in the financial services portfolio I am sure you have more immediate and practical proposals for reform than simply calling for an inquiry,” Mr Turnbull wrote.

    Excellent tweet by Bill.

  20. So Fizza wants Bill to be a sort of de facto finance minister so Fizza can then claim all the credit when Bill’s ideas make things better.

    That tells me Fizza knows his finance minister and treasurer are hopeless f-wits but can’t admit it.

  21. Shorten can take great pleasure in telling Fizza to stick his letter up his clacker.

    Fizza must be desperate to be conceding power to the LOTO. i this way. He might think he is wedging Shorten, but all it does is show Turnbull as weak.

  22. I keep on getting this Raine and Horne add as I read this blog. Roughly once a day, every day. Does anyone else get it. Quite irritating. No image, just voice.

  23. Good

    The Greens have announced they will block the same-sex marriage plebiscite-enabling legislation, in a move that could spell the end for the popular vote if Labor also decides to block it.

    The Greens join Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch in stating they intend to prevent the plebiscite being held, a bloc which would defeat the policy if Labor also decides to block it.

    • Stand by for lots of ‘Labor hates gays’ rubbish from the same mob who say they won’t take any notice of the plebiscite result.

  24. Dismantling an old piano is a real nightmare. We had to do it. Nobody wanted it. Mainly because of lack of space and the removalist’s expenses. The piano itself was free. An old upright one made in Germany. The craftsmanship is beautiful. We have kept the nicest parts. Similar to this one:

  25. I’ve been wondering how much the census has really cost.

    The whole census fail mess was due to Abbott government funding cuts, the ABS was supposed to do more with less money, but the stuff-ups must be costing far more than those alleged ‘savings’.

    The online thing was supposed to be a way to cut back on the cost of employing field workers and mailing out paper forms, but the ABS has had to extend work hours for the field workers they did have, to make sure all households have completed the census.

    There’s the added cost of mailing out stacks more paper forms to people who could not manage to do theirs online, due to the failure of the website, and the cost of processing all that extra paper.

    Letters have been sent out to every household over the last week or so repeating log-ins and asking us to make sure we complete the census. Even households that have finished it either online or on paper and returned the forms have received these letters.

    There has been a huge amount of media advertising over the last two weeks begging us to please complete the census questions.

    And to cap it all off there is a phone poll commissioned by the ABS asking people for their thoughts on the census. I know this because I was just polled, and the nice man said there may be follow-up questions for me.

    It must all be costing zillions.

    Well done Fizza and Co. your budget cuts and ‘efficiency dividends’ are costing us a packet.

  26. I have just returned from the UK

    English people who voted to leave the EU did so because they say that there are too many foreigners, Poles are taking their jobs , there are Polish plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mechanics as well as Polish accountants. Perhaps this is due to a systemic failure to provide enough apprenticeship places for locals. English people face massive traffic jams and bottlenecks on their freeways. Trains are expensive, run down and on some lines seat reservations aren’t honoured as the trains are 5 car sets instead of 10 car sets – but Richard Branson has to be able to pay for his island in the Noosa River somehow

    In Melbourne traffic is becoming increasingly congested as we cram 300,000 new residents in each 5 years without building more train lines, motorways, schools. We have the mindset of importing skilled labour rather than training our young people.

    Those poor saps on Manus and Nauru are scape goats for the increasing congestion on our cities while we ignore the 300,000 migrants per annum, the 1 million on temporary work permit holders and the countless overstayers who arrived by plane.

    I am against migration that denies Australians the opportunity to work and have meaningful lives. I think Australia has high levels of migration to create an oversupply of workers so that wages are contained. The high levels of migration ensure a steady demand for housing in our major cities keeping property developers happy.

    • I agree, Billie, I don’t like the way this country is going with migration.

      I thought simply getting a university degree would be enough to get a job, but to my dismay last year, it wasn’t so easy. Almost all the jobs available are designed for migrant workers – extremely short term contracts, all in Melbourne, ridiculous shift hours, etc.

      And in Victoria, it’s clear that employers are exploiting the hell out of it. The workforce is casualizing, “stability” is being replaced with “flexibility”, and it’s clear a lot of people are saying “Why should I employ an Australian worker with all their hopes and ideals when I can just employ a migrant worker who’s happy to work in lesser conditions? (less pay, longer hours, short contracts, etc).

      Yes, migrant workers are necessary to cope with job shortages in certain fields, but from what I’m seeing here? It’s being abused to hell and it needs to be put under control.

      I’m not against multiculturalism of course, but I am against the exploitation of the workforce like this.

      As an additional note, I have to smirk with disbelief that whenever Liberals talk about things like this, their demeanor just reverses from their usual “Asylum Seekers need to be liquidated” mantra. It’s all “Omg you’re so racist, migrant workers are special” and “Well, wages are too high in Australia, we can’t possibly compete, they have to go down” and things to that degree.

  27. Sounds to me as if Turnbull’s suggestions to Shorten are:

    1. Send some ALP MPs up once a year to hear the banks soft-shuffle their way out of accountability while Lib MPs nod their heads furiously and kowtow to said banks.

    2. Expose ALP policy so that Turnbull and co have a heads-up and can counter it with better-targeted PR.

    Gee, I can’t imagine why Shorten wouldn’t go for that…

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