Looking after each other: From the Mater to Peter Harvey, a newsman for all seasons

There is a new group of “United Nations” in Australia – located at Mater Hospital in North Sydney.
Like most UN organisations, they look after the sick and dying, young and old, before and after surgery, and prepare them for the outside world when they’re ready to take that big step.
You’ve never heard of them before? Well, that’s because they’re staff at the hospital: Jeff from the Philippines; Tirtha, Nepal (born in Hong Kong); Anne Marie, Thomas, and Tracey, all from Ireland; Mary, Sudan; Jacqueline, New Zealand; Giselle, India; Fumi, Japan, and Gunda from Germany, to name just a few. (A photo of a few above, and yes, there are many Australians in the United Nations of Mater.)
They looked after me, and a number of patients, most over 55, having hip and knee replacements and revisions in the Ryman ward of Mater. It’s a lifestyle choice for many of us as our joints, both original and artificial, are squeaking and hurting, and the pain keeps us awake at night. I’ve had two artificial hips since 1987, and had my left hip revised in 2011 at Mater. (I wrote about it in my blog, Carry on Nurses http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-1P )
What I discovered then was an amazing fact, courtesy of the Australian Orthopaedic Association which recorded 44,500 knee replacements and 36,000 hip replacements in 2010. In 2012, the AOA recorded 47,644 knee replacements and 37,182 hip replacements. That’s 85,000 such replacements in Australia last year, mostly in private hospitals.
And caring for all those new joints and the people attached are staff from a variety of nations – including at least one refugee. Mary from Sudan, for example, told me: “I came here as a refugee in 2005, went to school in 2006 and 2007, and I have been here at Mater since 2008.” She had a smile a mile wide as she mopped up my hospital room.
Since my recent six-day stay at Mater to have my right hip revised, I think of the staff, who do jobs that not all Australians would want to do (have you wiped someone’s bum lately?), and add diversity and colour to this country. I feel my blood pressure rising as I listen to Scott Morrison, the Shadow Immigration Minister, as he talks about “these people” when he mentions asylum seekers. (Media Watch had a good segment on this phrase last night http://bit.ly/Z3pbkZ ) When I taught in the black community of Harlem, the first thing we learned in our sensitivity training was not to refer to African-Americans as “you people.” What most Australian politicians (and all shock jocks) need is sensitivity training.
On second thought, what they could really use is a week-long stay in Mater Hospital, being looked after by the multicultural staff, and they would see how much they contribute to Australia. They would no longer be called “these people,” but by their real names, and the pollies would learn how much they earn – not a lot – what their families are like and what they think of Australia. I think it would be even more educational than a week-long visit to western Sydney.
The United Nations of Mater are the real people the politicians continually talk about, but seldom meet. Let me give you an example: On Saturday night, I was watching television in my hospital room when the news broke about the death of Peter Harvey. I worked for 20 years at Channel Nine and knew Peter well, so I was glued to the set, immediately turning over to my former station.
We all knew Peter was in his last days with pancreatic cancer, but it was still difficult when he finally died. I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face, when one of the nurses from Nepal, Tirtha, stopped at the door, and asked: “Did Peter Harvey die?” “Yes,” I said, “he was a friend.” She was genuinely touched by the news, as were a number of others who poked their head in the door to ask the same question.
They identified with Peter Harvey, as we all did, because he was one of us. His reports spoke to the people, they made us laugh or cry; and he was willing to put on a silly hat to get a laugh, though nine times out of ten, his words produced the guffaws that usually accompanied a Harvey closer. No Nine News presenter ever had to fake a laugh at the end of a Peter Harvey funny package.
But if I told Peter that there was a regular United Nations at Mater, and it might be worth a story, he’d be on to his chief of staff in a New York minute. He’d talk to the staff, the administrators, the patients, get some statistics on the number of overseas staff at Sydney hospitals, as well as Mater, and find a way to make his piece to camera reflect what the story was all about – the incredible diversity of Australia. If Peter was still alive I’d tell him about it, and I can hear him say: “Sounds like a good yarn. Thanks Tom.”
Alas, he is no longer with us, and you would have read and watched myriad stories about Peter Harvey, who was described as “the newsman’s newsman,” by his great mate, Paul Bongiorno. Peter loved to travel, and covered the world for Channel Nine, from Los Angeles to London to the Middle East and Africa to Asia. I thought of him when I talked to Mary, a former Sudanese refugee, at Mater. Peter was on assignment for Nine News, but he also did a story for the Sunday Program in 2005 on Sudanese refugees in Chad, when Mary was there. He told Hal Crawford, the editor-in-chief of ninemsn, why he liked doing these sort of stories: “Not so long ago myself and a camera crew flew to Chad to do a story on refugees coming across from Darfur [in Sudan] and if that helped focus attention on the plight of these poor people, I think that’s terrific.” http://bit.ly/W0CxgX
I remember it because it was a classic Harvey yarn. Great pictures of the refugees from news cameraman Frank Ilankovan, focusing on the faces of the starving children. Evocative words, but not too many of them, from Peter, summing up the plight of the refugees. Peter was a bit crook, after a long flight back from Africa, but he came down to the Sunday cottage and put his magnificent voice down. Yes, in one take, for aficionados of the spoken word … spoken as only Peter could.
If he were still alive, I would ask Peter if he’d like to talk to Mary and do an update on what’s happening in Darfur (when was the last time you heard anything about that devastated region?), and what life has been like for a Sudanese refugee in Australia. I imagine he’d jump at the opportunity if he were well enough to do it.
As supervising producer of the Sunday Program, I found Peter Harvey to be just as generous to us as he was to everyone in the newsroom. If we needed a voice or information on a story, he was always there for us. And when I went up to News from the cottage on a Saturday morning, Peter would always ask what we had on the program, and if we had anything he could follow up. He was, after all, a former Canberra bureau chief for Nine, and as Laurie Oakes has said, a mentor to younger colleagues. When I talked to Peter last month to see how he was, he didn’t really want to speak about his illness (he did when I asked), but about what a great program Sunday was. I could only agree, of course, but I did point out that we were like a family at Sunday, and we all looked after each other.
Peter Harvey knew all about the importance of looking after each other. He did it every day at Channel Nine, and with his beloved family at home, Anne, Adam and Claire (see photo above). If you haven’t read it yet, please do yourself a favour and settle down with this lovely tribute to her father, from his daughter, Claire, the deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph http://bit.ly/Z9wXrr And I just watched Peter’s final news story, a lovely piece about the Sydney Town Hall clock, on Nine News. In death, as in life, he could tell a story.
And finally I dips me lid to the staff at Mater Hospital – a united nations of carers who also know all about looking after each other … and their patients.

