Arse over Tit exclusive peek!

MEMOIR PUBLISHING:

BUG columnist Don Gordon-Brown is proud to present an extract from his soon-probably-never-to-be-released memoir, Arse over Tit: How I didn’t get to root Sallyanne either, that covers his trials and tribulations in six turbulent years at The Courier-Mail.

 

Chapter 8: The fall from favour begins

The steady decline of what looked originally like a stellar career at The Courier-Mail began when I suffered rather badly from two fatal heart attacks.

The first was that of John “Big Red” Atherton. This might be a bit of a beat-up but the story that went around the general newsroom at the time was that Atherton, the editor who hired me, was enjoying a long lunch at the Ballymore rugby union club when he suddenly announced “I’m feeling a trifle dead” before ploughing head-first and lifeless into his custard, jelly and cream dessert.

My experiences with the living Atherton had been a mixed bag, for sure. He conducted my job interview in late 1975 which consisted basically of him tearing strips off me and saying my background in the craft – three years at Queensland Country Life and a year at Warwick Daily News – was a complete joke and there was no way in the world I could survive, let alone thrive, in the world of top-shelf metropolitan daily journalism.

It was at that stage I’d like to think I pursed my lips for fear that an audible “But this is The Courier-Mail” might have escaped said lips and floated dangerously around his editor’s office, harming my job prospects in the process.

Indeed, I’ve possibly recounted the experience a few times since with the slant that despite my callow youthfulness, I was savvy and street-smart enough to assume that I was going to be given a job: otherwise why should he be so mean and nasty to me?

That would have been bullshit. Was bullshit. I was a Methodist goody-two-shoes back then, as I remain today. I was stunned by his attack. I thought he had mounted a fairly solid case for rejection. After what he said, I wouldn’t have employed me. My best memory now is that I sat there, if not actually quivering, then giving a fairly good impersonation of a deer caught in a shooter’s spotlight. “You’ll start on Australia Day, 26 January”, is all he said after his five-minute litany outlining my professional failings.

Contact with Big Red was fairly sporadic after that, but I do fondly remember the time I was heading up to the men’s toilets and he stopped me half way. “Your work is coming along well,” Atherton said. He added that my writing was crisp and solid and in active tense. Direct quotes were short and sharp. You’ve got to remember we’re not talking about the electronic mediocre here. This is print media journalism, where praise from above is about as rare as a Des Houghton column that makes sense.

I felt good about myself until Atherton added as he sauntered off: “Keep up the good work, Steve.” To this day, I’m not sure who this Steve was but I have no doubt he did very well at the newspaper in the years that followed.

Probably my most bizarre interaction with the Big Redster was late one afternoon when he wandered over to the benches that carried all the paper files and clippings on the southern side of the general reporting area and signalled me across for a chat.

At the time, I was earning a massive $40 a week extra as the paper’s property writer, filing enough copy in my spare time to fill up to three broadsheet pages. He leaned in close to me to say that he had received a complaint from one of the major real estate agents who felt they weren’t getting their fair share of stories run on homes for sale on their books, or the latest commercial, cutting-edge, state of the art commercial projects they had an interest in and were plugging at the time.

Unless some of the windows on that side of the building facing Campbell Street were open and a nice south-easterly was blowing from the direction of the Castlemaine Perkins Fourex brewery over at Milton, my best guess was that Atherton had had a few.

It turned out the complainant in question was a Stephanie from Ray White. She was a lovely PR lady who had shouted me an evening meal in that revolting restaurant at the top of the SGIO building in the city a little while earlier. All very innocent and above board. She certainly had not raised any concerns at the time.

I was telling Atherton I was pretty sure Ray White was getting its fair share of yarns in the property section when he leaned in close, my blood alcohol level increased marginally and he said breathily: “Are you fucking her?”

Aren’t there times in your life when you rue that the exact words you needed desperately for any particular occasion – the prefect riposte; the cutting comeback; the retort that screams what a clever, fast-thinking dick you are  – simply didn’t form in your brain at the time? Or when they did, the moment was long lost. Throwing a clever line, a stinging bon mot, doesn’t amount to much in an empty corridor or after the erring motorist has driven off in a huff.

Example?  Some years later at a farewell down at the Poofter’s Limbs, otherwise known as the Queens Arms at New Farm, for a journo farewell, Steve Burke’s from memory, an old mate Mark Oberhart wandered over and said: “Donny, I heard that you had died!” Looking at him in a bemused way as I did was nowhere near as effective as the line I conjured up later: “Well, you clearly made no effort to attend my funeral!”

So back to Big Red and his “Are you fucking her?”.

“Up to my nuts in her guts at least once a week” would possibly have impressed Atherton and enhanced my chances of an upgrade. Maybe said with just the right amount of fist-pumping action to get the point across as carnally as possible.

So exactly how piss-weak was the “Of course, not!” I blurted out instinctively. It’s what the Methodist goody-two-shoes that I mentioned earlier always does.

It was only after Atherton walked off – was that a look of complete disappointment I saw before he turned away? – that I thought: What the fuck just happened there? Surely if I was slipping Stephanie what I regarded back then as a length, there’d be a plethora of Ray White stories on every page. I would have gone to the subs and insisted the section be called the Ray White Property Pages.

Surely Big Red must have understood that? That under the circumstances, any hint of a sexual liaison with Stephanie was totally illogical. Or was he just having fun with me for the sake of it?

Either way, I think he thought I was more or less okay. After Big Red plopped face-first into his trifle and shuffled off this mortal coil at just about the right age for senior journalists around Australia at the time, his successor as editor didn’t take long to show he had an entirely different view of me.

It turned out Kevin Kavanagh was definitely someone not to be trifled with.

To be continued….maybe.