Australian Biography: Mungo MacCallum

Australian Biography: Mungo MacCallum
Access fees

Mungo MacCallum (b. 1913, Sydney NSW) was a distinguished journalist, writer and broadcaster, known for his satirical wit. He followed his father into the newspaper business, and after serving in the war, wrote a column for the Sydney Sun newspaper. He then joined the ABC where he made a successful career writing radio features. In the 1950s the ABC sent MacCallum to England to find out about the new medium of television. He returned to become head of television training, and produced the ABC's first television broadcast. He later became a freelance broadcaster.

Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: May 17, 1996

This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.

Mungo, Mungo MacCallum, is a name that's very well-known around Sydney and pre-dated you as a well-known name. Could you tell me a little bit about the origins of that name in your family, and its history before you adopted it?

Well, originally Mungo was the patron saint of Glasgow and he was legendary; according to the legend, he was discovered by a monk on the shore, a naked baby screaming away. And the monk instantly perceived his holy potential, and adopted him, took him to the local monastery and he became the patron saint. And even today his statue stands in the main square of Glasgow, and people say 'There's St Mungo.' It's quite a common name in Scotland, and my grandfather was the first Mungo here. But he had lots of ancestors who were all called Mungo. And, as I say, it was an uncommon name here, except for one person. There was a Mungo Scott who had a flour mill and we never knew him, but when we went on holiday, summer holidays, in the train going out of Sydney, we would see Mungo Scott written up. And that was the only other one we really ever knew. But Father was called Mungo, as was the custom in the family. My grandfather was Mungo, he was the first here, father was called Mungo, I was called Mungo, and my son is called Mungo. And that's how it happened

Now, your grandfather brought considerable distinction to the name Mungo MacCallum in Sydney. Could you tell me a little bit about your grandfather's life?

Well, he was apparently a very bright boy -- the only boy in fact in a family of women and he was lucky enough to be very spoilt, he said himself in his memoirs. But he was very bright academically and when he was in his early 20s he became a professor at Aberystwyth in Wales, at the university there. And he was ambitious like many other young men, and he met his future wife there, who was a German woman, who had come over to England to learn English, and better herself in that way. And that was where my father Mungo was born, in Aberystwyth. Grandfather and his wife and son, my father, decided to come to Australia because he couldn't decide, first, whether to stay in Europe and have more academic opportunities later, and be more in touch with the culture of Europe, which he was fond of, particularly German, which itself was a very, very potent culture in the 19th century. And he couldn't decide whether to come out, but finally he did, and that's -- the Sydney University was then a young and barely staffed university. He came out and ended up -- didn't end up -- started up by teaching five different subjects -- French, German, Modern English Literature, Ancient English Literature and whatever else came along.

Several departments in one now ...

Yes, yes.

And how did he end up? He remained very close to the University of Sydney, didn't he?

Oh yes. It was odd, I never heard him lecture but he was apparently legendary as a lecturer, and he became very potent at the university. He became a Vice-chancellor and then he was the very first -- he was, in fact, the very first Vice-chancellor, it was an entirely new position then and very unusual in any universities anywhere. And then he ended up Professor Emeritus, and then he ended up, finally, as Chancellor. And I can remember him -- though I never heard him actually lecture -- I can remember two things about him 'specially -- three things -- one, was he was a very small man. I won't say only that high, but this high, and he had this enormous, beautiful, silky white beard, which was always impeccable, and secondly, I remember him in his robes as Chancellor, and this tiny man in these huge golden robes, which weighed about a ton, you know. And I also remember him reading -- we lived next door, and on Sundays we children used to go up and call on the grandparents, and he would take us into his study -- and it always seemed to be winter when this happened -- because the gas fire was always purring in the grate, you know, and he used to read Sir Walter Scott to us, and I can remember the Scottish accent and the fire purring away, and the very creaky -- he always wore stiff shirts, you know, and gold cufflinks and all this. And I remember the creak of the shirt. I always thought, frankly, I was lulled by Sir Walter Scott, but I found him the most atrocious bore on these Sunday afternoons.

