The Australian cricketers were busily sledging away as usual last night as they wrapped up the Ashes 4-1 so we’ve decided to have a look at the article the entire team threatened to sue the Sydney Morning Herald over and we’ve also updated the Crikey register of famous defamation battles.

The commentators observed that the Australians were sledging English bowler Andrew Caddick as he batted late in the game, which pricked the Crikey memory on the question of our defamation lists.

The following story published in the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1998 prompted legal threatsfrom the entire Australian test team.

But they never did sue so 3 and a half year on we feel it is now safe to reproduce it as part of an academic exercise in our ongoing examination of Australia’s defamation laws.

This was the biggest hatchet job on the Australian cricket team that I can recall. Interestingly, the journalist Paul Sheehan is one of the few senior newspaper journalists in Australia who has ever been done over in a feature piece by a rival publication. It was certainly quite a shellacking Sheehan received from Gideon Haigh in The Eye magazine but with the cricketers not carrying out their threat to sue, this piece on cricket sledging from Paul Sheehan appears to have held up pretty well.

Check it out and ask yourself whether you’d have sued if you were Steve Waugh or if the whole team could have sued over the “choo-choo” train line.

At the bottom of the piece we’ve reproduced an updated version of the Crikey defamation list so feel free to send in any corrections or additions.

White flannels, foul mouths

By Paul Sheehan

January 2, 1998

When the Sydney cricket Test begins today, the mental battle will be ruthless. Paul Sheehan reports on the dark side of the summer game.

STEVE Waugh has a big heart and a big bat. He also has a big mouth. Last season, when he was playing for his Sydney club, Bankstown, he came up against a young gun from Northern Districts, a batsman who many believe can play for NSW one day. Waugh, who today becomes only the third Australian to play his 100th Test match, and is one of the greatest players ever capped for Australia, was the young man’s hero. He had a poster of the Test star on his bedroom wall.

Waugh is a professional sportsman, not a charity, and when the young man took the field, Waugh gave him an earful. We don’t know exactly what was said, but according to several Northern District players in that game, what the young batsman heard was not exactly the stuff of hero worship:

“Who’s this wanker? Who’s this c—? F—ing second-grader. He’s out of his depth.”

The young player couldn’t handle the pressure. He lost his wicket cheaply. He was furious. When he got home he tore the Waugh poster from his wall.

What Waugh did has become normal in grade cricket – and they weren’t even playing Sydney University, which gets a special level of abuse from most teams – as sledging has become part of the game.

But Waugh is a Test legend, a poster boy, and he put the young man to a fire-test and found him wanting. The younger player will be tougher next time, less joyful in his game perhaps, but mentally tougher. He was given a lesson by one of the game’s hard men.

Even by the standards of Test cricket, Waugh is famous for his mental toughness. He has saved Australia on numerous occasions, as recently as last week, when the first Test against South Africa started disastrously until Waugh stabilised the Australian innings.

Some people think cricket is a game. The higher it goes, the tougher it gets, sometimes to the point of sickness. In 1994, the young New Zealand Test player Chris Cairns was devastated by the death of his sister, killed in a major train accident near Christchurch. In a subsequent Test against Australia, two of the Australian players reputedly went into a quiet chant when Cairns began batting: “Choo-choo-choo-choo-choo-choo.”

Don’t ever confuse sport and sportsmanship. The alleged “choo-choo” campaign supposedly worked against Cairns who, as with all Test players, maintains the code of silence even while some break the code of honour.

Cricket grounds may be hallowed but they are not sacred. When one current Australian batting star was overheard (by an English journalist in an adjoining hotel room) having sex with a voluble young woman, her shouted dialogue was passed on to members of the English Test team. Apparently the woman made repeated references to “ram-raiders”, referring to the spate of raids in Sydney at the time where shops were being robbed by thieves known as ram-raiders ramming stolen cars through front windows. The young woman referred to the Australian player as her ram-raider, and invited him to rob her store.

