The mark of a man

By Adam Gibson

As a young cadet journalist in the late ’80s/early ’90s at News Ltd’s Sydney newspaper HQ, I was assigned to work on the Foreign Desk at The Australian newspaper. There were a variety of interesting characters on the paper at that time, all sorts of pleasant and not-so-pleasant eccentrics hanging on from an older era of Australian newspapers. A time when copious amounts of alcohol were consumed at lunchtime (or any time) at the old Journo’s Club on Chalmers St, when it was commonplace for junior female journalists to be mildy harassed without compunction at any given opportunity and there was the occasional dust-up in the corridors.

It was a tough, cut and thrust environment, but that said, it was a generally convivial place and there was a sense of being “all in it together”. Young fresh-faced journos were mates with crusty old crime reporters who had quite literally been there, done that. The radio room operators monitoring the airwaves for the latest police incidents were chums with the most powerful news editors or newspaper chiefs of staff. The woman who ran the photo library was just as likely to be your pal as the fellow who ran the canteen or the sparky who fixed the fuses.

But one particular character has always stuck in my mind. He never said hello to any of the cadets, nor any of the copy people, nor indeed seemingly anyone from the general news desk. He was a “leader writer”, meaning he was responsible for writing the editorial and some comment pieces in the paper. He was in sweet with the editor Chris Mitchell and there was no doubt he was best mates with owner Rupert Murdoch. You just knew that he answered directly to him and few others.

But he didn’t seem to be mates with really anyone else. He seemed a lone wolf who carried himself with a slightly menacing air. He stomped around the office with a swaggering gait and always had his shirt sleeves rolled up over what at the time to me seemed Popeye-like forearms. He always looked like he’d just taken his tie off and undone his top button but I never actually saw him wear a tie. He would sit at the keyboard station next to me (these were massive computer terminals at which journos sat when writing their stories) and hammer away at the keyboard with a distinctly heavy-handed manner.

The general air about him was “don’t even think about talking to me”. I probably saw him every day for about six months and not once – not once – did he ever acknowledge my presence or even existence, even if it were just he and I passing in the corridor, no one else around. That in fact didn’t bother me. I just thought, “what a wanker you are mate. What a private school, up ‘imself goose”. Fair enough, he had no reason to need or want me or any of my peer group in his world. But I remember at the time thinking that the mark of a person is how they treat people whom they might not have anything to gain from, people who were juniors or perceived “lessers”. To this day, that man would have absolutely zero knowledge of ever having seen me, nor probably anyone else in a similar position to me then. I made no impression on his world or memory and that’s just how he clearly wanted it.

But to this day, I remember the mark of the man from those days. In an unvarnished view, with no sense of hindsight, just a raw impression of his ungilded character, I knew for certain back then that he was a dickhead, and I have never wavered in such an opinion. It’s the small things that tell the greater whole about people. That bloke was Tony Abbott.