And your father, did he follow in his father's footsteps academically?

He did up to a point. He had a tragic life actually. He was a very ... he was a brilliant man and he was the second Rhodes Scholar from Australia, went to Oxford, won every medal there was. First at Sydney University, then at Oxford, and at the age of 24, I think it was, he was offered the Chair of Law at Oxford, which is, you know, pretty unusual. And he decided against it. And I never knew why. There were lots of things I never knew why, which I wish I'd asked now. I never knew why he decided to come back to Australia. Whether it was out of love of the country, or whether it was a sort of -- he felt a duty that he owed the country, or even worse, in fact, I think it may have been a duty he owed his mother whom I have no sympathy for.

Why had you no sympathy for his mother?

He did. He seemed to have. I had no sympathy, because she was a German matriarch and she ran the family, and I didn't realise this at first as a child, but she really ran the family and she and her husband, my grandfather, who was wonderful, we all loved him, but she and he, as a wedding present to my father and mother, built a house for them in their garden, which -- without asking, you know, without consulting. And when Mother came to Australia, having known nobody except Father, who was her cousin, they were first cousins, she came to Australia knowing nothing and was slotted into this quite nice house. But by the same token, without any discussion. And from the house above, where grandmother lived, there was this dominance all the time.

Tell me about the household. Where were these houses, what kind of houses were they? Was yours a privileged childhood?

Yes. It was a privileged -- nowadays I suppose you'd call it an establishment childhood. Absolutely wonderful. You know, I had -- except for being bored by Sir Walter Scott -- we had everything we wanted, but we were never spoiled, you know. It was taken for granted that we would learn to read early, learn to write early, learn to speak early, and all this sort of stuff. And it was on Point Piper, which in those days -- it still is, of course -- was a very posh suburb, but it was on Point Piper in Sydney, which then was very tranquil place, with big gardens. That's why they built the house for mother and father on their garden. It was a big garden. And houses -- there were very few flats. There were no flats when I was a baby. The first flats were built round about, you know, 1920 or something like that. And there were lots of bushes, lots of trees, and below us there was Lady Martin's Beach, which is still there. It's a tiny little beach, and we used virtually to live on that in summer. And we had, I had, boats and dinghies and we learnt to swim very early and all that sort of thing, you know, a perfect piece of, oh I suppose, childhood, just childhood. Wonderful.

Was there a very strong expectation that you as the eldest child would be following in your grandfather and father's footsteps and doing very well academically?

Well, they were not articulated to me, there was no pressure, which was wonderful, you know. And I just sort of moped -- not moped -- but wandered through my childhood, picking my nose and all that sort of stuff, you know. And I was never told, except by an aunt, that I ought to do well. And there was no question of, you know, 'Go and learn your lessons,' 'Go and do this,' 'Go and do your homework,' and so on. But it was clear that I should do well, but I was never told that, except by Grandmother, my German grandmother. But I went to preparatory school, of course, and then went to Sydney Grammar, where my father and uncles had been. And their names of course were up on all the honour boards for all the honours that they'd got, and my name was never up there at all. But my brothers, both of whom went there, were on the honour board. So I was the distinguished one, not being on the honour board. And I, you know, I did all right. But to my amazement, when I did the Intermediate Certificate, which is now called whatever it is called, I can't remember ...

... School Certificate.

School Certificate, yes. To my amazement I got the highest possible marks. And you know I was sincerely surprised by this.

Because you had labelled yourself as less clever than your grandfather?

I hadn't labelled myself as anything. I led a very, very strong inner life, you know, I wanted to be a painter, and then I wanted to be a musician, and I wanted to be a writer. Just because I read a lot and listened a lot to music and so on. And I didn't have expectations of myself at all, really.

What kind of preparatory school did you go to?

