The coup that led to a Liberal dose of leadership blues

Journo 1: “Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull. Isn’t it incredible? Since June 2013, four Prime Ministers.”
Journo 2: “And Rudd twice. Rudd, Gillard, Rudd.”
Journo 1: “Quite incredible.”
Journo 2: “So much dysfunction.”
Journo 1: “So much dysfunction, or is it so much lack of care in choosing your party leaders because although the system would allow this to happen here, we just don’t tend to see it.”
That was the reaction of two news presenters on British TV commenting on the leadership coup that resulted in Malcolm Turnbull becoming the 29th prime minister of Australia this week (Mr Turnbull shown above holding grandson Jack, from left, his daughter Daisy, wife Lucy and son-in-law James Brown. AAP Photo).
In other words, five prime ministers in five years.
The ABC played the clip, along with reaction from New Zealand and other media outlets in Europe, as it waited for Tony Abbott to make his last statement as Prime Minister outside Parliament House on Tuesday.
It all happened so quickly on Monday that I barely had time to grab a legal pad and start taking notes as Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott’s leadership in front of a media mob on the parliamentary grounds. Turnbull’s attack was swift and brutal: “We need to restore traditional cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We have to remember we have a great example of good cabinet government. John Howard’s government most of us served in. And yet few would say that the cabinet government of Mr Abbott bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard.”
Nine’s political editor Laurie Oakes said Turnbull had to explain why Abbott needed to go. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake as Labor when they didn’t say why they got rid of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. Oakes said on Nine News: “Malcolm Turnbull is not making that mistake, he’s laying out his reasons for wanting Tony Abbott gone and for thinking he could do a better job.”
The media coverage of the lightning coup was good, especially at Sky News with a excellent team of presenters and people on the road and behind the scenes (they’re all good, but special mention to my friend Brihony Speed). In Canberra, there was the dynamic workaholic duo of political editor David Speers and chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert, joined by journalist and author, Kerri-Anne Walsh, and columnist for The Australian, Niki Savva, who has written two superb pieces for the paper this week, and the odd politician who could be convinced to go on camera. In Sydney, there was The Australian columnist and Sky anchor, Peter Van Onselen, and radio broadcaster and Sky presenter, Paul Murray, joined by Kevin Rudd’s former political director, Bruce Hawker, political analyst, former Labor minister, and Sky host, Graham Richardson, and Sky host of The Perrett Report and The Friday Show, Janine Perrett.
There was a bit of argy-bargy between Van Onselen and Murray, the former backing Turnbull and the latter supporting Abbott. It was understandable in a super-charged atmosphere. Perrett talked about how the latest leadership spill would hurt business, as they want certainty: “The economy isn’t going to turn overnight.”
After Tony Abbott said the messages of support were pouring in for him, and repeated a Liberal mantra: “We are not the Labor Party,” he made a last-minute appeal: “I am dismayed by the destabilisation that’s been taking place now for many, many months and I do say to my fellow Liberals that the destabilisation just has to stop … I firmly believe that our party is better than this, that our government is better than this and, by God, that our country is so much better than this.”
Graham Richardson said Abbott “did exactly what he had to do. It was pretty good. It wasn’t a Churchillian statement.” The soon-to-be replaced Treasurer Joe Hockey echoed Abbott’s remarks: “We cannot, we must not become a carbon copy of the Labor Party. We cannot and must not make the same mistakes that were made in the Rudd and Gillard years.”
Soon other Liberals joined the “We are not the Labor Party” crowd, including former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, who blasted Turnbull: “Disgraceful, selfish, he has always put his own interests first … What he’s saying is the Liberal Party is no different to the Labor Party and Malcolm Turnbull is our Kevin Rudd.” Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, hearing Liberals attack Liberals, joined in the fun: “Australia does not need another out-of-touch, arrogant, Liberal leader; Australia needs a change of government.”
But all the Liberal pleas fell on deaf ears. Sky’s sharp political correspondent Laura Jayes reported Tony Abbott had offered the influential Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, the roles of deputy PM and Treasurer, but he declined. Morrison told Sydney 2GB radio’s Ray Hadley in a testy interview yesterday that he was stunned by the offer: “I supported the prime minister, he offered me the job of treasurer hours out from that ballot. He’d never done that before, he’d never had a discussion with me before about being his deputy leader. I can’t understand why I was being offered that job when he had showed such strong support for Joe Hockey. He was asking me to throw Joe Hockey under a bus.”
From about 7pm Monday, everybody played the numbers game while the ABC broadcast news packages of the day’s events, including a profile of Malcolm Turnbull and the traditional vox pops with voters in the candidates’ electorates, Wentworth and Warringah. All the networks had reporters in the field seeking comments from commuters on their way home from work. The ABC also had a mini-profile of Tony Abbott, and of course, a reporter in Canning, the site of today’s WA by-election, as well as a comment from election analyst, Antony Green, on the possibility of an early poll. He didn’t think there’d be one. On 7.30, Leigh Sales interviewed Senator Arthur Sinodinos, back from the ICAC wilderness to support Malcolm Turnbull, because “old habits have returned” and Turnbull has “promised a more consultative style.” The excellent Annabel Crabb provided more analysis, followed by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, backing Abbott, and Senator Cory Bernardi saying he’d already received hundreds of emails from voters not wanting any change. Soon the ABC stalwarts, political editor Chris Uhlmann, chief political correspondent Sabra Lane, and political correspondent Greg Jennett joined Annabel Crabb to keep the coverage rolling, cancelling Australian Story, Media Watch and Q & A (much to the delight of some Liberal politicians).
After the usual walking into the party room by Team Turnbull and Team Abbott, the Chief Whip Scott Buchholz made it official at 9.47pm: “Malcolm Turnbull was successful 54 votes to 44, one informal vote,” and for the deputy leadership, Julie Bishop was far ahead of Kevin Andrews, 70 votes to 30. Malcolm Turnbull would be sworn in as prime minister. On Nine, Laurie Oakes offered his condolences to Tony Abbott: “You’ve got to feel sorry for the prime minister.” On Ten, veteran political analyst Paul Bongiorno said Abbott could be a lightning rod for destabilisation. Abbott, of course, denied this the next day.
At 10.41pm, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop faced the media, apologising for being late. The PM-designate was grateful and gracious: “I want to say at the outset what a great debt the nation owes and the party owes, the government owes, to Tony Abbott and of course, to his family, Margie and their daughters.” And he proposed something the previous government was lacking: “We need to have in this country and we will have now, an economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face and describes the way in which we can handle those challenges, seize those opportunities and does so in a manner that the Australian people understand so that we are seeking to persuade rather than seeking to lecture.”
The next day, a buoyant Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in by the Governor-General with his family around him but Tony Abbott got in first with his last statement as Prime Minister. It summed up Abbott: Honest and humble, but not particularly gracious – he did not mention Malcolm Turnbull, which was understandable. He admitted it was a tough day, but was proud of what he had achieved: free trade agreements; a spotlight shone on “dark and corrupt corners of the union movement;” responding to threats of terror, and yes, stopping the boats, which made the government “better able to display our compassion to refugees.” He was the first prime minister to spend a week a year in remote indigenous Australia, “and I hope I’m not the last.”
But the bitterness came out later, directed toward some of his leaking Liberal colleagues: “We stayed focused despite the white-anting.” And he also targeted the media: “The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before – mostly sour, bitter character assassination. Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving-door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery. And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to: refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife.”
Whew, Tony, why don’t you say what you really think? Well, I will say what I think. At the beginning of your government I believed you could become a good prime minister. I wrote a post about it in November 2013, where I talked about your days as a volunteer firefighter in the seat of Davidson, how you drove yourself to early Sunday morning interviews because you didn’t think Commonwealth drivers should have to work on the Sabbath, your commitment to children in remote Indigenous communities, and the fact that you were a nice bloke. And I quoted Laurie Oakes, discussing Tony Abbott becoming a good prime minister with Fran Kelly on ABC’s RN Breakfast. Oakes said it was possible but Abbott lacked vision and forward thinking: “I think Tony Abbott has very cleverly repositioned himself, but he still doesn’t come across as a visionary. Tony Abbott only a few years ago said you really can’t expect a politician to be interested in anything beyond his own period in parliament. Well, that’s really a very limiting view for a politician to have. If Tony Abbott really believes that, he’ll be useless as Prime Minister. Prime ministers have to be forward thinkers, but if Tony Abbott wants to be a good prime minister, he’s going to have to think a lot further ahead than his own period in parliament, so we’ll see.”
I’m afraid we have seen. The CEO of World Vision, Tim Costello, and brother of former Treasurer Peter Costello, commented on Abbott’s capabilities on Q & A on Thursday night (postponed due to the spill): “I certainly believe that Tony Abbott was an incredibly effective Opposition Leader. You sometimes find that people are made for opposition and the step up to being Prime Minister is sometimes too great.”
But now to the new Prime Minister. What chance has he of reunifying a divided party and defeating the Great Satan, Bill Shorten, in the next election? Well, the leaks, which Tony Abbott said he has never done and would never do, have been taken up by his Liberal allies inside and outside Canberra; according to Dennis Shanahan, political editor of The Australian, “cabinet figures contradicting Mr Turnbull’s claims about promoting women have been leaked; some of Mr Abbott’s supporters have had meetings; and Liberals are complaining they were kept in the dark over the Coalition agreement Mr Turnbull signed with Nationals leader, Warren Truss.”
And as far as the promise of consultative government is concerned, a Canberra source told me Mr Turnbull still hasn’t called one of the ministers who is likely to be axed in the Cabinet reshuffle to be announced this weekend. I said: “Well, Turnbull could argue that he’s been too busy settling in to government.” The response was: “Yeah, too busy looking at himself in the mirror.”
Welcome to the prime ministership, Mr Turnbull. You have a tough job ahead of you.
PS Malcolm Turnbull’s name plaque in the photo above has a funny story attached to it. Twenty or more years ago when I was working at Channel Nine, I went to the Link Department to pick up tapes. Phil Mahoney, who ran the small office, said he had found the brass plaque in the bin, as Turnbull no longer worked at Nine (he was Kerry Packer’s lawyer). “Would you like it?” Phil asked. I looked at it, and said: “Why not? Just in case he ever becomes Prime Minister.” It took me a while to find it, but I’ve put it on the mantelpiece.

