15 February 2018, MCG, Melbourne, Australia
I'm very conscious of the fact that I'm just about the last thing standing between you and the bar, so I'll be quick. But I've learnt more about Mick in the last couple of hours than I ever thought I'd know.
I first met Michael in the Hot Man Bar in Jakarta. Not the sort of place you'd expect to meet a Hawthorn supporter, I thought, but it is as it sounds, a low and seamy dive, where we'd all been led by some dissolute embassy official, the tropics or something.
I remember as many people have said today, and I've been looking at it all afternoon [photo on screen], I remember his grin. That sort of hope-affirming world-reforming grin. Anyway, Mick's behaviour was of course beyond reproach and as it was for the next 25 years, and as it always was, impeccable.
In Canberra, just to try and put myself in context, I realise I didn't know him anywhere near as these people who've known him so well for so long.
In the Keating years we used to meet most Wednesday nights at the Tang Dynasty. It was known as 'The Fang', for good reason, and we always drank at least one or two bottles of Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc. If it was a 'two' night - something about that se'nd bo'l which gives you a shocking hangover - I don't know what it is. It wasn't a power dinner in the sense - for instance up at the Ottoman Richo [Senator Graham Richardson] might be sitting down with Laurie Oakes. Ours was a pleasant little affair, there was no power around really. But sometimes ... with Mick you were never conscious of power, but it was there.
But sometimes in his Saturday column he'd refer to a 'Labor insider'. Or 'sources close to the Prime Minister'. I'd have to concede very modestly that, that might have been me. For years afterwards when we were back in Melbourne and he was writing, he'd ring on Thursdays,very often when he was writing his Saturday piece. Even after I could no longer be described as close to - pretty well anyone.
He'd flatter me by asking what I thought, and read his column or a part of it out to me. And invariably after I'd hung up I'd feel like this raving soap box fool who couldn't stop - a dogmatic, a tribalist, an unbalanced person. All I could hear was my own voice coming back, and of course Mick had hardly said anything, he's just waiting. It took me a while to get over it each day.
Mick of course was a balanced person. Since his death, and after he left The Age, 'balance' is probably the word along with 'integrity' that has been most used most often, to describe him. It never seemed to me that his journalism was balanced in the way that critics of the ABC talk about balance. For instance if you have a highly qualified scientist on, then you must have a complete nong on the other side as well to balance it up. Or two people from the IPA, will provide the same balance basically speaking.
Mick's idea of balance was different and I've been thinking about this a lot, and it came from his nature I think. Several people today have been trying to work out where this innate decency in Mick came from.
It was that ... I think it was because of the way the world appeared to him, and I think it was reflected also in those broken staccato sentences in which he spoke. He very rarely finished a sentence, Mick, if you broke it up. And some he didn't even start, they just ... when he was talking, he was like a sort of Victa with a bad carby. But you were never in any doubt about what he was saying, but he wasn't going to get a gig on Brideshead Revisited, or something like that.
It was a bit the same with reading him, that you never felt that he was offering you the whole answer, because I think he didn't really think there was a whole answer for anything. You could read Mick on a Saturday and sort of long for some sort of brutal flourish, some elegant ending that would sum it all up for you. But he always denied you that satisfaction, and I think he was right to do it. Because I think what he saw in politics and the world itself was too complex and multifaceted. The motivations were too obscure, the deceits too general, the personalities too hard to fathom, too hard to judge, too much of the past was flowing through it that wasn't actually past ...
In other words it was just like life.
And that's the way he wrote about politics, like a man ... I always thought of him as like a man putting every week putting the shattered glass back together, as much as of it as he could. Week after week, month after month, year by year and so at the end he had left, what Paul Keating said, was a mountain, a formidable record of what went on in politics and policy and public life over so many decades.
That's a serious accomplishment.
The other word they used all the time is integrity. Now integrity's not always what it's cracked up to be. It means absolutely nothing in a mission statement. It's equally pointless as a company value, and not to be, read it and you know you can't trust them. But more generally and not infrequently in this town it's worn to mask moral or social superiority. It's a bit like a tiara, or an RSL badge or something. It doesn't actually share a room with hypocrisy, but it's on the same floor.
But Mick's integrity came from a different place I think, that's the whole thing. Somebody was talking before about decency, it might have been Fergus. And Fergus it's fabulous to see you because when you were four, you came into my office, that's the last time I saw you, and you pulled the plug out of my computer when I'd just finished a speech. Bauldo (Fergus's dad] was there, he did nothing about it, and there was no back up and that was the end of it. Four hours work. I still get shivers when I think about it. You might have only been three it's alright.
You know the thing about Micks integrity is it came from ... I mean you can hand integrity down but ... you have to be able to take it up yourself, I believe. I think Michael's integrity stemmed from the fact that he actually felt things very deeply. He was vulnerable, I've seen him, as they now say, 'tear up' many times over things I wouldn't have expected. He felt things, he felt hurt himself and he felt it when he saw the hurt between other people. I think that's what his integrity consisted of, that what was good and fair was everything, and should be encouraged and rewarded. And when it wasn't he was hurt.
He was ... I was looking at him before [gesture to photo], he was a Celt after all. His name was Gordon, and he looks like a Celt the more I look at him. So behind all the balance and the evenness and the integrity and the decency in Mick, all these great qualities was passion. He was an incredibly passionate person.
He channelled most of it into Hawthorn, but not all of it. He actually converted me a bit to Hawthorn, I never thought it would happen. But gently over many years he did. He and Cyril Rioli.
So Mick would go off to some .. with this sort of, this 'interior Mick' he'd go to off some blighted Aboriginal community, or to Nehru, or Manus, and do his best to make the case for the dispossessed and maltreated. Say with all his usual balance, 'in the light of this how can we say we are good?'
I think that's what he did, that was the question he was asking us all the time in those essays he wrote.
Now no doubt Mick would be gratified that politicians from all sides have come to praise him now he's dead. We were all of us glad that they did and I don't doubt their sincerity. It would be even more gratifying if they tried to be a bit more like him. Imagine that. I just have one more thing.
I'm sorry, I know, Tim Costello's is going to be doing the prayers but there is this one, it's secular, so don't panic. It's by a Scot called Don Paterson who's a fabulous poet, it's called 'Funeral Prayer'. He says:
Today we friends and strangers meet
Because our friend is now complete.
He has left time, perhaps we feel we are the ghosts and him the real
So fixed and constant does he seem
So star like
May the human dream arise again to find him woken
At it's heart that it be spoken
Once is as miraculous as a thousand times
What utters this by nature told the trees and bird
And bright stars
Yet of all the words we knew his name was the most dear
We give thanks he was spoken here.