A ‘doomsday’ city in Australia, neutron bomb developments and John Paul II becomes Pope: headlines from four decades ago

A journey back through time to look at significant news and events reported by the South China Morning Post from this week in history

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 7:28pm

A group of Australians fled Sydney to the remote countryside to escape a “holocaust”, and a cat with a need for speed were some of the weird events that made the headlines four decades ago this week.

October 15, 1978

China was prepared, for the first time, to consider direct government-to-government loans to help finance imports for its huge modernisation programme, according to British banking sources who described this as a startling new development in the country’s policies on international credit.

Seventy people fled to a remote part of New South Wales in Australia in the belief that the Soviet Union would unleash a nuclear war later that month. They constructed a doomsday city, complete with underground bunkers and a year’s supply of food.

October 16, 1978

A statement by Thailand’s treasury the week before it planned to withdraw nine-sided five baht (about HK$1) coins because of widespread counterfeits, had thrown Bangkok into a panic when shops refused to accept the old coins before the issuing of new ones. There were about 96 million of the old coins in circulation.

October 17, 1978

Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland was elected Pope and took the name John Paul II. He was the first non-Italian Pope to be elected since Adrian VI of Holland was named Pope in 1522. The new Pontiff, 58, succeeded Pope John Paul I, who died on September 28 that year, after only 33 days in office.

A 53-year-old man burned himself to death at the main gate of a coal mine in central Queensland, Australia, in protest against being forced to join a labour union, police said. The unnamed man, a construction worker, poured petrol over himself and then set himself alight just as mine workers arrived for work.

October 18, 1978

Pope John Paul II promised his bishops a greater voice in the way their church was run. But he warned against “uncontrolled innovations”. He stressed the theme of “collegial” church government rather than rule from the Vatican in an address during a Mass in the Sistine Chapel.

A special committee had been set up by the government to look into the legal loopholes surrounding the employment of teenage prostitutes and the growing problem of vice in Hong Kong. One of the areas under the committee’s scope of investigation was Mong Kok, which was a notorious red-light district where police had discovered girls as young as 12 working in nightclubs.

October 19, 1978

US president Jimmy Carter ordered the production of the crucial components of the neutron bomb, but had not decided whether to go ahead with final production of the controversial weapon. The neutron bomb was able to kill people with minimal damage to buildings. The White House said that once the weapon’s elements were produced, it would take much less time to assemble the weapon.

Maurice the cat’s love of speed landed his owner, petrol station employee Roger Bullen, in a London court. He denied a charge of causing the cat mental anguish by taking it for rides on the pillion of his motorcycle. In defence, Bullen said he made Maurice a crash helmet out of a plastic cup for its safety. He was fined the equivalent of HK$180.

October 20, 1978

Chairman of Pan American World Airways, William Seawell, said he had discussed the possibility of building a number of Intercontinental hotels in China with the senior vice-premier Deng Xiaoping, whose reaction was “very positive”. Intercontinental, a wholly owned subsidiary of the now-defunct Pan Am, operated 99 hotels around the world.

An 11-year-old girl who altered her school report to deceive her parents died after being thrashed by her father. The primary six pupil collapsed after the beating at her Sham Shui Po home. She was certified dead on arrival at hospital.

October 21, 1978

Academy award-winning actor Gig Young, 60, fatally shot his 31-year-old West German bride of three weeks and then committed suicide. He met his wife Kim Schmidt in Hong Kong on the set of the Golden Harvest production Game of Love, in which Young appeared and Schmidt was a script girl. Their bodies were found in the bedroom of their luxurious Manhattan flat.

Remember A Day looks at significant news and events reported by the Post during this week in history