October 2013


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Rex Connor and Tirath Khemlani

Rex Connor and Tirath Khemlani

Rex Connor had a dream. Like the man himself, it was a big one. Huge. Visionary. He imagined a rich, independent Australia built on mining, modern technology and a skilled workforce. And when he was appointed minister for minerals and energy, he thought he’d found a way to turn his vision into reality.

It was November 1974, and Connor was the third most powerful man in the Labor government. Encouraged by PM Gough Whitlam, he began looking for money to implement Labor’s policy of public participation in national development. A potential source lay in petro-dollars, the billions accumulating in the Middle East after the price of oil had quadrupled over the past year. But how to tap these funds at reasonable interest rates?

Enter Tirath Khemlani, a London-based Pakistani deal maker. Introduced to Connor by an Adelaide businessman, he talked up a storm, claiming that he could find up to $4 billion for a gas pipeline project.

A massive, shambling hulk of a man, nicknamed “the Strangler”, Connor had begun his political career as an alderman in his hometown of Wollongong. Suspicious and secretive, he accepted the assurances of his department that Khemlani was legit but refused to authorise him as an agent of the Australian government, issuing him instead with a mere expression of interest in obtaining a loan. Khemlani promised he would deliver within a month.

The month became six. Deals were always imminent, forever on the brink of success. Connor waited anxiously for news. He took to sleeping in his office, next to the telex machine. In fact, Khemlani had never raised a loan in his life. A shadowy figure, rumoured to have CIA connections, he spent his days in constant motion, trading commodities and subsisting on potato chips.

With a political scandal building around the so-called “loans affair”, Whitlam told Connor to pull the plug on the mysterious money man. But it was too late. “Old Rice and Monkey Nuts” sold his story to the newspapers and then, when Connor denied his version, arrived in Australia with bulging bags of documents. Locked in a cheap Canberra hotel room with lemonade, potato chips and Opposition front-bencher John Howard, he provided the pretext needed to block supply and bring down the Whitlam government.

Mission accomplished, Khemlani faded into obscurity. In 1981 he was convicted in New York of attempting to sell stolen securities but immediately pardoned. He died in Scotland in 1991. Rex Connor is buried in Dapto. Life, he said, is an equation in hydrocarbons.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

From the front page

Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Dog day afternoon

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Mars attracts

Reviving the Viking mission’s experiments may yet find life as we know it on Mars, but the best outcome would be something truly alien

Close-up photograph of Anne Summers, 2017

How to change a bad law

The campaign to repair the single parenting payment was a model of how research and advocacy can push government to face the cruel effects of a policy and change course

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction

In This Issue

Lorina Gore, one of the Rhinemaidens performing in November’s Ring cycle in Melbourne.

© Keith Saunders

The ‘Ring’ cycle in Melbourne

A week at the opera

In defence of high art

Are opera, ballet and classical music valuable as anything more than sedatives?

Joshua Oppenheimer’s ‘The Act of Killing’

Unforced confessions

Rudd the narcissist

The 2013 election campaign came down to a contest between constancy and charisma, but Labor should have reined in its leader.

More in Arts & Letters

Emily Kam Kngwarray, Anmatyerr people, not titled [detail], 1981

A clear view: Emily Kam Kngwarray at the NGA

A major exhibition of the late Anmatyerr desert painter is welcome, but the influence of the rapacious art market on Aboriginal art is inescapable

Image of Agnieszka Pilat with robot dog, in front of painted wall

The rule of threes: NGV Triennial

The sprawling show’s exploration of technologies and pressing politics takes in artificial intelligence and deep-fake photojournalism

Black and white close-up photo of Sigrid Nunez

Animal form: Sigrid Nunez

The celebrated American author’s latest book, ‘The Vulnerables’, completes a loose trilogy of hybrid autobiographical and fictional novels

A public-housing brick three-storey building in Ascot Vale

A house provided: Preserving public housing

The architectural practice proving that refurbishing public housing can be less expensive and disruptive than demolition for new projects

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Online latest

Installation view of the Kandinsky exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, showing three framed abstract paintings hanging on a wall

Kandinsky at AGNSW

The exhibition of the Russian painter’s work at the Art Gallery of NSW provides a fascinating view of 20th-century art’s leap from representation to abstraction

Image of Margret RoadKnight playing guitar and singing.

The unsung career of Margret RoadKnight

Little-known outside the Melbourne folk scene for decades, singer Margret RoadKnight’s 60 years of music-making is celebrated in a new compilation

A woman rides her bike past the Australian flag, the Indigenous flag and the flag of the Torres Strait Islands, Canberra, October 13, 2023. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

Beyond the Voice referendum

Looking towards the next 65,000 years

View of the High Court of Australia. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Guarding the power of the court in our democracy

The hidden forces agitating at highest levels to undermine judicial independence