Are you okay, Buddy? It’s not a crime to say you need help

Depressed. Feeling down. In the dumps. Bitten by the Black Dog. Beyond Blue.
All the phrases and words above have been associated with depression. I have been thinking about depression for some time, as my brother Jack committed suicide 24 years ago this month, and I have been asking why ever since. I know one major factor: he was suffering from clinical depression. He wasn’t well: he had diabetes, had to leave his job as an airlines baggage handler, and was seeing a doctor, but not for depression. A former US marine, he was 50 years old when he died.
If only I had known, I might have been able to call him from Australia and ask: “Are you okay?” That’s the name of the organisation R U OK? (, founded in 2009 to encourage people to ask that question to help prevent suicide. About 17 years before Jack took his own life, I suffered from depression and couldn’t work out why. I was healthy, had a beautiful wife and baby girl, and a good job with The Australian newspaper. But I had this “black dog” – Winston Churchill’s term for his depression — following me. Fortunately, an excellent psychiatrist, a good friend of my wife, explained what clinical depression was, prescribed anti-depressants, and in a month, I was back to normal (still a crazy journalist, but a happy one!). I would have told Jack I think you’re suffering from depression, you need to tell your doctor and get some medication. But I’m not sure he would have listened.
Yesterday was R U OK? Day in Australia, but it’s still being commemorated in the US and I often think of Jack. This week I was also thinking of Lance “Buddy” Franklin (Herald Sun photo above), the Sydney Swans super star who withdrew from the qualifying Australian Football League (AFL) final with Fremantle this Saturday with an “ongoing mental health condition.” The Swans did not describe it as depression, but coach John Longmire said: “Lance is currently being treated for a mental health condition. It is a serious condition that he needs to spend some time away from the football club.”
Franklin also suffers from mild epilepsy and suffered a seizure last Friday. He was taken to hospital, but discharged later that afternoon. The Swans said the epilepsy was not related to his medical condition and he played on Saturday night. In The Sydney Morning Herald today, sports writer Andrew Wu says the Swans were advised by the hospital not to play Franklin on Saturday, but the club said specialists told the team doctor Nathan Gibbs he could make the final call. The legendary Swans doctor has treated Buddy for the condition and passed him fit to play.
But this story is about depression: Franklin knew he had a mental health problem, and told his club about his condition. Years ago, players like him might have tried to keep it secret. Now sportsmen and women are willing to talk about it. Longmire said: “This is very common across society and across professional sport. Whilst it is a personal issue, plenty of people deal with it and are able to be very successful. It doesn’t hinder them one iota.”
Former Victorian Premier, Hawthorn Club President and BeyondBlue Foundation chairman Jeff Kennett told The Australian how much attitudes have changed in the 15 years since he helped set up BeyondBlue (, a national organisation aimed at reducing the impact of depression and suicide: “I don’t know what it is that Buddy is dealing with, but if he has recognised that he has an issue, then he has taken the first step towards recovery. It is sad for Buddy and football in the short term but it is a wonderful illustration of how far we have moved the goalposts in the interest of those who suffer mental illness.”
Kennett also said Franklin’s action and the Swans’ support could save more lives: “It’s not a crime to say you need help and he will probably return to football in a better place than he has been recently.”
I’ve been a member of the Swans since 1982 and the club has been very supportive of their players and created a culture where everyone looks after each other. Model Jesinta Campbell, Franklin’s fianceé, has been on a shoot in Japan for the Nine Network’s Getaway program, but she posted a message on Instagram where she praised this support: “I would like to thank everyone for the support both Bud and I have received over the past few days. This is an extremely challenging time for us and has been for some time now, however it has been made easier by the love, understanding and support we have been given.”
Former North Melbourne forward Nathan Thompson, who suffered from clinical depression during his career, told SEN radio in Melbourne those who had it tried to hide it: “People in the most are very careful not to let anyone into their private sanctuary, and you become very good at hiding it out of the fear of the outcome, which is having to deal with the reality.”
A key forward for Geelong, Mitch Clark, was walked into the locker rooms by coach Chris Scott, after the player started crying at the end of a match earlier this year. Clark tweeted then: “Depression makes very little sense and rears its head whenever it chooses and unfortunately last night was one of those times. Like I have said I’m nowhere near ‘cured’ and still learning how to best deal with my dark days.”
Those who suffer depression experience many dark days, but with support and treatment, they can get better. But they have to recognise and admit they have the illness. So the simple question, “are you okay?”, may produce a profound answer: “No, I’m not, but I’m doing something about it.”
The AFL community is also getting behind Buddy Franklin in his time of need. Ross Lyon, the coach of Fremantle, the team taking on the Sydney Swans on Saturday afternoon, reminded us it’s only a game: “Buddy’s personal wellbeing supersedes that of the game. He’s an absolute star, and a great fellow. I really enjoy his company.”
And Jack (pictured above in 1959), I would enjoy your company if you were still with us. We could talk about the day you proposed a toast to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jnr in the bar across the street from our house in Southwest Philadelphia after a number of regulars started calling the civil rights leader “Martin Luther Coon,” on the first anniversary of his assassination in Memphis.
As I said in a previous post (, I was never prouder of Jack than I was that day. And if I asked him then “Are you okay?” I’m sure he would have said: “Damn straight.”