In the next match, the English players were ready. Just as the bowler peppered him, the ring of English fielders let loose: “Oh, ram-raider! Come on, ram-raider! Hit me, ram-raider!”

The umpires didn’t have a clue what was going on. The batsman wasn’t exactly on top, either, and lost his wicket early. It was some justice. The current Australian team is regarded as one of the worst sledging combinations in history. Although there is a code of silence about what is said on the field, some of it gets out, and everyone knows it goes on.

The code was broken last year by the then West Indian captain, Brian Lara, who publicly complained about the incessant sledging by the Australians when the younger, more vulnerable players were at bat. The Australians have always targeted any sign of weakness.

The Australian Cricket Board has clamped down on excessive gamesmanship but it has succeeded only in making sledging more cunning and side-mouthed. That’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t get picked up by the TV microphones on the field.

The new strictness hasn’t stopped some long-running feuds. Shane Warne’s ongoing head game with South Africa’s Daryll Cullinan is becoming the stuff of legend. In one reputed exchange between the two players, Warne told Cullinan when he came in to bat, “Don’t get out yet. I’ve been waiting three years to get you here [the SCG, a notorious spinner’s minefield].”

Cullinan allegedly replied: “By the look of you, you’ve spent those three years eating.”

As it turned out, Cullinan took Warne’s wicket in this match (it’s usually the other way round) and as Warne headed off, Cullinan sent him on his way, allegedly saying: “Go back to the pavilion and deflate yourself.”

Cullinan resumed his verbal games when the South Africans returned to Australia this summer. Playing against Michael Slater, who had been dropped from the Australian Test side, Cullinan got in close when Slater came to bat and reputedly told him: “You can’t bat. You can’t even get in the Test team. You’ll soon be gone.”

To which Slater reputedly replied: “Mate, mate, I can’t wait till Warney bowls his first flipper at you.”

Fair comment. When the Cullinan v Warne grudge match resumed last week in the first Test, Warne duly clean-bowled Cullinan for a duck. So mesmerised is Cullinan by Warne’s magic that the Herald’s Malcolm Knox, describing the dismissal, wrote: “Cullinan again resembled an animal caught in Warne’s headlights.”

Warne also got his 500th first-class wicket in the match. He is tough. But can he take abuse as well as he can dish it out? On December 16 he walked out of the unveiling of a Madame Tussaud’s wax likeness of himself when a reporter pointed out that the model was slimmer than the real thing.

Warne, bristling, said, “That’s it. You ruined it. Thanks very much.” And walked off the stage.

Warne is one of the reasons why cricket authorities have clamped down on sledging. “The fining of Shane Warne and Merv Hughes after the South African tour saw sledging come to an end in terms of sustained aggression and the violent abuse that used to go on,” says Phil Wilkins, the doyen of Australian cricket writing. The West Indian great Viv Richards once took Wilko aside and said, “Do you have any idea how bad your team is?”

Merv Hughes, another motor-mouth fined, has attributed about 25 per cent of his wickets to his sledging, and he brags about it in his recent biography, Merv, The Full Story, in which he talks of how he tried “to get inside the opposition’s head and jumble them up a bit”.

The former Australian captain Ian Chappell, who perhaps did more than any other player to allow sledging to increase from a trickle to a cascade, led a team of famous verbal nigglers. But Chappell led by example. His ruthless abuse of New Zealand batting star Glenn Turner is legendary among New Zealand cricket historians, and what Chappell is reputed to have said to Turner cannot be reprinted here. Whatever he said, it was extraordinarily effective because Turner, who scored first-class runs by the thousand, was never a force against Australia.

The long and raucous Chappell era has left a trough-edged legacy on the Australian game that has filtered down to every level of grade cricket in Australia, where even sixth-graders give each other stick.