8 thoughts on “Looking after each other: From the Mater to Peter Harvey, a newsman for all seasons

  1. You should write an opinion piece for the SMH about the United Nations of Mater (you’ve already written most of it!). I think the government should publish the addresses of known racist xenophobes like Morrison so people can avoid buying in their neighbourhood.
    Your line about Pete Harvey being a one-take wonder reminds me of when Ben Hawke and I were recording the VO for the Gallipoli special. Peter read a line of the script and we weren’t quite happy with it so I jumped on the mic to his cans and said “could you just do that one again”… there was silence, then a deeply grave “Why?”. I guess “could you do that again” was not something he’d heard before!

    • Thanks, Tim. I’m always happy to write an opinion piece, but the SMH hasn’t called recently (nor has The Australian!) I don’t think publishing the names would help, as many people who are racists don’t think they are. I think education is the key. You can’t get rid of racial proclivities until you admit you have them. And yes, Peter Harvey was the One-Take King. (I better add Jim Waley came very close! Thankfully, Jim is still with us!)

  2. Terrific piece again Tommy on the Mater and it really is a United Nations of caring individuals there.
    Unfortunately, my Susie doesn’t share that feeling towards the Mater as she had her first hip revision there that became infected back in 1986, just before we married and left for London.
    It brings back bad memories for her unfortunately, but the care she received there was excellent, even back then, so I can totally agree that the staff are absolutely first rate.
    I’m sure that care is even better now, if that’s possible.
    Peter Harvey’s final report on the Sydney Town Hall restoration was so nice to see and I suppose only fitting that his memorial service on Saturday is being held there.
    It’s a pity those stonemasons cannot also restore Peter to his former glory, but at least we are all left with great memories and stories of Harves’ great yarns.
    I hope you are on the recovery path and can make it on Saturday to say a final goodbye.

    • Thanks, Moshe. I do remember Susie having an infected hip, but I hadn’t realised it was at Mater. It’s still good of you to praise them for their care, even though it went wrong for Susie. Please give her my best. I hope to make Harves memorial. It just depends if the physios give me the okay. Town Hall is not the best place for crutches. But if I can, I will be there. I would like to say goodbye in person. Great to hear from you as always. Tom.

  3. You’ve touched my heart again Tommy. A beautiful memoir to Harves, made me teary. I can totally relate to the nurses & their care. Bless them all. Hope your revision gets you back to tap dancing! Thanks Tom. Susie

    • Susie, Wonderful to hear from you. And thanks for your comment. Harves touched people’s hearts, too, so if I could produce a bit of his magic, I’m happy. And I just love those nurses! Someone once asked me how do you know when you’ve recuperated from a hip revision. And I said without hesitation: “When you can dance on tables at the Christmas party,” which is what I did in 1987. I hope it happens again in 2013. And I hope you can do a bit of ballroom dancing with Moshe then, too! Cheers, Tom

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