It was ... by nowadays standards I suppose it would be called pretty useless really. I didn't learn anything there, because I had learned all these things at home, reading and writing and arithmetic and stuff like that. And this was a little preparatory school called Kersworth in Dover Road, which was near Point Piper. And I went there at the age of four because I was able to get by all right. And we just went through the normal sort of reading, writing, arithmetic routine. The school was run by a Miss Burke, who was, you know, an elderly lady of no great learning or anything. And we had a playground. We tried to play cricket and all that sort of stuff. It was a very, you know, simple sort of school and they took me early because I suppose it was a good idea to get me out of the house and off the beach, you know.

So you led this very strong outdoors life on the beach and on the water of Sydney Harbour. What did you do with sport? Were you very active in games and sport?

No, at Kersworth, at prep school, we'd go down to Caffyn Park once a week and pretend to play football and cricket. And I disliked football because I was absolutely useless at it, and I would pretend to be absorbed in the seagulls that flooded the park. The other boys addressed pushing each other around and so on. But I was no good at that. We had a half cricket pitch at the school and there was one boy, Peters, I remember, who used to -- he thought of himself as a very fast bowler, and indeed he was fast because he was only half a cricket pitch away. And it was very difficult to avoid the cricket balls.

So you actually didn't much care for being hit by cricket balls?

Not much, no, no. No, my big thing was sailing and swimming. I always sailed and swam.

What's your earliest memory?

As far as I can remember it is hearing what must have been raindrops at night in -- maybe it was even a cot -- as early as that. I remember this drip, drip, drip and it was at night and I didn't know what it was. It didn't scare me. But it had a sort of feeling of portent about it. You know, one felt it meant something that might happen, or might -- I wasn't frightened but it's always stayed with me.

It was a sound that had significance for you?

Yes, but of what I don't know.

Throughout your early life you say that you were developing a strong inner life and interests in artistic things ...


Was beauty important to you as a child?

Yes, I suppose it was, because in that family one heard a lot about beauty in literature and music and so on. I don't think it meant the same as it does now, of course. Because to me now it includes openness and things like that. But it was important. Nothing really was, I think in retrospect, as important, apart from reading, nothing was as important to my inner life as a sort of juvenile fantasy about people, grown-ups mainly. I always used to see -- I accepted what's nowadays called the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. I accepted that. But by the same token, I was almost critical of it in the sense that people's oddities struck me very quickly. And I used to build fantasies around them. And that pursued me all through my life. It still does. And it -- the idea or style of the fantasies changed a lot according to how things were going for me, became very -- not cruel -- but very critical at one stage. And things like that. But the fantasy was as important as anything else.

So you started off with fantasies about people that you met in your young life, and then gradually your eye became more and more sardonic as you grew older, and you began to see the flaws?


And laugh at them?

Well, according to how things were at the time. If I was going through a rough patch, I would laugh at them. I would laugh at them, not with them. At one stage for instance I would see, briefly, I would see everybody as ... with the ability of insects. No more. Things like that. But that was later, much later.

So, as a child, were they figures that you remember as being sort of resonant for you in your environment that made you notice them and fantasise about them? Were there people that you remember now that were in that category?

Well, yes, I mean my grandmother, whom I keep on coming back to.

An important figure in your young life?

An important figure and a very unrewarding importance because it made me, it turned me off a lot of characteristics in other people, who were far less, I thought, far less difficult.

So, could you just paint a bit of a picture of her. Tell us some of the things that you remember about her.

Well, she was a big woman, very broad in the hip and I suppose you'd say a typical north German, which is what she was. Apparently extremely clever in so far as she picked up languages very quickly and she always, to the end of her life, thought in German, although she spoke absolutely fluent English and so on. She was -- she had a soft, sweet voice, and a soft, sweet face and was a great doer of good works. I think she was very widely respected but because of her capacity for running things. I'm not sure that she was liked very much. And she was, as the professor's wife and then the Vice-chancellor's wife, and then the Chancellor's wife, she was very much in the public eye, and very much in demand for various patronages and things like that. She had a spinning wheel, which she spun beautiful wool on. She made potpourri in, you know, little bowls all through the house. Lovely smell, lovely scent.