The boys in the Bankstown first-grade team have obviously picked up some mettle from the formidable Waugh Test twins. When one well-known grade bowler came to play Bankstown, he was reminded during that game that his sister used to go out with one of the Bankstown boys, and her sexual prowess was discussed throughout the game. As the references to “head-jobs” continued, the bowling grew more and more fierce, with bouncers flying around batsmen’s heads, which in turn led to a flurry of high stuff when it was Bankstown’s turn to bowl. A good day’s cricket.

On and on it goes, every weekend around the cricket grounds, as the inner game of cricket, which is just as tough as the physical game, is played out. All in the game’s own argot:

“Let’s have some C & D!” (C & D makes cricket helmets.)

“Let’s get rid of the furniture.” (Knock out the wickets.)

And let’s have a little class warfare when the university silvertails come to play.

“Bookworm!” When one Sydney University first-grader was slow to come out to bat for a game not long ago, a veteran Bankstown fast bowler complained as he came to the crease: “What were you f—ing doing? Reading a textbook about micro-economic reform?”

To which the umpire interjected: “Well, Cracker, at least he can read.”

ends

Crikey’s register of defamation battles

Tony Abbott: successfully sued over Bob Ellis’s Goodbye Jerusalem which suggested he and Peter Costello had slept with each other’s wives.

Sir Peter Abeles: Notorious for issuing various stopper writs against critics in the 1970s and 80s.

Piers Akerman: Rupert Murdoch’s best friend in Australia sued Fairfax over various articles during his disastrous stewardship of the Herald Sun in the early 90s. He has emailed to point out that nothing ever got to court. However, he also sued the journalist’s union in the AJA back in his wild Adelaide days and secured a $20,000 settlement which former state secretary Bill Rust described as “the greatest sell-out in the history of the union”.

Col Allan: The Daily Telegraph’s editor settled “to my satisfaction” a defamation case against Austereo’s Andrew Denton who suggested a crime story was only on the front page because the accused was Korean.

Chris Anderson: The Optus CEO and former journalist sued The Australian’s columnist Mark Westfield in the ACT Supreme Court in 1999. The Oz settled with a grovelling apology without telling Westfield.

Paul Anderson: The BHP CEO is using Geoffrey Sher QC to sue The Australian and Mark Westfield for a column that said the “main reason” for the BHP-Billiton merger was because Anderson’s wife Kathy “detested” Australia and Australians. Ironically, it was Geoffrey Sher who helped The Australian beat Kennett’s action a couple of years back.

Tony Bell: The CEO of 3AW’s parent Southern Cross Broadcasting is suing Derryn Hinch for comments on 3AK suggesting they have exercised too much power in the Melbourne talk radio market. Southern Cross Broadcasting have just been joined as a co-plaintiff so presumably shareholders will be footing the bills to Corrs Chambers Westgarth and our friends Gina Schoff and Will Houghton.

Vincenzo Bellino: The Sicilian sleaze mogul in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley sued Chris Masters and the ABC for 13 years after The Moonlight State which ended up costing the ABC more than $600,000 to defend even though they won.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen: sued the ABC over allegations of corruption and rorts in his government. Sued Channel Nine and collected a $400,000 settlement which the dodgy entrepreneur said was to help him do business in Queensland. He also sued then opposition leader Tom Burns on numerous occasions and always used Ebsworths for his various other defo writs which totalled more than 20.

Neil Blewett: The former Labor Health Minister successfully sued when a magazine said he was gay. Years later he came out and now lives with his gay lover in the Blue Mountains. Will he pay back the money?

Peter Blunden: The Herald Sun editor took out a Supreme Court writ against ABC Radio’s Jon Faine in 1999 but it was quickly withdrawn.

Alan Bond: Successfully sued the Sydney Morning Herald in the 1980s, setting back investigative pieces on him for many years until Paul Barry and Four Corners came along.

George Buschman: John Singleton’s 2GB chief executive is suing sacked Drive Time presenter Mike Jeffreys for daring to criticise him publicly about a $530,000 unfair dismissal claim against the station.