Jarryd Hayne: The NRL star doing the hard yards in the NFL

Americans call it football. Australians call it gridiron. For the more than 40 years I’ve lived in Australia, I’ve had to listen to criticism of the most popular spectator sport in the United States.
Budding behemoths with huge helmets and too much padding, playing a 60-minute game that lasts more than three hours, and is too difficult to understand, with too many players on the field, too much hype and too much grandstanding, are just some of the complaints I’ve heard. Some have validity, but I have suggested bewildered friends could watch a game with me, preferably at the pub over a few beers, and ask any questions they want.
It’s an exciting sport, one I played as a teenager and have watched for more than 65 years.
Another person who finds it exciting is Jarryd Hayne, former National Rugby League (NRL) star, now a rookie vying for a spot with the San Francisco 49ers, one of the most successful teams in the National Football League (NFL). He wouldn’t be the first Australian to play for the NFL, but he’d be the first to make it as a running back and a kickoff and punt return specialist. It would mean he would gain yards, score touchdowns and help win games. In two pre-season matches, Hayne has 11 carries for 117 rushing yards. That’s 10.6 yards per carry – five yards is considered above average. The senior reporter for, Taylor Price, talks about Haynes as one of the good results the team learned from the victory over the Dallas Cowboys (Photo above of Hayne being tackled. If you click on the photo on the 49ers’ website, you can see a video of his first run): “Hayne’s first three touches on punt returns went for gains of 27, 34 and 23. The rookie running back showed off nifty cut-back skills on his returns, too. Hayne finished the first half averaging 28 yards per punt return.”
I always thought Hayne would make it, but I wanted to wait until the 49ers made it official. I’m jumping the gun a bit because I think the media is putting too much pressure on Jarryd Hayne. He’s a level-headed 27-year-old superb athlete, but the hype has done in other careers. I’m hoping he and Jason Day can continue to handle the pressure with humour and common sense. I think they can.
While Australians have complained about the stop-start nature of gridiron and the duration of the game, I have always criticised the way Rugby League players have to put the ball back into play after a tackle. They have to pass the ball back with their foot, and this has always reminded me of Trigger, Roy Roger’s horse. When asked by the famous cowboy how old he is, the steed goes “one, two, three” etc with his hoof. Jarryd Hayne will never have to worry about passing the ball back with his foot as long as he makes the NFL.
Hayne has gone into a dedicated training program since he decided to pursue his dream. Despite being a former star in the NRL, he has remained humble. He believes in his ability to make it in pro football, but he’s no prima donna. This is what he told reporters after the 49ers beat America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys: “I’m over here having a crack and doing my best. But I’m still a long way off where I want to be. I want to go into games confident that everything I do, I’m comfortable with. I’m still learning. It’s only my second game. I’m still very fresh. People had a lot of doubts. People are kind of surprised, the way I’m going. But like I’ve always said, I’ve got confidence in my own ability that if I keep learning the game and keep growing every week, I can be an NFL player.”
In an excellent piece yesterday, Will Swanton of The Australian explained how Jarryd Hayne picked up a new nickname in the US: “Midway through the first quarter against America’s Team, he took a towering kick in his fingertips, grabbing the ball over his shoulder while running backwards like Steve Waugh behind the sightscreen at the SCG. The grab earned him a new nickname: The Say Hayne Kid. Sounds clumsy. Huge compliment. It’s in reference to legendary American baseballer Willie ‘The Say Hey Kid’ Mays and his over-the shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series.” Of course, Mays was also known for his nonchalance in catching a ball as if it dropped in a basket in front of him. An Australian commentator on a Foxtel video said Hayne’s catch was “near impossible.” (You can see both catches on the videos in the SMH story: Over the shoulder catches are, in fact, de rigueur in the NFL, although this was quite a good reception. Hayne admitted he lost his way for a second and luckily found the ball over his left shoulder. This is where media hype took over.
But the Sacramento Bee NFL reporter Mark Barrows writing in the Sydney Morning Herald was full of hope, as well as full of hype: “Dear Australia: It’s probably safe to buy a red and gold No.38 Jarryd Hayne jersey now. Hayne’s chances of making the 49ers’ final roster jumped again on Sunday in Santa Clara after the former Parramatta Eels star had three more impressive punt returns and another long run when lining up at tailback.”
But the one person who will decide if Jarryd Hayne gets the 49ers’ guernsey is the San Francisco head coach Jim Tomsula: “Having the guts to leave what he knew … he walked away from all that to come do this. That’s what makes this thing special to me. You’ve got a guy who has never played the game. To be in the conversation for making a 53-man roster on an NFL football team when you’ve never played football, there’s the story. That just speaks for who he is.”
Well, coach Tomsula, just one small point. He has played football before, it’s just that he’s never played gridiron. But if he can continue to catch balls like Willie Mays, and sidestep and swerve like the legendary Cleveland Browns fullback Jim Brown, he will be wearing number 38 for quite a few years. Hayne reminds me of other famous running backs, Jim Thorpe, Bronko Nagurski, Red Grange, Steve Van Buren (a Philadelphia Eagles’ star in the late 1940s) and the Chicago Bears’ Gale Sayers, to name just a few. Today Will Swanton followed up his piece on Hayne by predicting why he’d make it in the NFL: “He has the 100kg bulk of the power athlete. He has the swiftness of the Olympic sprinter. He covers 40 yards in 4.5 sec. The low centre of gravity is a polite description of the large backside. He has a 37-inch vertical leap. The thighs are tree trunks.” And Swanton points out something else that sets him aside from other would-be NFL aspirants: “The underestimated ingredient is his love of the sport. His lifelong devotion to the NFL has allowed the 24/7 study of the playbook. In his earliest 49ers sessions, clueless about where to stand and what to do, handwritten notes were tucked into his pants.” That’s what I call devotion.
No more hype from me. I think Say Hey Jarryd Hayne will make it in the NFL because he has what it takes, and will do whatever it takes to get there. My prediction: The Parramatta Eels will be leaving their Hayne in San Francisco.
UPDATE: Even Coach Tomsula is trying to stop the hype. San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula has admitted to “peeing on” Jarryd Hayne’s parade as he tries to hose down the hype surrounding the former NRL star. This report from Nine’s Wide World of Sports: “Obviously the guy is doing a nice job,” Tomsula told San Francisco radio. “When you think about it it’s kind of cool. I’ve been kind of been peeing on that parade, but you know what I’m saying. We don’t need to put the cart before the horse.”
It is not the first time that Tomsula has attempted to temper the excitement surrounding his Aussie prospect, aware of the pressure Hayne would be feeling. “After his game last week, from what I understand, things got nuts (in Australia). My biggest thing to all that. I really don’t see the need to put anything more on his plate,” he said in the lead up to the Dallas game. “He doesn’t need to try and carry a country on his back, or try to carry crossover athletes and all that kind of stuff. I just want him to focus on football. On the game.”
AND EVEN MORE HYPE: Channel Seven have reportedly entered into talks with NFL media executives to televise Haynes’ matches with the San Francisco 49ers this season. Keen to cash in on the huge interest in the former Parramatta Eels superstar, negotiations were opened after Haynes’ spectacular game against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday, News Corp reported. Seven already has exclusive free-to-air rights to show three NFL games each week.

