30 November 2015, Melboure, Australia
It's a bit disconcerting when John mentioned 50 years, and indeed it is. It’ll be 52 years on the 16th of December. The first day that I was in the industry and I can remember it as though it was yesterday. That in itself is a trifle disconcerting, although at this age, perhaps it's rather gratifying.
We pulled up in North Terrace, in the car of my first mentor, Lawrie Jervis, and we went up into – and this was, of course, the defining moment, many of you won't even know that afternoon papers even existed, but there was a time when afternoon papers did exist. And it was the Adelaide News, where Rupert Murdoch of course built the Murdoch Empire, News International, and we went up through the side entrance, past the presses which would be rolling by ten to eleven, because it was the first of the four editions of the Adelaide News, the 'City and State' at ten to eleven. And I can still remember the smell of the place. These were the hot metal days, different days to what we have today. The hot metal days were romantic, they were tough but they were beautiful. And in fact you could blindfold me for a period of my life, and I could tell you in what newspaper I was in this country where I'd worked. Whether it was the Adelaide News, whether it was the Adelaide Advertiser, whether it was the Melbourne Age in Spencer Street, or the Melbourne Herald at 44 Flinders Street, as it was then. In the Halcyon days when 1.1 million newspapers came out of 44 Flinders Street every day. Can you imagine that? 1.1 million newspapers came out of 44 Flinders Street every day.
And as I walked into that office, the words of Laurie Jervas, my mentor, were 'Be a journalist, before you're a sports writer'. It was the best advice one could ever have. And as a copy boy, that meant of course, being a copy boy for a good 10 months, doing the shipping news, the tide times, the wool sales. And getting on your treadly, on your bike, to go down to the weather bureau in West Terrace to get the map, the weather map, to bring it back to be published in the paper that very day.
We were paid sixpence a line, if we could find a story. If we could find a story that wasn't being covered as a copy boy, just to encourage you into the business, we were being paid four pounds thirteen three a week -- Rupert was at his best -- and there are traffic lights on the corner ofSturt Road and Marion Road in Sturt, which was my first story.
You remember those things, when you're a boy, you remember the red letter days of your life, a cadet on September the twenty seventh, 1964. A graded Journalist on March the twenty seventh 1967, they are red letter days in your life. All of here will have those memories of your first day in the business, in the industry and when you won your first promotion, and the significance of it and the importance of it.
I had the good fortune to be trained in afternoon newspapers and in agencies for the AAP. That's where I learned the disciplines, from police rounds and court rounds and general reporting. And those disciplines that you learn in those fields can be applied very successfully in the world of sport.
My love affair, as John mentioned, began as a child. My winter god was Bill Wedding. The great Norwood and South Australian Ruckman, who I'm glad to say took Nicholls, Shultz and Farmer apart on the MCG in 1963, as South Australia won for the first time over Victoria in thirty nine years. My Summer god was Les Favell, the charismatic opening batsman. He was a marvellous character, my good fortune over the time was to get to know both of my heroes, and both of them were men that you would have hoped they'd have been as a boy.
How lucky I was.
I did not write sport exclusively until 1973 when I returned from three wonderful years for AAP in London, and how lucky I was. Wimbledon in '70 and'71, the French Open Tennis Championship in '70 and '71, Johnny Famechon's World title fight in Rome against Vincente Saldivar, the Eishenhower Cup in Madrid, FA Cup finals in London and Glasgow, The Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, the Olympic Games in Munich, my first cricket tour – Ian Chappell’s 1972 Ashes party.
So I give thanks for those three years, which led to such contentment; at the Advertiser in Adelaide for nine years, the Melbourne Age for three years , the Sydney Morning Herald for five years and for much of the past 20 as a freelancer, but with big responsibilities to The Australian Newspaper.
Sport has been generous to me, very generous, and so has it's people. It's players, it's administrators, those who are passionate about it. Sport has given me an identity, and a true sense of purpose professionally. And I like to think that it has kept me young. I have mates in their 20s, I have mates in their 80s, that brings you together through sport. It's been a fulfilling working life for which I'm incredibly grateful, and there have been countless acquaintanceships and many many friendships.
And it's given me a confidence to move beyond reporting, to writing books, to broadcasting, to emceeing and to interviewing. The wonderful opportunity to meet so many colossal people of sport.
I am very grateful for this award and proud to be appended to a list of some of the wonderful names in sports which you saw scroll through on the screen as John was introducing me. To be recognised by the Australian Sports Commission with its commitment to all things that is great about sport and especially its emphasis on inclusiveness. That to me has been very important.