Jim Byrnes: Alan Bond’s bankruptcy mate is currently suing the Sydney Morning Herald over a Kate Askew column item in CBD.

Jim Cairns (Treasurer in the Whitlam government) and Junie Morosi (his personal secretary and assistant) sued The National Times over an article alleging they were each involved in an improper sexual relationship.

Arthur Calwell (leader of the ALP in the 1960s) sued The Sunday Review over an article that Calwell was really a traditional conservative conducting a rearguard action against progressive socialist policies favoured by Whitlam.

Richard Carlton: The head-kicking 60 Minutes Reporter is suing Media Watch over claims made last year that he pinched some footage.

Jim Carey: Sued PMP over an article in one of their Aussie trash sheets but settled last year for a payout and a big apology.

Nick Carson: This legal partner at Allen Allen & Hemsley collected $500,000 in a settlement plus $310,000 in costs after a long battle against SMH editorial writer John Slee. The court had ordered $1.3 million in damages for claims the article suggested Carson engaged in professional misconduct and a criminal conspiracy.

Rodney Cavalier: The Moree Champion paid out $150,000 to the former NSW Labor Minister in 1989 for suggesting he committed sexual offences on children.

Evonne Cawley/Goolagong sued The Bulletin over a letter to the editor.

Jenny Chandler: the founding convenor of Save Albert Park sued Jeff Kennett for defamation over some Grand Prix comments and received a five figure settlement just before the 1999 state election.

Greg Chappell: sued A Current Affair over threatening to repeat allegations in The Truth that he was having an affair and engaging in unusual sexual intercourse.

Anne Charleston and Ian Smith (who played Madge and Harold Bishop in Neighbours) sued The News of the World in the UK after it published a photo of a naked couple apparently engaged in sodomy, with the actors’ faces pasted onto it.

Ron Clarke: The Olympic champion sued the ABC’s 7.30 Report over a report which alleged he was building a sports complex on a toxic dump. He asked for a $75,000 settlement which the ABC refused and he’s just been awarded over $1 million.

John Coates: A chap called Dempster criticised the Olympics supremo twice in 1983 to two separate people suggesting he was unfit to be an Olympic rowing official because he gave priority to personal interest and ambition. The first publication was worth $58,000 and the second $62,000, then Coates got $35,173 in interest on top.

Peter Collins: The NSW Liberal lightweight sued a southern NSW doctor for comments when he was Health Minister.

Laurie Connell: Dodgiest merchant banker in history. Issued about 300 defo writs against various journalists but all failed because he was a crook who went broke.

Peter Costello: Successfully sued over Bob Ellis’s Goodbye Jerusalem.

Tanya Costello: Successfully sued over Bob Ellis’s Goodbye Jerusalem.

Joan Coxsedge: high profile Victorian ALP upper house member sued the Toorak Times in the 80s over a story that labelled her a traitor for revealing the home address of the ASIO boss.

John dela Bosca: Labor’s Special Minister of State in NSW received about $20,000 recently after suing that wild paedophilia conspiracist Franca Arena.

Frank de Stefano: the jailed former Geelong mayor who defrauded $8 million sued some critics of Barwon Water and won a $10,000 settlement for some bumper stickers.

Jason Donovon: Sued London’s The Face magazine for suggesting he was gay.

John Elliott: sued the ABC and former Victorian Labor Minister Steve Crabb over claims the NCA was investigating him shortly before the 1990 federal election. He also sued Paul Keating but this settled in another famous Kirribilli pact that involved an FIRB decision.

Andrew Ettinghausen: The rugby league player sued Packer’s magazine HQ for imputing he’d deliberately permitted a photograph to be taken of his genitals. Was awarded $350,000 at first then reduced to $100,000 on appeal but the total cost to the Packers including legal was about $2 million and ET was represented by Tom Hughes QC who had shortly earlier been dumped from his Packer retainer by Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap.