Mama told Jason there’d be Days like this

When you have a surname like Day, you can be king for a day, a hero for a day, but when you’re Jason after winning a major golf tournament, you have just had your Greatest Day.
This is a rags to riches story, a sporting fairy tale that comes along once or twice in a generation, and is tinged with sadness.
Jason Day is a 27-year-old Australian, who grew up poor in Beaudesert, Queensland, so poor, in fact, he told The Australian’s Brent Read and other reporters: “My mum, I mean, I remember watching her cut the lawn with a knife because we couldn’t afford to fix the lawnmower. I remember not having a hot water tank, so we had to use a kettle for hot showers.”
His father, Alvyn, always believed his son would become a champion golfer. He brought home an abandoned three-wood club from the local rubbish tip, cut it down to size, and let his son whack tennis balls across the backyard. Unfortunately, his father wasn’t there to watch his son score his first major victory – the US PGA — at Whistling Straits, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Alvyn died of stomach cancer when Jason was only 12 years old, and asked his son to spread his ashes on Augusta National when he played in the US Masters. The club said Jason will have to wait until he’s number one, but that shouldn’t be long.
The story gets more poignant now. When Jason’s father died, he took up drinking and fighting, and had no future. But this time his mother, Dening, stepped in to make her husband’s dream come true (Photo above of her with Jason holding the trophy Photo: Mike Calleja). She took a second mortgage on the family farm, raising enough money to send Jason to boarding school at Kooralbyn in the Gold Coast, where he met his first coach, and now caddie, Col Swatton. Jason told the fairy-tale ending to Will Swanton of The Australian: “That was for my mum to sacrifice and my sisters to sacrifice for me, so I could get away to a golf academy and work hard and meet Col and work hard on my game. To be able to have Colin on the bag at my first major championship win, walking up 18 knowing that I’ve got the trophy, it was hard. I was trying to hold back tears over the first putt and then when I saw the putt go up to half a foot. I just couldn’t stop crying.” Swanton adds: “Not for the first time in the past 15 years, it was Swatton who provided a shoulder to cry on.”
Jason Day was crying for the loss of his father, for the sacrifices of his family, for the deaths of eight relatives in Typhoon Hainan, in the Phiippines in 2013, and for his near misses on the golf course, including a bout of vertigo at the US Open, before his weekend win with a 20-under-par total – the lowest majors’ score in golf history — and beating number one Jordan Spieth, to boot.
Jason’s famous victory reminded me of some hometown heroes whose rags to riches stories never fail to inspire. My good friend, Jim Morgan, who grew up in Philadelphia, motivated me to write this piece with this email: “Seamus (Jim’s son) and I have liked Jason Day since we first saw him on TV. I wasn’t sure why but it was probably the way he behaved on the course — serious business but not too serious to smile once in a while — and seemingly always positive. Now he has a major golf championship under his belt with a record-setting score that beats Tiger. Good for Jason and good for Aussie sportsmanship.”
After the final round, Jason (pictured below with his son Dash after his victory. AFP Photo) had this to say about his triumph: “The biggest thing that prepares you for something like this is just the sheer experience of failure. Looking at failure not as a negative but a positive. Knowing that you can learn from anything, even if it’s bad or good. And that really gets you mentally tough. If I didn’t have that failure, I wouldn’t be standing here today with this trophy.”
Speaking of toughness brings me back to my three Philly heroes: Chuck Bednarik, Herb Magee and Tom Gola. All had rags to riches tales. Chuck Bednarik, who played for the Philadelphia Eagles, grew up in the tough industrial town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His father, like so many Eastern Europeans who came to Pennsylvania, found work in a steel mill. Frank Fitzpatrick wrote Bednarik’s obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year when he died, aged 89: “The sons of these tough men grew up equally tough. Big, strong, and feisty to a fault, Bednarik found football to be an outlet for the fires that burned red-hot within.” Chuck Bednarik played offence and defence for the Eagles, and made the last tackle of the NFL championship in December, 1960 to beat the Green Bay Packers, making sure fullback Jim Taylor stayed on the ground: “You can get up now,” Bednarik told Taylor when time expired, “the . . . game’s over.” In the previous month, Bednarik tackled New York Giants’ star Frank Gifford, and knocked him unconscious. In a famous photograph, Bednarik appeared to be gloating over Gifford, who was an NFL star: “I wasn’t gloating over him. I had no idea he was there. It was the most important play and tackle in my life. They were from the big city. The glamour boys. The guys who got written up in all the magazines. But I thought we were the better team.”
Another Philly legend, Tom Gola, was one of the best basketball players in the city’s rich hoops history. He grew up in a row house in Olney in North Philadelphia, just around the corner from the Incarnation of Our Lord parish gym, where he learned the game that would make him a local hero. Philadelphia was the most Catholic of cities in those days, and you didn’t come from a neighbourhood, but a parish. Tom Gola’s Polish father was a Philly policeman, and his son went to LaSalle High, where his team won the city championship, to LaSalle College, where they won the national championship in 1954, and in his first year with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956, they won the National Basketball Association championship. He led a seemingly charmed life, enabled by hard work, and went on to become a Hall of Fame basketballer, and a successful politician and businessman. Fitzpatrick and Joe Juliano summed up Tom Gola in the Inquirer obituary, written in January 2014 at his death, aged 81: “UCLA coach John Wooden once called him the ‘greatest all-around basketball player’ he had ever seen. His hometown newspapers daily dissected his life and career in minute detail. Readers learned that the high-cheekboned accounting major, nicknamed ‘Ostrich’ by teammates, loved comic books, Stan Kenton’s band, and playing the harmonica. He seemed too good to be true. ‘There is,’ the Rev Joseph Belz (who first introduced Gola to basketball in the fifth grade) said in the mid-’50s, ‘a touch of unreality about him’.”
The final member of my Philly trio I happen to know better than the other two. Herb Magee is only one of four basketball coaches in the United States to have achieved more than a thousand victories in his career. He turned 74 in June and is now approaching his 49th year as head coach of Philadelphia University. He grew up in West Philadelphia, went to grade school at St Francis de Sales and was the star guard at West Catholic High School, alongside Jimmy Lynam and the late Jimmy Boyle, two more basketball legends. I knew his brother Ray, who died a few years ago, from our days at de Sales and West Catholic. Herb Magee grew up in a brick, porchfront row house at 45th and Baltimore Avenue in white middle-class, 1950s West Philly. Will Green profiled Magee in Sports Illustrated Magazine after his 1000th win: “When he was 12 his mother died of kidney disease and his father passed away after having a stroke. He and his three orphaned brothers were then raised by his uncle Edwin Gallagher, the chaplain of the Eastern State Penitentiary. Magee played basketball at West Catholic High School, where he developed a reputation as a prolific long-range shooter long before the days of the three-point line. He was known on the playgrounds as ‘The Flying Squirrel’ for his 5’10” stature and his running and jumping ability. Magee taught himself how to shoot by watching the mechanics of Hall Of Famers Paul Arizin, Tom Gola and Wilt Chamberlain, whom he saw when he hopped the fence in to Philadelphia Warriors games at Convention Hall with his friends.” Actually, what we did was knock on a side door, and hand a 50 cent piece to an usher as we ran in. In those days, the Hall was never full, and the ushers didn’t get paid much.
Herb Magee went on to become the leading scorer at the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University), before the three point line was introduced, and then assistant coach in 1963 and head coach in 1967. He has been at the same school ever since. He led Textile to an NCAA Division Two championship in 1970 and received a congratulatory telegram from President Richard Nixon. Those will be the only nice words I can ever say about Nixon. Herb Magee was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2011, and continues to pile up wins and trophies. Just before his 1000th win, Magee told Philadelphia Daily News Reporter Mike Kern: “Makes no difference if it’s 1,001, 1,002 or whatever. I know that sounds phony or something like that, but that’s the way I live. It’s never about how many wins you get. It’s how your team’s doing at the time. You don’t get that many wins if you’re concentrating on how many wins you have.”
You can see what Jason Day has in common with Bednarik, Gola and Magee. They all overcame the odds and performed to the best of their ability. And they never forgot where they came from. Jason Day certainly hasn’t. His American wife, Ellie, is due to give birth to their second child in mid-November, and he was hoping to bring the PGA trophy back to Australia this summer. But he told Brent Read that will have to wait: “I was excited to bring it back. Very rare moments like this happen for us. We don’t get this very often. To be able to bring it back to the fans, the fans of golf and have the Australian people cherish the moment and experience what I went throught – it’s sad because I really wanted them to do that. Unfortunately I can’t. I would probably be in the doghouse if I left and my wife was here raising two kids by herself. The trophy I have here now is mine and I am going to bring it down to Australia one day.”
We can wait, Jason, we can wait.

The Present: Bringing Chekhov’s real life to the stage

Some of my most pleasant memories of my graduate school days at New York University in the late sixties were the lectures by Professor Robert W. Corrigan, then Dean of the School of the Arts, and an acknowledged drama educator, critic and writer.
He reminded me of Robert Redford: he had the looks, a beautiful wife and a lovely town house near the university where he held cocktail parties for his graduate students. And boy, did he know a lot about the theatre. He was the founder of The Tulane (University) Drama Review and edited anthologies of many books on drama, including The New Theatre of Europe, featuring Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Michel de Ghelderode’s Pantagleize and Ugo Betti’s Corruption in the Palace of Justice. He also taught the plays of Bertolt Brecht, a book edited and translated by Eric Bentley, which my wife dragged down from the top shelf so I could read it before we saw the recent excellent Belvoir Street Theatre production of Mother Courage.
But there was another book that needed to be separated from its fellow tomes on the top shelf: Six Plays of Anton Chekhov, edited and translated by Robert Corrigan, with a wonderful introduction, including a foreword by the renowned director and long-time drama critic of The New Republic and The Nation, Harold Clurman. It was essential reading before seeing the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Present, Andrew Upton’s adaptation of Chekhov’s Platonov, his first full-length play, never published during his lifetime, but found in a Moscow bank vault, 16 years after his death. I never thought I could thank a Moscow bank for anything, but I do now.
Harold Clurman makes this point about the six plays – Ivanov, The Wood Demon, The Sea Gull, Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard – “They are deeply affecting even as they provoke laughter; they make us smile even as we feel our hearts ready to break.” The Present, as adapted by Upton, certainly makes us smile – LOL, as they say on Twitter – and it also gives us insight into the Chekhovian view of life. As Corrigan puts it: “All of his life Chekov … despaired of the fact that he was unable to answer life’s important questions ‘Life,’ he said, ‘is an insoluble problem’.” But life goes on, and Corrigan continues: “Even though Chekhov knew there were no solutions, all his life he sought to find an answer, and his plays are a record of that quest … All of his plays are expressions of the proposition that ‘life is’.” Chekhov wrote this about what the theatre should be: “Life on the stage should be as it really is and the people, too, should be as they are and not stilted.”
The characters in The Present are not stilted. There is one scene (photo above by Lisa Tomasetti) where a 40th birthday party lunch fuelled by vodka turns into a no-holds-barred dancing on the tables which reminds me of some celebrations I have seen in real life (I have been a journalist for more than 40 years, after all!). Upton’s adaptation has plenty of real life in it, but it also has characters who make grand plans but do nothing about them. Robert Corrigan sums up this Chekhovian feature: “Like the characters in the novels of Kafka, Proust and Joyce, the people in Chekhov’s plays talk and plan a great deal, but they do nothing.” Local doctor Nikolai (Toby Schmitz) tells Anna (Cate Blanchett) what he thinks about life: “If I think about it too much, it starts to feel like something that’s already happened.”
Mikhail, the local schoolteacher (Richard Roxburgh), has his eyes (and hands) on all the women around him, but life and ambitions have passed him by. Roxburgh and Blanchett sit on the same chair – the only one left after an explosion shatters the birthday party room – to ponder what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. These two great actors carry it off beautifully, as they do throughout the play (photo below by Lisa Tomasetti). It’s Chekhov’s use of irony displayed best in another one of his plays, Uncle Vanya, when Yelena says to Sonya: “You mustn’t look at people that way. It isn’t right. You must trust and believe in people (pause) or life becomes impossible.” Yelena, of course, does not trust or believe in people.
Andrew Upton has reset the play from pre-revolutionary Russia to the post-perestroika 1990s, allowing a more modern setting, with similar misgivings about Mother Russia. One critic, Ian Dickson in Australian Book Review, was scathing about Upton’s use of a rude word: “The modern setting allows Upton to indulge his obsession with the word ‘fuck’. I imagine in the not too distant future there will be a PhD thesis on ‘the use of the word fuck in the plays of Andrew Upton’. This is symptomatic of a script which relentlessly coarsens the piece and pushes it towards farce. This is exacerbated by John Crowley’s shallow production.”
A bit harsh, I say. It makes for a more lively production and more laughs. I think the audience had no trouble working out what was tragedy and comedy in the play, and it was certainly not a shallow production. And if Chekhov were still alive, he would have sat in on the rehearsals. Robert Corrigan writes: “He insisted on hearing his script read by the actors before making his final revisions, and he refused to have his plays published until he could incorporate the changes made in them during the rehearsal period.”
I thought The Present was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, and the audience reaction was overflowing with applause and bravos and three curtain calls. It was a matinee performance, full of elderly theatregoers who didn’t seem to mind four-letter words. The music transitions were nicely put together by composer Stefan Gregory, and designer Alice Babidge has done a splendid job with a sparse, but appropriate set, with lighting well handled by Nick Schlieper.
The ensemble cast was excellent, with particular kudos to Jacqueline McKenzie as Sophia, the wife of Sergei, Chris Ryan, who also deserves a bravo, but really all the actors contribute to a brilliant production. Chekhov, I think, would have liked it.
It’s a fine swansong to Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton who are moving to the US when his term as artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company ends this year.
And I’d like to thank Robert Corrigan, who died in 1993, for his lectures, his vision and, in particular, his superb introduction to the plays of Chekhov. The last words should go to Corrigan:
“There have been many playwrights in the modern theatre who were conscious of the doomed nature of human experience, but I know of none who accepted this fact and still had such trust in the enduring qualities of those ‘arduous eccentricities we are born to’ as did Anton Chekhov.”

