SF Lyons

Covering Grey

In pretends on March 2, 2010 at 9:38 pm

This might be an early draft. Or I might just not bother and move on.


Come with me, gentle reader, if you will, to 1997. The conservative federal government of John Winston Howard has been in power for over a year now. After five years, right-wing dynamo Jeffrey Gibb Kennett is firmly entrenched in government in Victoria and looks set for a long tenure. And in response to these happier times Douglas Everett Hollins, US correspondent for the Melbourne Courier-Times, is returning to his home town to embrace a new, more settled life as an op-ed columnist. Right now he is knocking at the open door to editor Ian Marshin’s office and entering.

Ian spins around in his chair at Doug’s knock.

‘Doug! How are you, mate?’

Doug had been able to hear the sounds of Midday with Kerri-Anne from as far as the lifts and now he’s found the source. On a monitor set up behind Ian’s desk Kerri-Anne is interviewing actor Tony O’Malley, and Ian is taking notes.

‘Hi, Ian. I’m well. Hard at work, I see.’

‘Yes! Got a call that O’Malley was throwing back cans for an hour in the green room before coming on and he’s fuckin’ hammered. Have a seat.’

Doug can see that O’Malley is looking a bit over-animated and distracted. Obviously they’re inviting this sort of thing by having booze in the green room in the middle of the day.

Doug and Ian watch for the next 5 minutes as Kerri-Anne battles to keep things flowing smoothly while Tony keeps flowing out of his chair, lurching into the audience to tongue-kiss elderly ladies, threatening to vomit on the floor – at one point, back in his chair, leaning forward and dry retching. Then he threatens physical violence towards Prime Minister Howard and Premier Kennett and tries to pull his pants off. Doug wonders if this is the sort of thing he’ll be expected to write about.

By the time Midday goes to a commercial break Ian has already arranged to share a story on the fiasco with their sister paper in Sydney and assigns a reporter to stake out O’Malley’s Melbourne family home.

‘How would you like to do your first column on this bloke, Doug?’

Doug’s stomach sinks. ‘I was thinking of stuff along more political lines. Government incompetence, that sort of thing.’

‘This bloke’s tied up with the greenies.’

‘The Green party? Or Friends of the Earth types?’

‘The party. Maybe the others too. He wanted to be their Senate candidate at the last election.’

‘What happened?’

‘Something like what you just saw.’

Doug chuckled. ‘Bloody hell. Okay.’

So, after sharing a couple of shots of Scotch and shooting the breeze about the “good old days”, Doug leaves to work on his first column.

*     *     *

The first thing he does at home is to put on his most smoking jacket-like dressing gown, climb into his reclining armchair next to the north-facing window overlooking the front garden, and fire up the laptop. He pours a shot of Drambuie and sips at it while the computer blinks and beeps to life. He gazes out, across the street to the public park, fenced in behind spiked Victorian iron and granite pillars. He sees people with their late lunches, eating in ones and twos, perched on bench seats or lying on the grass. He shares a toast with them.

The laptop finishes with its preliminaries and is ready to go. Doug figures he’ll get down a few thoughts about what he’d seen on TV earlier while he waits for the Courier-Times researcher to get some material on O’Malley to him:

Many of you would have had the honour last Monday afternoon of enduring one of Australia’s great entertainers, Tony O’Malley, give a stellar display of his talents in an “interview” on Kerri-Anne Kennerley’s Midday Show. Many more of you would have read news articles about the clearly drunk O’Malley burping, swearing, and making threats of political violence throughout five minutes of airtime. What most of you won’t know is that the Greens were actually considering the possibility of putting this creature up as a Senate candidate at the last two elections. In 1994, and again at the 1996 election (check against research) which brought the Howard Government to power, the Greenies – possibly blinkered by their love for superficial publicity-seeking stunts – approached O’Malley (check) with the suggestion of filling out the third, unwinnable (for them), spot on their Victorian Senate ticket (check). He agreed, (check) looking for some renewed credibility (check) no doubt. After all he’d recently received some of the worst reviews of his career (check) for his movie (telemovie?) Humphrey Rides Again (check title and sp)…

Not a bad start, but he clearly needs more information about the depth of O’Malley’s involvement with the Greens, and some basic facts. He pours himself another Drambuie.

*     *     *

Poring through the stack of photocopied Courier-Times cuttings and the researcher’s summary it’s clear to Doug that his initial impressions and guesses were actually, for the most part, right on the money.

…He agreed, looking for some credibility no doubt. After all, he’d recently received some of the worst reviews of his career for his novel Humphrey Rides Again. The Greens already have a notorious reputation for their freewheeling policies on “recreational” drugs. If it wasn’t for a public indecency charge a week before preselections closed they could have actually been putting up an unrepentant alcoholic for election and as a role model for young voters…

Doug taps away confidently into the late afternoon.

*     *     *

‘This is crap! Stop being a fuckin’ journalist!’ Ian spits droplets of Scotch across his desk.

Doug’s offended. ‘What the hell are you talking about? I tore him to pieces.’

‘“Possibly” – “could have” – “some of the worst” – There’s no room for doubts, Doug. You’re meant to have opinions. There’s no room for doubts, no room for qualifiers, no room for ambi-fuckin’-guities. You don’t suspect things. You know things. You know The Truth! You’re not reporting two sides of a political debate in a democracy here, Doug. There’s no chance of power changing hands here, and having to be in nice with both sides. We’re right – They’re wrong. We’re the Good Guys – they’re the Bad Guys. No grey areas. Get it?’

‘I’m not a journalist.’

‘That’s fuckin’ right. And you’re being well-paid to not be one. You wanted a quieter life. This is the trade off. Now: I’m going to lunch for a couple of hours. You can stay here and have the rewrite done by the time I get back.’

Ian lurches to his feet and gestures grandly for Doug to take his seat behind the desk, then grabs his jacket and staggers out the door.

Doug slides his closed laptop across the desk and moves around to Ian’s chair. Doug opens his laptop and it springs to life.

…The Greens, in love as always with cheap publicity stunts, begged O’Malley to fill a spot on their Victorian Senate ticket. If he hadn’t been arrested for exposing himself just before preselection closed the Greens would have put a shameless alcoholic in the Australian Parliament…

The high back and deep padded leather of Ian’s chair are pretty comfortable. He thinks of getting one for his home office.

‘I could get used to this,’ thinks Doug. ‘Yes. I will.’

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