Syd Fischer: The yachtsman and Sydney hotel owner got $200,000 in 1987 against Fairfax for suggesting he was incompetent and dishonourable regarding aspects of the America’s Cup challenge.

Kel Glare: former Victorian Police Commissioner Kel Glare successfully sued Piers Akerman’s Herald Sun in the early 1990s.

John Gorton (former Prime Minister) sued the ABC over a This Day Tonight interview by Richard Carleton in which it was implied that Gorton had instructed Malcolm Fraser to issue a false denial of a story which he knew to be true.

Bill Gurry: The highly respected Melbourne investment banker sued former Victorian Treasurer Alan Stockdale when he incorrectly alleged Gurry was mates with John Cain and should not serve on the Tricontinental Royal Commission.

Joe Gutnick: Is currently suing the US Magazine Barons in the Victorian Supreme Court over an article suggesting he had links with convicted tax scheme merchant Nachum Goldberg.

Bill Harrigan: The best known rugby league referee sued Alan Jones for suggesting some of his decisions were bad.

Bob Hawke: Has sued most outlets over the years and reputedly received truckloads in payouts which built various pools, tennis courts and new wings in his homes but can anyone actually name a journalist who went down to Hawkie.

Alan Jones: Very litigious over the years and currently running various actions against The Sydney Morning Herald.

Jeff Kennett: Issued dozens of writs including against The Age, The Australian and Packer’s Nine Network which yielded a $400,000 settlement. He also sued then Victorian opposition leader John Brumby and another Labor critic David White.

David Lange: The former NZ prime Minister sued the ABC which led to a slight watering down of the political comment precedent established in Theophanous.

John Laws: the 2UE cash for commenter collected $210,000 from Fairfax from a jury in 1983 which agreed the article suggested that he fraudulently benefited from land deals.

Solomon Lew: Sued the Herald Sun over a front page article detailing an alleged inside job where someone broke into the so-called “Yannon room” at ASIC. Settled with nominal payout after a couple of years.

Clive Lloyd: The former West Indian captain collected $100,000 from The Age in 1984 after a stringer wrote a column under the headline “C’mon Dollar C’mon” suggesting World Series Cricket games were fixed. All his team mates lined up for big settlement after the jury decision was upheld by the Privy Council in London.

John Marsden: former head of the NSW Bar Association is sucessfully sued Seven over a Witness and Today Tonight report alleging sexual encounters with underage boys. Faced with an $18 million legal bill after Australia’s longest defamation battle, Seven have vowed to appeal.

Demi Moore and Bruce Willis sued New Idea over allegations of trouble in their relationship. The matter promptly settled with an apology.

Chris Murphy: The Sydney criminal lawyer turned stockmarket punter recently settled with The Daily Telegraph over a gossip column item carrying Stephen Mayne’s by-line that compared him with his namesake who owns 2SM and used to manage INXS. He’s also suing an internet chatroom.

Murray Niccol: The former 3AW breakfast presenter successfully sued his old station and Steve Price for describing him on air as a “dill”.

Eddie Obeid: The NSW Labor Minister has sued various partners and critics for defamation and other things over the years.

Neil Ohlsson: A former business partner of Kerry Packer and Malcolm Edwards who sued over Paul Barry’s Packer book but settled when slight changes were agreed.

Pat O’Shane: The NSW Aboriginal magistrate successfully sued the SMH over a 1999 article headlined “Extreme views from the bench”, which the jury found defamed her on eight points, implying she was biased, incompetent and had undermined the judicial system in her role as a magistrate.

Kerry Packer: Sued truckloads of people over the years and is currently running actions against Four Corners and Fairfax.

David Parker: The former NRMA director collected $135,000 from 2UE in 1983 when they suggested he was a disastrously unsuitable candidate for election to the board.

Charles Perkins: Successfully sued the Aboriginal Land Council for almost $1 million after they suggested he had tried to destroy them.

Dr Kerryn Phelps: Sued red wine lover Michael Wooldridge for refusing to apologise after suggesting she had no medical qualifications but then withdrew it after a long lunch and an apology for the good Doctor Minister.

