16 February 2015, MCG, Melbourne, Australia
Fergus Hunter is the son of Simon Balderstone, a lifelong friend of Michael Gordon's, who also spoke beautifully at the memorial. (see below)
Most of the people gathered in this room today are probably here, ultimately, because of words. Powerful words and beautiful words and words of consequence – this was the life’s work of Michael Gordon, the man we loved and admired.
And it’s words that have really vexed me leading up to this because I’m not sure I can muster them to do justice to Micky. Funnily enough, I felt a similar unworthiness when sending him pars for the stories we worked on together over the last few years – stories and years that I treasure.
It was my great luck to have Micky around my entire life. He was like a brother to my father for over 40 years and, as a result, like family to me. He was a constant.
The last time I was in this room was three years ago for Harry’s service. Now Scotty – as is his right – has snatched one of my references and themes here. But I would add that Micky on that day also spoke of Harry’s humility and his ability to mix in any company as well as what Scotty quoted.
That same day, Les Carlyon said this about Harry. He said he could scold in print without being mean, he said his was always a human voice.
And the reason I quote that, again, is the obvious one: they’re describing Micky as well.
He was born from decency, he married it, he surrounded himself with it, he passed it on. Decency coursed through his veins. It twinkled in his eyes and radiated from his easy smile. It imbued every word that came out of his mouth or that he bashed out on a keyboard with those index fingers. When he gave you a famous Gordon hug, decency enveloped you.
That trait – and many others – guided him as a journalist and as a person, two identities that were pretty well intertwined.
A special achievement of his was to spend two decades examining Australia’s two darkest and most challenging issues and still emerge with the respect and admiration of a broad spectrum of people. Debates around Indigenous affairs and refugees are highly emotive and deeply complex, they make people very uncomfortable. But at the end of it all, Micky earned tributes from people like Tony Abbott right through to detainees on Manus Island.
You only achieve that by being as intensely respectful and likeable and reasonable and fair, as decent, as undeniable as Michael Gordon.
That weight also meant a lot of his stories on these things got a run or a better run because it was him writing them. He single handedly elevated important issues. That’s how he used his power. That’s what we’ve lost.
Micky was a lot of things to me. He was boisterous yum cha on grand final weekend, he was the papers spread out over the dining table, he was live music in St Kilda, he was bizarre IT issues in the office (I was only occasionally frustrated by that). He was Melbourne, he was The Age, he was football.
While he was like a second father or uncle for much of my life, I got to have him as a professional mentor and counsellor these last four years, a role I know he played for so many people. There was special poetry for me to get those bylines with him because my dad got those byline with him decades ago (not to age you, dad).
There was a column Micky wrote in 2016 that he was obviously very pleased with – he had that chuffed, humble, satisfied feeling about a column. It seems like he may have mentioned it to a few people. It was on the first anniversary of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership and the main point of pride was that he had snuck in a couple of Neil Young references. You have probably picked up the Neil Young theme in the speeches.
“It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” he quoted.
The Saturday before last, Micky’s body – inexplicably, shockingly, unfairly – decided to burn out. This special man, this giant, didn’t fade away at all. Of course he didn’t. He inspired, scrutinised, and loved right to the end.
I think I made a strategic error, speaking after Paul (Kelly) singing, especially that song. But seriously, it’s great to follow my troubadour hero, as it completes a Keating – Mabo – Yothu Yindi – Paul Kelly - Mickey – Indigenous circle for me.
There are a thousand stories, a thousand memories, a thousand adjectives to put forward about Mickey, but I just want to in a few minutes provide a bit of a sketch pad, a bit of a framework and outline for you all to colour in, in your own ways.
It was obvious, right from the start, when I first met Mickey when he was the junior at the Industrial Relations round, at Trades Hall, and I had just started at the Age - 1977 – that he was going to be a top journo…and a great friend. I was drawn to that amiable, natural charm…the charm he showed towards everyone – no matter what their station.
All the qualities he had, built on one another over the decades.
He was always, to so so many, a great role model, a great mentor, adviser, helper, friend…as an example, the parliamentary press gallery is pretty often dog eat dog, but Mickey got on with everyone.