The Trump Card: ‘I think I’ll get the nomination.’

I have been trying to avoid writing a post on Donald Trump because I find him so ridiculous that it would be a waste of time. But an intelligent young man, a frequenter of my local pub, actually believes he will be elected president of the United States.
So it’s my duty as a dual citizen of Australia and America to convince him otherwise.
There are quite a few extreme right-wingers, racists, gun enthusiasts and Republicans in the US – the only statistic that has any validity is the number of registered Republican voters: roughly 55 million – and the Democrats would have a number of crazies among their approximate 72 million registered voters.
But the majority of Americans do not like voting for extreme right-wing or left-wing candidates. But it’s also true that ideological-oriented Americans are the most politically active and they are the likeliest to vote. The respected Pew Research Center found in the 2014 elections that 65% of Republicans with a very unfavourable view of the Democratic Party were likely to vote, while 40% of Democrats with very unfavourable opinions of the GOP were likely to vote.
In the 2012 presidential election, 65 million Americans voted for the Democratic President Barack Obama and 60 million for his Republican rival Mitt Romney in a 58% turnout. Not bad for a US election where voting isn’t mandatory. Would it be possible for Donald Trump, if he were to become the Republican presidential nominee, to attract 60 plus million votes in the 2016?
I think it would be highly unlikely – first of all, for him to secure the nomination, and secondly, to get that many votes. Barry Goldwater, described as the leading conservative thinker in the US in the early 1960s, ran against President Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 election, and lost in a landslide. LBJ did run the ultimate scare campaign against the anti-communist Senator, but Goldwater did himself no favours with this speech in the Republican National Convention: “I would remind you that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
In his 1963 book, Why Not Victory?, Goldwater wrote about the “world-wide Communist menace”: “We are at war; not a cold war, but a real war – we can call it the Communist war, war of a more deadly nature than any we have fought before.” That led to one of the most famous campaign ads, with a little girl counting flower petals, as a male voice counted down from ten to one. Then her face was frozen and images of nuclear war played out, suggesting Goldwater would launch a nuclear attack against the Commies. No wonder he lost by a landslide.
Well, that was half a century ago, and the new voice of conservatism belongs to Donald Trump, whose explosive attacks are aimed at fellow Republicans on the growing list of presidential candidates, from Jeb Bush to Lindsey Graham, brave enough to have a go at the billionaire business magnate and celebrity publicity seeker. The scare campaign against Trump would make the one against Goldwater look like a Hollywood roast.
Trump’s latest rants started on June 16 when he threw his hat into the crowded ring for the Republican presidential nomination, and targeted Mexicans in his speech: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best . . . They’re sending people that have a lot of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Republicans, who lost a lot of Latino votes in the past two elections, have been trying to boost their image with candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both favourites of Hispanic voters. Bush, former Florida governor and brother of the former president, has a Mexican wife, speaks Spanish, and has long supported Cuban exiles. Florida Senator Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants. Last week, Trump spent four hours in Laredo, Texas, a city bordering Mexico, and said: “I love the people. Latinos — they’re great.” But he added: “There is great danger with the illegals, tremendous danger with illegals.” And for a man, who used to enjoy firing people on his reality show, The Apprentice, he had a strange reason for thinking he would get the Latino vote: “I think I’ll win the Hispanic vote. Over the years, thousands and thousands of Hispanics have worked for me.”
But Trump’s most controversial comments came in an attack on one of his least favourite politicians, fellow Republican and former presidential candidate, Senator John McCain. He said he was not a “war hero,” because he was captured in Vietnam, and “I like people who weren’t captured.” Of course, this resulted in a number of articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, and Politico, to name a few, contrasting Trump’s draft deferments while John McCain was a POW and being tortured in Vietnam.
Trump’s Republican rivals also blasted him over his criticism of Senator McCain. Marco Rubio said: “It’s not just absurd. It’s offensive. It’s ridiculous. And I do think it is a disclaimer as commander in chief.” Jeb Bush, former Texas governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker joined the critics. That prompted Trump to suggest Perry was unintelligent and Bush was weak. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham made this plea to Trump on CBS: “Don’t be a jackass. Run for president. But don’t be the world’s biggest jackass.” Trump retaliated by calling Graham an “idiot” and a “total lightweight.” And his coup de grace came in a speech in South Carolina when he revealed that Graham had given him his mobile phone number several years ago, asking him to put in a good word for a morning news show. (See AP photo at top of this post showing Trump with fans in the audience.) Trump read out the number and said of Graham: “He doesn’t seem like a very bright guy.” Senator Graham’s voicemail box was full by the afternoon.
The Democrats’ favoured candidate, Hillary Clinton (see photo above), decided to get in on the fun by having a go at the billionaire: “Donald Trump, finally a candidate whose hair gets more attention that mine. But, there’s nothing funny about the hate he is spewing at immigrants and their families, and now the insults he’s directed at a genuine war hero, Senator John McCain. It’s shameful, and so is the fact that it took so long for most of his fellow Republican candidates to start standing up to him.”
In spite of, or maybe because of, all this criticism, Trump was leading the Republican polls. He is supremely confident: “I’m Republican. I’m conservative. I’m in first place by a lot, it seems. I think I’ll get the nomination.” Long-time Washington Post columnist, EJ Dionne, does not believe Trump will get the nomination, but he told Fran Kelly on ABC’s RN Breakfast last week the GOP should be concerned: “Trump’s vote does show that whether you call them right wing, or call them Tea Party, or call them disaffected, there is a significant chunk of the Republican electorate that is very angry and the Republicans are going to have to deal with that chunk of the electorate.”
Sydney Morning Herald Investigations Editor, Anne Davies, a former Washington correspondent for the SMH and the Age, explained the appeal of politicians like Trump and Clive Palmer on the Friday Show, hosted by Janine Perrett, on Sky News: “They’re larger than life, capable of saying very strange things, but they have ‘I’m a normal person’ aspect to them, so there’s something appealing about them.”
Mark Levine, Democrat strategist and US talk show host, told Emma Alberici on ABC’s Lateline that Trump’s campaign was bound to run out of steam: “Unfortunately, it is going to run out of puff, which as a Democrat disappoints me. As a Democrat, I would love to see Donald Trump win the Republican nomination. I think if he did, Hillary could win 50 states. So I say, ‘Go, Donald, go.’ But unfortunately he’s such a demagogue, he’s so over the top that I’m quite confident he will run out of steam — though I hope he doesn’t, to the extent that he shows the Republican Party as a bunch of bigots who don’t care about war heroes. As a Democrat, I’m fine with showings the Republican Party that way.”
My sentiments exactly. Go Donald, go!