Steve Price: Suing Crikey and Stephen Mayne personally over a press release by Raymond Hoser that was read by less than 200 people and downloaded by 340 different people. Mayne did not even read the offending text which was removed as soon as a complaint was lodged and has been apologised for on numerous occasions.

Brian Quinn: The disgraced former Coles Myer boss sued The Age over a Katherine Teh article that suggested he sold some shares shortly before announcing a big profit slump at the 1991 AGM. The slump was announced a few weeks earlier at the profit result so Quinn got a big payout that helped pay for his renovations.

Gina Rinehart: Sued Channel Seven Perth which claimed she had failed to contribute money to a medical cause and received a quickfire $100,000 settlement when Seven’s doctor source changed his story.

Rene Rivkin: The colorful Sydney stockbroker failed is his writ against the Sydney Morning Herald and the Fin Review over the Christmas Eve fire and $50 million insurance claim involving Offset Alpine and the death of the girlfriend of Rivkin’s former driver Gordon Woods. He is also suing Seven’s Witness program over a Caroline Byrne story and is suing The Australian over a story after ASIC slapped enforcible undertakings on him for doing the opposite of his share tips.

Roger Rogerson: The corrupt NSW detective got $30,000 out of Channel Nine after suing over the famous Sally-anne Huckstep interview on 60 Minutes when she accused him of murdering her drug dealing boyfriend Warren Lafranchi.

Dodgy Doug Shave: The former Court Government Consumer Affairs Minister in WA is suing his replacement from the ALP, Minister McGinty and The West Australian for things they’ve said about his gross inaction on the finance brokers scandal as it unfolded over the past couple of years.

Ian Smith (former Victorian Minister for Finance) sued Cheryl Harris (a staffer who became pregnant to him) and Slater & Gordon over a wide range of allegations, including allegations by Harris that Smith had bashed her and tried to force her to have an abortion.

Barry Stewart: the CEO of the Mildura Aboriginal Corporation, was awarded $115,000 by a jury after an expensive three week trial for comments on the old 3LO by Peter Couchman and others. Channel Seven were wise enough to settle early for broadcasting similar comments.

Marie Tehan: The former Victorian Health Minister sued The Age when the Kennett forces were trying to maximise the pressure on then editor Bruce Guthrie. The flurry of writs worked as Guthrie was soon sacked.

Andrew Theophanous: Sued the Herald Sun over a Bruce Ruxton which became the basis of the political comment defence when Murdoch won in the High Court.

Tom Uren, a senior member of the ALP in the 1960s and 1970s, sued the Sun-Herald over allegations he was duped into assisting Soviet spies in the early 1960s.

Ron Walker: Has sued various people over the years including the head of the Historic Buildings Council and journalists such as Julianne Davies on The Age.

The Waterhouse family (Bill, Robbie and Gai) have variously sued the ABC, 2GB and The Sunday Herald Sun.

Kathy Watt sued The Herald Sun and The Advertiser over allegations that she deliberately shafted Lucy Tyler-Sharman for a place in the 1996 Australian Olympics team.

Robbie Waterhouse: The colorful Sydney racing identity sued Four Corners reporter Tony Jones and Executive Producer Peter Manning after the widely acclaimed story “Running Racing” in the 1980s.

Tony Webster: Owner of Webster Publishing is suing Stephen Mayne, David Ireland and Crikey Media over an article downloaded 178 times. Infosentials bought the business but has since gone broke with creditors likely to lose about $7 million.

Paul Whelan: The NSW Police Minister is suing the Sydney Morning Herald over something or other. What a goose.

Lloyd Williams: Another regular litigant who sued Melbourne University Architecture academic Miles Lewis, former Labor Minister David White, The Age and various other parties.

Neville Wran: Sued the ABC in the early 80s over allegations he attempted to interfere with the natural course of justice.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

What a year. Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW