16 February 2018, MCG, Members Dining Room, Melbourne, Australia
Michael Gordon may be the most sensitive man I ever met. When you spoke to him, you could hear the words drop inside him. Like coins in a slot machine. If you said personal things about him, he would blush. His smile came from deep down, like the sun appearing over a horizon. If you asked him a question, there was always a pause, then a slight stammer preceding a rush of words. But not many words – he was a clear, precise thinker. And that was how he wrote – clearly, precisely.
I knew him in two ways. The first was as the sports editor when I arrived at The Age in 1985. He gave me a nickname – Flanners – which I still meet daily. He gave me my break as a sportswriter in sports-mad Melbourne. He made me feel that he loved what I did and I loved doing it for him. That never changed, regardless of our positions on the paper.
We separated from The Age at the same time, mid-way through last year. For my farewell column, I had a number of ideas. He told me which one to write – a story about my brother, Tim. I always did what he told me or asked me to do. He asked me to go to the office on his last day so I did that also. We left the building together.
He said we both got better as we got older. I certainly thought he did. He became more his own man, dared to do stories that weren’t going to get clicks on-line. At a time when - for some - clicks on-line were the measure of a journalist’s worth. He wrote stories about refugees, powerless people none of us really want to know about because the subject is threatening in so many ways.
What is remarkable about Micky’s journalism is its consistency. He wrote about football, he wrote Aboriginal stories, he wrote about Canberra politics, he wrote about Manus Island refugees, and the subjects of all those very different stories seem to agree that he treated them fairly and well. Somehow his method successfully negotiated the difficulties peculiar to each area. That’s very rare, I reckon.
Alastair Clarkson is the dominant AFL coach of this era. No-one has come near to Michael’s portrait of Clarkson in his book, “Playing to Win”. The day after Micky died, I received a text from Patrick Dodson’s office. When will Kumunjai Gordon’s funeral be? Kumanjai. An Aboriginal term of respect for the recently departed. Both a Labor and Liberal Prime Minister have spoken of him since his death; a refugee on Manus Island said he was the one great Australian man he met.
What was the secret of Michael Gordon’s success? He was humble with a capital H, never opened his mouth before thinking, asked intelligent questions, never lost sight of those basic human truths the Americans describe as self-evident - and he reported his findings in an easy-to read way.
Last Sunday, I met a former Age employee at the supermarket. She was immediately tearful and I knew why – Michael Gordon. “I didn’t really know him,” she said. “It’s what he represented”.
We live in the era of fake news. There was not a single fake particle in Michael Gordon, and that was recognised in places as far apart as the Lodge in Canberra and the Manus Island Detention Centre. His life stands as an example of what journalism can be and do.
Related speech: Sarah and Scott Gordon also delivered amazing eulogies for their father and shared them with Speakola. " 13 days ago my Dad’s big, beautiful, generous heart suddenly stopped beating. And we didn’t see it coming. " Read and listen here.