Tony Abbott: No longer Mr Nice Guy

I’m beginning to worry about Tony Abbott and how his war on the ABC is affecting him (Photo above by Jeremy Piper, News Corp Australia).
I don’t agree with all his policies (too many to mention here), but I’ve considered him a nice bloke since I got to know him in the late 2000s. In fact, I actually posted that compliment about the Prime Minister on my Facebook page last year, and my late mate and former ABC and Nine video editor Steve “Slam” McQueen questioned my criteria for describing Tony as a “nice bloke.” I replied by reminding him how Abbott used to drive his old (1976) Valiant, then his old (1983) Merc (or Rover), to TV studios on a Sunday morning as he believed it was unfair for Commonwealth drivers to have to work on a Sunday.
And as an executive producer on the Sky News Sunday Agenda program, I often had great difficulty getting any politician to show up at 9am on Sunday, let alone the then Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister. But he would arrive, often at the last minute, as he had to drive from his home in Forestville in Sydney’s north to the Sky studios in Macquarie Park – about 13 kilometres. And on a few occasions, I had to call him or his media adviser on a Saturday when I was still searching for a guest. The only times he said no were understandable: he was a member of the NSW Rural Fire Service brigade in Davidson and on duty. Now that’s what I call a nice bloke.
Tony Abbott was interested in Aboriginal affairs and in 2008 he talked about going up to Cape York to tutor Indigenous children on his winter break. He still goes up north for a short break every year. I mentioned I had taught in Harlem in the late sixties and the real heroes were those who stayed behind, like the teachers in Cape York. He’s used that line a few times since, but I don’t mind. He was a decent bloke.
In 2011, I was producing Channel Ten’s Meet the Press and we tried all year to get the then Opposition Leader on the program. Ironically, I played “meet and greet” early on Sunday mornings when Tony Abbott came in to do a pre-recorded two-way interview with Andrew Bolt for The Bolt Report in Melbourne. On each occasion we exchanged pleasantries, I got him coffee at the café next door, and after the interview, I would walk him to the car (with a Commonwealth driver, but after all he was a busy Opposition Leader), and ask him when he was coming on Meet the Press. He would yell across the roof of the car to his then press secretary, Andrew Hirst: “Yes, Andrew, we must make a date.” I would thank him, and yes, you guessed it, no date was made that year. Still a decent bloke, but a bit of a prevaricator. Many politicians are. And as a series producer on The Observer Effect on SBS in 2013 presented by Ellen Fanning, I and other staffers tried for nearly six months to get the Opposition Leader (and later Prime Minister) as a guest – to no avail. His schedule was too crowded. Still a decent bloke, but now I’m beginning to wonder.
He was also a journalist. I remember him as a university student visiting The Australian to talk to the then features editor, Tim Hewat, about articles he wanted to write. Then he went to The Bulletin and wrote pieces for them before moving on to politics. He often mentions his journalism career fondly, and he has written four books, including his autobiography, Battlelines. And he even read all five books shortlisted for the 1914 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction, though he did upset some of the judges by not telling them before the announcement that he had overruled their decision and selected joint winners: Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Steven Carroll’s A World of Other People. They had recommended Carroll’s book. Still a decent bloke.
But lately Tony Abbott has forgotten he was a journalist and gone over the top in his war against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He congratulated the ABC for its excellent documentary, The Killing Season, which portrayed the woes of the Labor Party during the period when Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were prime ministers (Rudd twice, Gillard once). He loudly praised the series in Parliament, lifting his eyes to the Press Gallery, saying with a huge grin: “I want to say publicly: thank you to the ABC. Thank you to the ABC. I don’t normally say thank you to the ABC, but I have to say Australia is indebted to you on this instance.”
The thanks turned to anger less than two weeks later when Zaky Mallah, who was convicted of threatening to kill ASIO officers, appeared live on the ABC’s Q&A program and asked a question about counter-terrorism measures that upset Parliamentary Secretary Steven Ciobo, who responded by suggesting he’d be happy to see Mallah deprived of his citizenship. It got worse when in a follow-up comment, allowed by host Tony Jones, Mallah said young men in Australia are going to join Islamic State as a result of “ministers” like Ciobo. Jones then had to rule his comment out of order, and it was on for young and old.
The ABC apologised and said it was an error in judgment to have Mallah live on the show. The ABC’s Managing Director Mark Scott mounted a free speech argument. No longer praising the ABC, Tony Abbott said “heads should roll” at the broadcaster, and the board said Mallah shouldn’t have been in the audience because of his “criminal background and past public statements.” One of those statements was a misogynistic tweet saying two conservative female journalists should be “gangbanged.” Tony Jones said on the next episode of Q&A Mallah would not have been allowed on the program if the producers had been aware of the tweet. The board gave a formal warning to Q&A Executive Producer Peter McEvoy. And former SBS chief Shaun Brown and TV journalist, presenter and former ABC correspondent, Ray Martin (photo above by Britta Campion, News Limited), have been asked to review Q&A.
It was all starting to calm down until the Prime Minister ordered his Agriculture Secretary Barnaby Joyce not to appear on Q&A on Monday, saying all Cabinet ministers should boycott the program until the ABC review was over. That put the cat among the pigeons: Cabinet ministers were angered and confused by the boycott, given that Senator Joyce would have been able to discuss his Agricultural Competitiveness white paper on the show. In a page one article in The Australian Tuesday by Dennis Shanahan and Jared Owen, several senior figures in the Coalition believed “it was essential that every opportunity is used to state the government’s case in a hostile environment.”
The Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, has opposed calls for a boycott, and is scheduled to appear on Q&A next week. And Ray Martin, who is co-hosting Channel Seven’s Sunrise this week, said it was silly for Mr Abbott to call for a boycott of the show: “I thought it was about time for a little balance. I thought the rants and raves were a little crazy about that thing so it was time to at least have a look at what it was about … I can’t imagine Australia without the ABC … but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be better. But I tended to think … it’s clearly a political issue at the moment in terms of terror. I think we’ve already started looking towards the next election.”
Mr Abbott was asked yesterday whether he would stop Mr Turnbull from appearing on Q&A, and he replied: “What I’m not going to do is give further advertisement to a program which was frankly right over the top.” In an article in The Australian today, Shanahan and Owens write that “Malcolm Turnbull will not defy Tony Abbott and will cancel a scheduled appearance on the ABC’s Q&A on Monday if the Prime Minister’s boycott is still in place.” Even The Australian, which has been critical of the ABC and Q&A, asked the PM in its editorial today to reconsider the boycott. Mr Abbott said yesterday that what happened on Q&A was “unacceptable, it was indefensible, and Malcolm quite properly has been engaged in ongoing discussions with the ABC about exactly what they’re going to do to ensure that something like this never happens again.”
I also hope it never happens again and that the Prime Minister tones down his “rants and raves” about the ABC and Q&A. I’d like to remember him as a nice guy.

Remembering Soweto 39 years on

UPDATE: This is a post I wrote a few years ago. I am reposting it, with a few changes, to remember the Soweto Uprising today.
This is a day that will never be forgotten in South Africa: the police shooting of student protesters in the black townships 39 years ago that eventually brought down the apartheid government.
“Soweto” is a term the South African government gave to the 26 “Southwestern townships” of Johannesburg in 1963 — 26 square miles of squalor which erupted into violence on June 16, 1976 – thirty-nine years ago today. It started that morning with 20 thousand Soweto students marching in peaceful protests against the government’s order that Afrikaans, the language of the oppressor, had to be used in secondary schools. But the police reacted as only South African security forces could, ripping up placards and trying to stop the march. The students threw stones, the police used teargas, then opened fire with guns. One of the first to die from a police bullet was a 13-year-old schoolboy, Hector Pieterson.
It was a shot that was heard around the world. I was the foreign editor of The Australian that day, and helped prepare the front page with Mike Jenkinson, a former Wallaby, who played for Australia in South Africa in 1963 and saw apartheid first-hand. Mike was no fan of the South African government or its racist policies.
I still have a mat mold of the front page of The Australian from June 16, 1976 with the headline: Rioting spreads in South Africa. It was before Twitter and Facebook and satellite television, and we got the story via telex and phone calls to contacts in South Africa, including one of Mike’s rugby mates on The Star in Johannesburg. From that day forward, the apartheid government never stood a chance of survival, though it wasn’t until April 27, 1994, that black South Africans celebrated their freedom by voting in the first all-race elections in the country’s history. The headline in The Star that Wednesday was: Vote, the Beloved Country – a paraphrase of the famous novel by Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country. The queues of voters snaked around the nation, and such was the turnout, the polling booths had to be opened the next day.
I was lucky enough to be in South Africa that week, helping to produce the Channel Nine Sunday program. But I’ll never forget the role those brave students played that day in Soweto, with unrest continuing on and off for years. The photograph of Hector Pieterson being carried by a fellow student through the dusty streets of Soweto, with his anguished sister beside them, became the symbol of the resistance movement, much like another innocent 13-year-old boy, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb, who’s sparked national protests in Syria after images of his badly beaten body were widely circulated. His crime was to have attended a pro-democracy demonstration in his small home town. The picture that accompanies this blog captures a dying Hector Pieterson and the brutality of apartheid, taken by the South African photographer, Sam Nzima. Nzima received national honours for his image on April 27, 2011, Freedom Day, the anniversary of the elections that brought black and white together – at the polls at least.
A year after the Soweto uprising, I travelled around South Africa on a Pretoria-sponsored trip and wrote a series of articles for The Australian. The highlights of the visit included an interview with Alan Paton in his beautiful home in the hills outside Durban, and being smuggled into a migrant workers’ dormitory, a dark and dingy slab of concrete in the black township of Guguletu outside Cape Town, where one of the workers told me he was forced to live in these horrible conditions as a single man, even though he was married. The evils of apartheid were hammered home to me on that trip. As you can imagine, the South African embassy was not happy with my reports.
Seventeen years later, I produced a cover story on South Africa two months before the elections, with author Bryce Courtenay as our reporter, and we wound up in Morris Isaacson High, one of the schools involved in the Soweto protests. He was addressing a class of bright, optimistic teenagers when a disturbance erupted outside. A group of students had discovered a suspected rapist on the school grounds and were chasing him. Suddenly, the police arrived and as I came from behind a school building, a policeman pointed his AK-47 directly at my testicles. Fortunately, my cameraman, Les Seymour, and his long lens that resembled a rifle was not at my side, and I said: “I am a journalist.” I felt more like a student about to get his testicles shot off.
We also talked to a leader of one of the Cape Coloured gangs in Cape Town, where young men made a slitting gesture to their throats as we passed by in our van. The townships still had a long way to go in 1994 … and still have a way to go in 2015.
Police are still not trusted in South Africa, with the rich resorting to private security companies, and the poor turning to vigilante violence. The chief executive of the respected South African Institute of Race Relations, John Kane-Berman, told the Associated Press a few years ago: “I think people have come to be very cynical about police. Because they’ve seen corruption. Because they’ve seen
incompetence. There are repeated reports of police violence, brutality.”
Kane-Berman has some advice for the citizens of South Africa, rich and poor, about how to make the police more accountable, and townships more liveable: “The accountability comes from the politicians, who must hold the police accountable. And the citizens must hold the politicians accountable. If the citizens want to take active steps, they have to use their votes.” Kane-Berman’s book on the Soweto uprising, South Africa: The Method in the Madness, was one of the best accounts of the student protests written in the late seventies. It’s still worth reading 39 years later if you can get a copy. Mine is well-thumbed.