These awards are particularly significant and I hope reflect a changing view in the media. I think these awards are more significant than many people in this room realise. It long irked me that sports writing, in this country, has been devalued. In the United Kingdom and the United States of America and other places there is considerable kudos in being a sport writer. It had been a laudable ambition. Historically that has not been the case in Australia, despite the fact that our national identity has largely been forged through sporting achievement. And despite the fact that some of best writing has long been in sport, and it always has been. So I was interested in the Ministers observation and John's observations. And I hope that this new media and diverse media – and it is, as I can see in so many young people, particularly in the digital world, of which I have only got a very modest understanding, but wish you well in everything you do – and I sense, I sense that, I sense that this new and diverse media might bring about and continue to bring about this change. Change in attitude, and that sports writing will be valued, valued more highly than it has been historically, despite the eminence of some of those people.
I've had wonderful support throughout my career, even my late mother, Gwen or 'Shine' as I called her, who long remained unconvinced I could ever make a quid from sports journalism, never lost faith. Never lost the faith.
I mentioned my first mentor, Lawrie Jervis, whose mantra was to become a journalist before I was a sports writer, and I am thrilled his son Ian, my closest friend from school days is here tonight with his wife, Sara and their son Luke, my much-loved godson. And certainly I am in the debt of three exceptional sports editors, Merv Agars, of the Adelaide Advertiser, Neil Mitchell of The Age and Stan Wright of the Australian.
But most of all. I am indebted to my partner of 34 years, Peter Boully. His love, encouragement and support has been steadfast and unconditional, and for this I'm eternally grateful. I am a very fortunate man, the fact that he survived me writing 13 of my 14 books is a fair achievement.
In closing, I hope you allow me an observation or two. Can I ask that you not to lose the love of sport, the joy of sport, even the innocence and the simplicity of sport, however intense and sophisticated the competition comes. It is patently clear the world of sport is changing. Certainly the world of cricket is changing and changing rapidly as we're seeing tomorrow, yet again. Such is the so-called commercial and corporate imperative, we risk losing the essence of sport.
I know the corporate world plays a critical role, just as government does, I understand that, but we mustn't lose the essence of sport, the simplicity of sport that we can see every weekend morning, or in every school yard -- the simplicity and the joy of sport. We must work assiduously to preserve the beauty, integrity and unique characteristics and appeal of sport. We need to be on-guard. Much is being spun these days. Publicists, marketers, personal managers are spinning a lot. We have to be on-guard.
I cannot speak for all sports, but in cricket, access is an issue. Sportsmen and sportswomen must be accessible. They are community leaders, they're role models, they're representing us. They must be seen and they must be heard. This is but a gentle warning, just a shot across the bow. I appreciate I'm from a time when I could offer Rod Laver a lift in my 75 pounds Morris Minor after he had beaten Illie Nastase on boards at the Albert Hall; I could rendezvous with Ian Chappell at a deserted Adelaide race track to learn more that was happening in the World Series Cricket schism; I interviewed Dennis Lillee from the side of his bath at the Waldorf hotel in London, and Viv Richards at the side of his bed at the Boulevard Hotel in Sydney -- I should be so lucky!
Obviously the level of access is impossible today, but let’s trust our sportsmen and women, let them be who they are. Mutual trust and respect between sportsmen and women and their governors, and their minders and the media is hard-earned, but precious when attained. Be assured it is worth the effort.
How fortunate I've been. As I stand here, I can see Jack Nicklaus driving the 18th at St. Andrews, I can see Shane Gould and Bev Whitfield touching out the opposition in Munich; I can see Johnny Famechon being controversially denied points for his strategies against Vincente Saldivar in Rome; I can see Evonne Goolagong and John Newcombe dancing the victor’s waltz at the ball after Wimbledon; I can see Greg Chappell, David Gower and Brian Lara playing cricket with a beauty to inspire the poets, and indefatigable Allan Border humbly giving the kiss of life to Australian cricket.
How fortunate I have been, to share a place in the special grandstand with renowned scribes and commentators: Ray Robinson, Jack Fingleton, John Arlott, Ian Wooldridge, Bud Collins, Alan McGilvray, Ernie Christensen, Richie Benaud, Peter Roebuck, and today’s finest, Roy Masters, Gideon Haigh, Greg Baum, Peter Lalor, Malcolm Knox, Michael Atherton, Andrew Ramsey, and so many more.
How fortunate I have been.
I thank you, the Australian Sports Commission, for this distinction and I heartily congratulate all the winners and finalists tonight. More power to you all. And again, thank you to my partner and rock, Peter, and thank you all for the warmth of your reception tonight.