In the early part of his political career, former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen – aka The Hillbilly Dictator – had a jaundiced attitude to the pesky officers of the press corps. “The greatest thing that could happen to the state and the nation is when we get rid of all the media,” he said. “Then we could live in peace and tranquility and no one would know anything.”
No one, maybe not even Joh, knew exactly what he meant by that – you could say that about a lot of his most famous public utterances, actually – but it’s widely suspected that he was serious at the time.
It was Joh’s press secretary, Allen Callaghan, who convinced him that the press, if manipulated effectively, could be used as a political weapon. And Joh, as reactionary a figure as any to have appeared on the Australian political landscape, proved he could adapt. Soon, he would refer to the media as his “chooks”: “I have to feed them every afternoon,” he said.
“Feeding the chooks” has long since entered Australia’s journalistic lexicon to describe the relationship between politicians and their interlocuters. But what if you simply bought the chook run?