Diving Delly: A man of steel who plays his heart out

I grew up in West Philadelphia where if you didn’t play basketball, your mates thought there was something wrong with you. You shovelled snow off the concrete courts at the playground during the winter, and played 12 hours a day during the summer.
So I love basketball. But I fell out of love with the National Basketball Association (NBA) because the game became a big business, the stars got too big for their sneakers and slam dunking took over from three-point field goals (I played in the days when three-point field goals didn’t exist). Thank God for the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the NBA’s most valuable player, who still shoots from the outside and dribbles the ball like Bob Cousy, the legendary Boston Celtics guard.
But I always watch the NBA Finals, because like the Rugby League State of Origin, and NRL and AFL Grand Finals, the players give 100 per cent. This year, as you probably know by now if you are an Australian sports fan, there’s a bloke who’s giving 120 per cent. His name is Matthew Dellavedova, and he plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but there’s nothing cavalier in his attitude to the game. Like most basketballers in West Philly, he dives on the court for loose balls. His teammate, LeBron James, now acknowledged as the world’s best basketballer, claimed half in jest that Dellavedova set an NBA record for most dives in game three of the best of seven series. Yes, that was the same night Delly, as he’s known in Cleveland and his hometown of Maryborough in Victoria, had to be put on an IV drip after the game suffering from dehydration. He gave all he had, and then he gave some more. Game four showed he was not superhuman. He only scored 3 out of 14 field goals, and was described as “the so-called hero” of game three by one of the ESPN commentators. But the effort he expended in that match took a lot out of him. Cavaliers coach David Blatt acknowledged that after his side lost to the Golden State Warriors by 21 points in game four. Blatt said Dellavedova played his heart out, like he always does: “I don’t think he was 100 per cent, but he gave us 100 per cent of what he had.” Neither was LeBron James 100 per cent, after a hard foul by the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut, another Australian, sent him reeling into a courtside camera and cutting his head in several places.
Now, thanks to Bogut, Dellavedova and five other Australians in the NBA, the media here has rediscovered basketball. Back in the mid-1970s, I wrote articles for The Australian and the Sydney Daily Telegraph and was described as a “leading basketball writer.” That was only because I was one of the few journalists writing about basketball. Then Eddie Palubinskas became the top scorer in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the National Basketball League boomed (off and on) in Australia and players like Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze made it to the NBA (Gaze briefly; Longley longer as starting centre in three straight Chicago Bulls’ championship teams in the late 90s). Australian television started broadcasting basketball games and the Sydney Kings became NBL champions.
Another key to the growing interest in basketball was the broadcasting of US college games and NBA games on Foxtel and ESPN in Australia. There are more than 300 Australian males playing basketball in US colleges, where the NBA secures nearly all of their talent in the annual draft. Andrew Bogut graduated from the University of Utah and was the number one draft pick in 2005. Patty Mills, who helped the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA championship last year, and Matthew Dellavedova played for St Mary’s college in California, and their games were often broadcast on ESPN. It gave them a chance to display their wares to pro basketball teams, and prompted Australian high school players to apply for US college basketball scholarships. Both Dellavedova and Mills won scholarships to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), now called the Centre for Excellence, before heading off to the US. In an excellent piece last Saturday in the Weekend Australian on Australians becoming the toast of the basketball world, Simon McLoughlin points out that all seven Aussies now playing in the NBA attended the AIS. And basketball is still up there as a popular team sport. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it ranks as the third most popular among boys behind soccer and Australian football. It ranks second among girls behind netball. And don’t forget, there are eight women in US professional basketball (WNBA), including Lauren Jackson, recently named as an Officer in the Order of Australia.
Dellavedova is an unlikely NBA star, an undrafted free agent from Maryborough, a country town now known as Dellyborough by the natives. He was considered not fast enough for the pros. In fact, he was almost dropped by the Cavaliers in January for subpar performances.
But he’s made of true grit, or steel, if you listen to LeBron James. In his college days, Delly was the go-to guy on St Mary’s often hitting the game-winning shot, so it wasn’t surprising to see him score 20 points and make key baskets in the dying minutes of game three. Coach Blatt explained why the fans like him: “Delly is the most Cleveland-like Australian I’ve ever met in my life and if you’re from Cleveland you know what I’m talking about.”
I’m not from Cleveland, but I know what he’s talking about. We had fans like that in Philadelphia where the only the Phillies baseball team won a couple of World Series recently, the basketball 76ers are at the bottom of the ladder, the football Eagles have never won the Super Bowl, and the hockey Flyers haven’t soared at all lately. Cleveland fans are hungry for a championship, and they love a fighter – a guy who will dive for a loose ball like there’s no tomorrow. Scott Raab, an ESPN contributor, author and resident, summed up the Cleveland supporters: “They may not be the greatest fans in the world, but they’re the craziest and the hungriest … this city has been the butt of jokes nationwide.” That’s something Philly fans have also had to put up with. Raab was asked by an ESPN commentator why the city has fallen so in love with Dellavedova: “I think it’s the fact that he’s one of those scrappy white guys that has something to do with it. Everyone can relate to Dellavedova. He doesn’t have the size, he doesn’t have the strength, he doesn’t have the strength, he doesn’t have the speed. He’s got heart, he’s got guts and he’s not afraid to dive on the floor.”
They love him in Maryborough, of course, where he played every day after school on a basketball court where he also made a thousand shots every day. Shades of the former New York Knicks star and US Senator Bill Bradley, who used to take hundreds of foul shots every day as a teenager in Crystal City, Missouri. Chip Le Grand explained in The Weekend Australian yesterday why they adore him in Dellyborough: “Dellavedova plays basketball like a red heeler. His uncompromising approach hasn’t endeared him to all basketball fans but, in Dellyborough, they’ll tell you it is the way he has played since he was a kid running around for the Maryborough Blazers Under 12s.” (Photo above shows the students at Maryborough Education Centre, where Matthew’s Mum teachers, watching the NBA finals on a big screen in the school auditorium. Photo: Robert Leeson, News Corp)
And he now has another day to recuperate from the loss and his cramps as game five will be played in Oakland tomorrow (Monday) at 10am AEST (broadcast on ESPN). The Golden State Warriors haven’t won an NBA championship since 1975, and the Cavaliers have never won one, so both sides are desperate for victory and the next match will be crucial.
But for lovers of basketball and sport, it’s a return to the good old days when two evenly matched teams take to the court to play their hearts out, as Matthew Dellavedova and LeBron James and Stephen Curry do all the time.
And finally, more good news on the international sports front for Australia. The Cronulla Sharks are going to Major League Baseball’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in August after beating Swan Hill 7-3 last week in the Gold Medal Game in Lismore. The Little League games are broadcast live by ESPN so New South Wales baseball will again be on the world stage after the very successful Dodgers-Diamondbacks series at the SCG last year. Go Sharks!

Remembering Steve McQueen, aka Slam

Film and television editors are a rare breed.
I got to know them well when I first went into television as the foreign editor of the Seven Network in Sydney in the early 1980s. I had been a journalist for The Australian newspaper for nearly ten years, and I didn’t know a grab from an outcue or a live voiceover from a news package.
I was thrown into the deep end in a little office in the Epping newsroom in northwest Sydney. How did I survive? The editors, of course. Every week I had a different editor, from Paul Steindl to Ken Moore to Richard Frecker to Ian Becker to Peta Dann to Merryn Cooper to Sonia Hillenberg to Sonia Lenarcic et al. They taught me everything I needed to know about what works on television, including natural sound and pieces to camera and how to cut a 2 minute story down to 49 seconds and still make sense out of it.
Thirty plus years later, I still love editors, including all those I worked with on Seven, the Nine Sunday Program, Sky News Australia, Ten’s Meet the Press, Shine Australia, and SBS’s The Observer Effect – too many to mention them all here. But they were the best, and without them, many television shows would have never made it to air.
Last weekend we farewelled one of the most colourful editors in the business: Stephen (Slam) McQueen, who died way too early at the age of 58. We had a memorial service in Hendo’s Lounge, that’s the room just next to the Bistro at Channel Nine in Sydney. And yes, the man whose name and photo adorn that lounge, Brian “Hendo” Henderson, was there to pay tribute to the bloke he worked with and who showed him the stories he was going to present on Nine News. He wasn’t the only one. There was Slam’s beloved Uncle Des McQueen, a former Victorian Policeman and head of the Vice Squad; Paul Fenn, former Nine News Director; Mike Fleming, former senior editor at Nine and Damian Ryan, veteran Nine News reporter. (The photo at the top shows l to r.: Jack Davidson, Geoff Maurice, Graham Thurston, Mary Davison O’Keefe, Damian Ryan, Paul Fenn, Brian Henderson, Ken Sutcliffe, Tony Ritchie at Hendo’s Lounge last week. The photo below shows l to r.: Slam with Brian Henderson, Ken Sutcliffe and Ray Martin.)
Packed into the smallish lounge and overflowing into the Bistro were about 100 people, family, friends and colleagues. As Damian Ryan put it, there were three families there: those family members who had come from Victoria, Queensland, Canberra and the Northern Territory, the Channel Nine contingent he worked with, and the Bridgeview mob who he drank with at the Nine pub a few blocks away. Hardly anybody from Nine drinks there now – there isn’t time, it seems. Looking around the room as I introduced each guest speaker and film clips cut by a great Nine editor, Paul Luxford, I could see Slam’s mates and colleagues: Hugh Riminton, now a Ten news presenter, Ken Sutcliffe, sports presenter; Simon Bouda, Nine News reporter; Megan Purcell, former Nine editor; Paul Steindl, former Executive Producer, Sunday Program and The Observer Effect; Mary Davison, Executive Producer, Nine News; and Sean Costello, Director, Big Day Media, to name just a few.
Sean used Slam as a freelance editor after he left Channel Nine in 2008. Slam was made redundant, which devastated him, but given a chance to come back by David Gyngell. Steve was too proud to accept, but he did get himself a good computer to edit on. Sean posted this on Facebook: “The planet lost another human yesterday. Australia lost a citizen. NSW lost a staunch Labor supporter. They don’t have many to lose. Willoughby lost a caring neighbor. A family lost a loving uncle, nephew, cousin and brother … People who knew him lost a complicated, loyal, gregarious friend. Me … I lost a great mate.”
Complicated, loyal, gregarious – Slam was all of that and he believed in friendship. All of the guest speakers mentioned this. In my introduction, I said this: “When my best mate, Cliff Neville, died three years ago, Slam sent me this message: ‘I do not understand what you are feeling at this time. To lose a mate that was so close to you. All I have is my love for the same man, the man that tested my beliefs, my attitude, my being. Someone that I could really talk with. He believed on some issues I did not. However, he understood. The well of honest writing is running dry. The well of truth is running dry. I think I know that at a time like this we sit back and reflect, but as long as we can, we must support and celebrate the life of our mate’.”
There was much celebration last Saturday at Hendo’s Lounge. His uncle Des McQueen, a solid country bloke with 25 years in the Victoria Police, including a stint as head of the Vice Squad, talked about Slam growing up in Greensborough, playing football and soccer. Slam loved his uncle’s property in Victoria, and asked for some of his ashes to go into the dam there. He also mentioned Slam’s support for Essendon when most of his family barracked for Collingwood. And he summed up his nephew in these honest, compassionate words: “Steve was a gentle soul, passionate about what he believed in, loyal to his friends, but at times somewhat too stubborn for his own good … he was another Frank Sinatra – he did it his way. But he was a top person. If he could not do you a good turn, he did nothing. His memory will always be in our hearts.”
Brian Henderson remembered Slam in his edit suite in Eng Alley: “He showed me the stories I needed to rehearse in his Eng suite. The word ‘suite’ is misleading there.” That attracted laughs from the Nine people who knew the small, smelly suites were not sweet at all. He, too, was frank about Slam and his very strong opinions: “He was rough, he was blunt and he liked to sound off about injustice.” But Hendo’s verdict about Steve was similar to others: “He lived and breathed his work at Channel Nine and left an indelible impression on those who knew him, including me. I’ll never forget him.”
The next segment started with a clip of a practical joke Slam and former chief of staff, Dave Allender, played on news director Paul Fenn. They put a wheel lock on his car, and he had to call up to get Slam down to unlock it so he could drive home. Fenny was not happy, although he did laugh as he drove off. He started his tribute: “Steve’s career came to a grinding halt that day – early morning shifts, the mongrel.” A great speaker, Paul Fenn told some very funny stories about Slam. The best was how Slam mispronounced the word “Essendon” as “Essedon.” Paul said: “If you’re going to mention Essendon, get it right.” Slam said: “It is right.” Fenny finally called him into his office and got out a piece and paper and wrote it down, and said: “E, double s, en, Essendon.” And Slam said: “Yes, Essedon.’ Paul continued: “And with that he stormed out and about half an hour later he came back and said: ‘Look at this.’ He threw a piece of paper on the desk. I picked it up and read it, and it said: ‘Get fucked.’ I said: ‘What’s the point?’ And he said: ‘Have a good look at that, there are no ‘n’s’ in that.’ That story had the service in stitches. Fenny said Slam wasn’t the best editor, but “there was no more loyal editor than Steve McQueen.”
After a two-minute clip of the ABC Frontline series focusing on an editor named Hugh Tabbagh, who smoked a lot and coughed a lot and was king of the edit suite, allegedly based on Steve, former Nine senior editor Mike Fleming, who had come from Tasmania for the service, explained how he got the nickname “Slam.” Another Nine editor Owen Smith, who Flemo said, should have been a stand-up comedian (I agree), was trying to get a nickname for Steve, like Bullitt, Darwin Stubbie (he’d worked in Darwin for six years), Crocodile McQueen, but nothing worked. Until one night when Steve went with colleagues to a 21st birthday party, got stuck into it and ended up slam dancing. Flemo demonstrated with his arms flapping, describing it thus: “That’s this and if anyone doesn’t know, the whole object is to knock everyone over, which Slam didn’t have any trouble with. He dropped his guard, the planets aligned and legend was born. Steve McQueen left home that day, and under Owen’s gong, became Slam. His fate was ultimately sealed when two days later Brian Henderson walked down the hall, looking for the editor who had cut the Overseas wrap. ‘Slam,’ Brian said, ‘I need to look at this.’ Slam was locked in. The King of News had dubbed him Slam.”
Finally, the veteran reporter Damian Ryan talked about their days together in the London bureau, and how they got quite close. They would chew the fat, order a pizza and wait for the foreign editor, David McCombe, to call the story from Sydney. One of the biggest stories they worked on was the Interlaken canyoning disaster in Switzerland where 21 people, including 14 Australians, lost their lives. Damian was part of the team that won a Walkley award for their coverage, but he said: “Slam should have won an award for that. He was incredible.” Damo said things had changed in television now. It had become a sausage factory, but “Slam was old school, he was meticulous. He was packing his packages with all the best shots and natural sound to produce something the viewers would watch and leave them pondering long after the news.” He became a bit emotional talking about his former editor: “He could be gruff, he could be obnoxious, but he was a very soft, very sensitive guy. I have one major regret. I did lose touch. But I rejoice in the fact that I spent a lot of bloody good times with him.” It was a poignant moment when we all realised how much we missed Slam. We had all lost touch.
Here we were at Channel Nine, which he loved, and where he was much loved, and he wasn’t here to see it. But all three of his families were here, and we saluted him as he gave us the finger in the last shot in the closing montage, with music by Supertramp: Give a Little Bit. Yes, there were tears, too.
We retired to the Bridgey where more war stories were told about the remarkable Slam McQueen.
Hugh Riminton summed it up on Facebook: Slam was a “gentle soul and for years the heart of the news editing department at Channel Nine in Sydney. Many memories of a loyal and passionate colleague and friend. RIP, big fella.”
Russell Bishop, who also worked with Slam, lives in Western Australia and couldn’t make the service. He asked me if I could find room for his tribute, so here it is: “For reasons I still don’t understand, Slam used to like cutting with me. But, when the pressure was on – ten to six and a first break story – we weren’t good for one another. He’d be streaming sweat and rubbing his face with his free hand while snuffling at the same time while I was nervously on the lookout for the Smiling Assassin (Ian Cook) coming to get us. But he always got it done and, afterwards, we always had a laugh. I hadn’t seen Slam since 1994 because I live interstate but we hooked up about a year ago on Facebook. It was only then that I discovered his gentle side … he was certainly interested in causes and felt very deeply about the awful things going on at home and abroad. In March just gone, Slam commented on a post I put up and – for the very first time – albeit couched with ‘I hate to say this’ — he said something very nice about me. It was wonderful then and it’s even more precious to me now. See you mate.”
Slam once inscribed a book on friendship for my birthday: “In a life full of uncertainty, there is one constant: Mates. Thanks for being one.”
I was proud to be one, Slam. Thanks for the memories.