PRE-LAUNCH BOOK TEASE:
Don Gordon-Brown presents another chapter from his most-likely-never-to-be-released memoir, Arse Over Tit: Or How I Didn’t Get to Root Sallyanne Either about the turbulent six years he spent at The Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane.
Chapter 14: A point well and truly laboured
“It’s probably for the best as you’ve gotten far too close to the union movement.”
And with these wise words, The Courier-Mail chief of staff Gary Evans in 1980 brought to an end my time as the paper’s industrial roundsman. Please don’t write in; roundsman was what it was back when, in another time and millennium.
I should explain that Gary’s decision was not one of his own making. I had asked to come off the round after a number of written requests seeking an A grade for my efforts over some months had gone unanswered.
I told Gary: “It’s clear you don’t think my work on the round warrants an upgrading so I want to come off it.”
Bear in mind that by this stage, while I might have been in my rights to expect the courtesy of a response, I wasn’t expecting a positive one. Gary’s “too close to the unions” observation had come well after editor Kev Kavanagh had told me, and I’ll paraphrase here, that I was a shit journo and should fuck off.
That aside, I had stewed long enough expecting the decency of that reply. Reporters in the past had been upgraded on being given that round. I waited a while until I was satisfied I was doing a good enough job at it. Gosh, there’s me with a front-page by-lined piece from November 29, 1979. I can’t believe that’s little old me and my story mentioned in the Courier‘s Golden Jubilee souvenir book, 50 Years of Great Pages, from 1935 to 1985.
I hope no-one got the sack over that oversight. At the very least they could have erased the byline seeing I was such a shit employee.
Where was I? That’s right. Being an old-fashioned sort of guy, I thought it proper to make such upgrade requests in writing, just as I thought it was the right thing to do to wait patiently for a response. You know, the professional way to do things. My daddy taught me to do things that way. All prim and proper and very English, I suppose.
And, no, I’m not the sort of person to casually throw the request into the conversation as the two of us downed a dozen friendly Fourex pots up at the Journos’ Club after a hard-day’s yakka
I certainly couldn’t claim that by the time my industrial reporting came to an end that Gary and I were friends.
Even Gary’s final, thoughtful and incisive analysis of my work on the industrial round gave me the shits. Far too close to the union movement? Those pricks at Trades Hall hardly gave me the time of day!
Not that I ever thought Gary was talking about Harry Hauenschild, Ray Dempsey, Arch Bevis Senior or the mercurial John Thompson. I’m pretty sure he was referring to my own trade union activities in the Australian Journalists’ Association by then.
It’s hard to tell exactly when Gary and I fell out but fall out we did.
I really do hope it had nothing to do with his laugh, a more than reasonable impersonation of two brush-tailed possums fighting. Or fucking. Or both. I am absolutely sure he would never have heard me making fun of that.
I truly hope it had nothing to so with his writing ability, even though he wrote one travel junket piece while COS that I thought was very, very average.
And I’m pretty sure he would never have known what I thought of his leadership or man-management (again, please don’t write in) skills.
In early January 1981, Gary had expertly galvanised the general reporting staff to cover the death that day of former Fraser Finance Minister Eric Robinson. Eric who? Exactly. But hold pages one, three four and five any way! He was, after all, a Liberal.
I got to watch close up a puffed-up Gary in action. A nice young chap David Landers wandered in for a late general reporting shift and made the mistake of asking what all the fuss was about. Stupid bugger had been out of communication, on the road, or something.
“Eric Robinson is DEAD!” snapped Gary, belittling David for not being up to speed with the earth-shattering news that one of Australia’s finest ever federal politicians had shuffled off after a massive heart attack and surely would have to have an airport terminal named after him.
I marked Gary down a fair bit over that one too. But I’m pretty sure I never let on even though by this stage I’ve probably reached the stage where I’m thinking Gary might just be a tiny bit of a cunt.
But there was one occasion where my quick tongue might have put his nose out of joint and where he possibly might have formed the view that I was an unpleasant man easy to dislike.
The exact date eludes me but I was in that very same general reporting area behind the chief-of-staff’s office early one evening and it turned out that Gary had been busy on the phone recruiting new staff, or one from Toowoomba to be precise.
He came triumphantly out of his office and declared to no-one in particular: “I’ve got the D grade at the Toowoomba Chronicle!”
Now there is some dispute as to what I shouted in reply.
“That’s great news. When do you start?” is one version, although not the one I remember. Still, that’s better than the one I recall so I’ll own it.
To highlight my non-love affair with Gary, please let me wander some years from the core subject of this tome: my six years at Queensland Newspapers from January 1976.
In 1989, the delightful Terry O’Connor asked me up at the Jubilee Hotel if I wanted some casual subbing shifts at the Courier. “TOC,” I said, “that would be lovely”. Or words to that effect.
After a few shifts where I thought I did some pretty good work and some snappy headings, I walked passed Gary Evans on my way in late one arvo. My name was taken off the casual subs’ roster that day and that was, finally, the end of my time up at Campbell Street. TIC, TOC.
Still, I’m grateful that I had the chance to sit once more at the subs’ desk and watch one of my former colleagues – one of the Sligo brothers and, from memory, the yellow one – looking me up and down with a furrowed brow.
“Don,” he finally asked, “have you been on holidays?” Yes, indeed, a seven-year holiday.
The other encounter with Gary came in the early 1990s. On a hot summer’s afternoon, I left the Jube and spotted Gary, not far along St Paul’s Terrace just before it started the climb up past the RNA’s old goat and sheep pavilion, all suited up, lumping a suitcase and obviously on his way to the Bowen Hills sheltered workshop still quite some way away.
I pulled up, put the passenger window down (I was in a car at the time), and said: “Hop in, Gary. I’ll give you a lift.”
“No thanks,” he said and carried on his merry way.
It was there and then that I believe I finally came to truly understand what a thoroughly dislikeable and unpleasant – oh, for heaven’s sake, let’s call a spade a spade – what a total and absolute cunt I must have been in my time up at Campbell Street.