Fraser’s Political Football
In a draft letter dated 6 June 1954 to the Melbourne newspaper The Sun News Pictorial, Fraser disputes an article that was published on its front page on 3 June 1954 that he did not play local football for “political reasons”.
Unable to find evidence that it was ever published, and perhaps never sent, this Sun Letter could suggest however the start of Fraser’s ‘love-hate’ relationship with the media. Its combative tone stands in fascinating contrast to other letters collected in the scrapbook, and it sits besides other letters published earlier in regional papers on 5 June which reveal a more self-deprecating side to the young Fraser. The sequence of letters also suggests a precociousness that we might now call a media strategy.
In the 1954 Federal election held on 29 May, Fraser stood as the Liberal candidate for Wannon at the age of just 24. Following a see-sawing count and recount that stretched over two agonising weeks, Fraser lost by 17 votes. The article appeared and his letters were written in the middle of that closely fought count.
The Sun letter was among the newspaper cuttings but the offending article is absent. I did however locate it on microfiche in the State Library of Victoria, and it reports that Fraser is:
“a 6ft. 5in. Oxford graduate who ‘loves football but who cannot play it for political reasons.’
And they assert that Mr Fraser’s ‘political reason’ for being unable to play football is that “he fears that his opponents on the playing fields would vote against him at election time.”
In the letters published in the regional papers, Fraser denies that he made the quotes reported in the Melbourne press but takes a clever, humorous approach, linking his reported height to his sporting prowess:
“The only position that I would be qualified to fill on a football field would be that of a goal post.”
Speaking in 1984 about the elections of 1954 and 1955, Fraser describes with pride the effort he put into campaigning all over Wannon including having a drink at pubs all over the electorate! He also discussed the importance of winning over the Irish Catholic constituency. The published letters fitted with his attempt to establish a reputation as a ‘friendly fellow’ and may have played especially well with the more working class constituents in the Wannon community.
The letter to The Sun thus, appears after the published letters and takes a starkly different approach. The humour is gone and it is typed in terse language, with words corrected via strike out and hand annotations. Fraser disputes the direct quotations attributed to him by the reporter, and requests that his contradiction is published because the claims are ‘most damaging’. His annoyance almost leaps off the page. So why the difference in approach? Was it because through his family connections in the Western district, they were more sympathetic to his aloof, or elite, status, or because he had actually played football sometimes with local players? Or was it the beginning of a suspicion by the Melbourne populist newspaper, The Sun News Pictorial, then owned by Rupert Murdoch’s father Keith, that this son of the landed gentry might ultimately be influential?
We shall not know the answer to these questions, but throughout his career, Fraser often expressed frustration with the distortions of the media and the Letter shows that even as a young candidate he felt this anxiety and understood the importance of the media narrative. Since the regional newspapers did not publish the original story but did publish his denial, he may have felt emboldened to take a hard line with the Sun.
The contrast is fascinating, the published letters show political savvy and provide a rare glimpse into Fraser’s humorous side while the letter to The Sun fits his later image as a forthright character willing to take on the media.
Adam Eldridge-Imamura is a PhD candidate at the Asia Institute. His thesis will examine ‘official’ interpretations of the Japanese constitution declared by the Japanese government, and will take an interdisciplinary approach applying constitutional law, international relations and civil societies frameworks to develop new understandings of the constitution.
“9 Majority Likely for Government Now” in The Sun, 3 June 1954.
Fraser, Malcolm. Draft Letter to the Editor of the Sun Newspaper, 6 June 1954 (unpublished) University of Melbourne Archives, Una Fraser née Wolf Collection, 2008.0058. Box 2.
Fraser, Malcolm. ‘Mr Fraser‘s Football Activities‘, Letters to the Editor, 5 June 1954 Warrnambool Standard University of Melbourne, Una Fraser née Wolf Collection, 2008.0058, Box 2.
Fraser, Malcolm. ‘A Disclaimer‘, Letters to the Editor, 5 June 1954 Port Fairy Gazette University of Melbourne, Una Fraser née Wolf Collection, 2008.0058, Box 2.
Fraser, Malcolm. ‘Malcolm Fraser‘s Denial of Football Story‘, Letters to the Editor, 5 June 1954 Hamilton Spectator, University of Melbourne, Una Fraser née Wolf Collection, 2008.0058, Box 2.