He was chirpy but not cocky.
He was a worker bee, but definitely never a drone!
He was, as we’ve heard, seriously competitive, but not aggressive about it - well, occasionally in Sun vs Age footy matches! Also during runs around the lake, …he’d insist on doing interval work, and constantly broke the group ban on surging.
He was a sentimentalist, with traditions and routines - exercise routines; Grand Final weekends; cloud swallow dumplings; special lunches - carrying on Harry traditions – incl. the Harry lunch….we talked only two weeks ago about how we’d missed last year’s GF weekend but there was no way any of us were going to miss this year’s; well before that, music weekends in Sydney , with the Cyril B Bunter band and a fledgling group called the Oils ….and special holidays, like Christmas or New Year at Currumbin; Bells Easter weekends – all we consumed were fish and chips and beers; and the weeks at Byron, or Noosa …
…. but as well as being a sentimentalist and loyal, …. he was also, always, open-minded, fresh-minded, for trying something new … (including being a pioneer when it came to surfing journalism, whether it be through Backdoor, or his column) ….
That applied to his music too – he had traditions, favourites…such as Neil Young of course, and The Beach Boys, esp. Brian Wilson, but was always on the lookout for new stuff too, to embrace. - and he could spot talent too…. Way before she was famous, he spotted Tracy Chapman, singing in a bar in New York, and likewise, in the 80’s, with Paul Kelly, as Jim mentioned. He rang me from New York to tell me about this singer/songwriter, and how he’d just had a kick of footy with him in Central Park!
Micky was gentle and calm but also busy, even frenetic, (especially during what I called his “Club Mickey” days and routines, with activities, routines.…all day, somewhere, an activity to fit in, join in or do….…
He was never a showman - Mickey never made himself the yarn… Yet, as Paul Keating said…not a voyeur, but a participant in the best possible way… that phrase about of yours Paul, I know resonated deeply with Mickey….
He was worldly and wise - but sometimes so sweetly naïve in his calmness:
When he was in Port Moresby for the South Pacific Forum in 2015, down a very dark road, one night…he and some colleagues were trapped by a RASCALS roadblock, made of 44-gallon drums …blocked in, with the driver desperately going this way and that to try to escape, the RASCALS closed in…Mickey wrote an “armed mob running towards us, pelting us with rocks” …wielding guns, knives. What Mickey didn’t write was that he said: “I’ll get out and calm them down”! – there was a cacophony of “No way!” - No way Micky: not everyone is always going to fall for that natural charm – The car blew a tyre, had its mirrors blown away, was damaged by missiles and clubs. But they eventually escaped, when a kind local moved some drums at a dark dead-end, and were protected again later by a copper with an M16 in his boot.
Micky got so many good stories, did so many great interviews, by being so decent and trustworthy…gentle, considered, he came away with much more information than some foot-in-the-door, badgering, Spanish-inquisition type journo…
…and also because of his trustworthiness - he never revealed a confidentiality, and “off-the-record” was “off-the-record” …one former polly said to me last week that Mickey never did the wrong thing, never went for target journalism, and always kept his sources secret (which made me realise that the polly must have been one!)
And even when he was naughty he was endearing…after very late nights at the non-members bar at Parliament House, Mickey thought the best way to avoid cops was to drive home to our house in Barrallier Street really slowly, creeping along the side of the road, even half off it…accordingly, the nature strips had to watch out, as did the shrubbery on them - and there was hell to pay on rubbish bin nights!
And Mickey has been so kind to me recently, when I’ve been a bit crook…. that lawn at Berrima which Ferg wrote about so well…the lawn Mickey mowed for us a couple of weeks ago…not sure whether to just let it grow now as a hay paddock, or mow it every second day to keep it Mickey perfect….
To Robyn, Scotty, Sarah, Sally, Johnny…all the family…you’re a remarkable family, full of kind, sweet, strong souls – and we’re there for you.
I’m trying to, as Mickey would say, “feel good, feel strong”.
Love you, Kid!