Tony Jones is well known for his work with the ABC and SBS as a journalist and most notably as presenter of ABC TV’s Q&A. As chair Sarah Kanowski said, he needs little introduction.
But perhaps in his latest incarnation, he does. His latest endeavour is a novel, albeit one informed by his experience as a foreign correspondent and through extensive research.
Tony Jones‘ political thriller The Twentieth Manrevolves around the Yugoslavian Trade and Tourist Agency bombing at Haymarket, Sydney on 16 September 1972, and the subsequent aftermath. The attack is suspected to have been orchestrated by the Croatian fascist terrorist organisation, the Ustaše. Two bombs were detonated, the first injuring sixteen and killing two, while the blast of the second was contained.
For most Australians, this event has been forgotten. Jones, who was 15 at the time of the attack, said he had no clue it had happened. He did, however, remember seeing a broadcast of former Prime Minister Billy McMahon walking through the rubble of the aftermath, exclaiming that the ones who did this would be found and held accountable. They were never found.
A key ideological goal of the Ustaše was achieving an ethnically and religiously ‘pure’ Croatia by exterminating hundreds of thousands of Jewish, Serbian and Romani people. Following the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II, Ustaše members fled all over the world, including Australia.
Back then, Jones said Australia did not know how to be multicultural and didn’t understand the history or culture of other countries. People were ‘purely innocent in those days’. Nevertheless, Australians often look on current events surrounding terrorism and extremism and think that is it a new phenomenon.
While The Twentieth Man is fictional, it is concerned with real people and real events,
The main character of The Twentieth Man, Anna Rosen, was described by session chair Kanowski as ‘Lauren Bacall with a typewriter’. Rosen is a young, smart, intellectual ABC journalist. When asked why he chose to write a female protagonist, Jones responded rhetorically,
‘Who wants to write a book that’s only about blokes?’
Jones acknowledged that in the ’70s the ABC was a ‘weird and raunchy place’ with a presence of internal misogyny, and this is explored somewhat in the novel.
Kanowski quipped that The Twentieth Man presents Labor politicians of the time as charming, while Liberal politicians are presented as ‘toady’. When asked if he was worried about accusations of demonstrating a ‘typical ABC left-wing bias’, Jones replied ‘absolutely I am!’
After laughter from the audience, Jones clarified that he tried to give these characters a degree of nuance.
Comparing the task of writing journalistic features, Jones said he found writing a novel somewhat liberating as it ‘gives you a certain amount of freedom to put yourself in other people’s minds.’
Perhaps Jones’ capacity to imagine minds that differ from our own is a skill he has refined through anchoring ABC’s Q&A. If we all could do such an apprenticeship, we could learn a thing or two about circumventing the misguided intolerance that fuels violent groups like the Ustaše, or, in more recent times, ISIS.
Lachlan Rutherford is a Southern Cross University Honours Graduate in Creative Writing. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Social Science.