And you really, really disliked her?

Well, the reasons that I came to dislike her were, I think, pretty valid. I heard, and I cannot remember from whom, but I distinctly remember hearing it, that they never gave their eldest son, who was my father, any -- or she never (he did, the father, Grandfather did) -- encouragement or praise for all the medals and academic honours that he'd won. And also, I felt that she dominated him far too much. Also, later, when I got married to my first wife, I took my wife, Diana, to see her just as a matter of courtesy, and she gave her a sweet smile and said, 'What a pity you've married him so early. He was doing so well.' And I thought, ''well, bugger you.' I just couldn't wear it. And I thought that -- she had this family clench and that of course affected me enormously, because I decided I would never involve anybody who is near me in the same sort of family clench. And for that reason, it dictated a lot of my subsequent actions, which I now think were overdone and regret.

By family clench, you mean that she controlled and she controlled so tightly that she suffocated ...

... You know, there were all these constant family gatherings. But I know family gatherings are frequently very pleasant and many, many families do them, but with her it was a sort of a duty, you know, and wherever she went she dominated my mother, she dominated my aunts and so on.

What was your mother like?

Mother was -- I've written that she was a mystery to me. I think that's overstating it a bit. What she was, was the most stoic woman I've ever known and that kept her silent a lot, you know. She didn't complain and she didn't say much about family things. She never complained about Grandmother for instance, not until Grandmother was dead and Mother was 98. Long-delayed complaint.

Why do you think she didn't complain?

I think it was partly her nature, partly as I said -- I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said ... [INTERRUPTION]

That's alright.

She was Father's first cousin, and she was brought up in Sri Lanka; Ceylon as it was then. Had the most idyllic childhood, loving family, five sisters, and on this mountain top. Her father was a tea planter and a coffee planter. And it was one of these colonial idylls you know that they used to have in the 19th century, even though you could say probably the Sri Lankans were not as independent or not given what they have now. But I remember her saying, talking about the poor Tamils, who were always the servants, and that was 100 years ago, more than that, you know. But anyway, she was brought up on this beautiful place, then sent to England to be educated, and Father met her when he was born, after he was born in Wales, and they were in England before coming to Australia. And then he met her once or twice after that when they went back to England when he was a child. Anyway, he came back, having refused this professorship of law. She eventually followed him. And they got married. And it was -- she was totally isolated here. She knew nobody except Grandmother and Grandfather and Father. And she came under Grandmother's spell. Grandmother taught her how to behave in Australia, that sort of stuff, and taught her pretty, I think, badly. Anyway she submitted to it as I read her, I think that's what happened, and she was never one to raise her voice, for instance, even to us when we were naughty, never. Then she had this -- she wasn't very strong, but she was enormously tenacious. She could be very funny. She was an adoring mother, you know, a wonderful mother and so on. But she was pursued from the age of 51 -- when Father was 48, she was 51. He died at 48, tragically, then in due succession she lost her youngest son in drowning and then she lost her other son. Then she lost her daughter and I was the only one left. And she never complained. She, by this time, she was in her 90s. She was racked with everything, you know, she had rheumatism, she had breasts off, she had hysterectomies, the lot. And she never -- not only never complained, but she was adored by lots of young people just as much as by old people. But all her old friends were dying, and so on. And she kept on saying to us -- she was still living in this house that she'd come out to as a young bride -- and she kept on saying to us (Polly and I, my present wife, moved in because there was nobody else, you know, and it's not very difficult physically) -- and she kept on saying, 'Darlings do put me into a nursing home.' And we of course were unwilling to do that, but eventually we had to, because otherwise we would have had to have 24-hour nurses and so on. And never once in all these years, all this time, did she complain. And then she just died quietly ... died at 101. So there were no complaints from, you know, 1913 when I was born, to 101.

Going back to your childhood, it was a very privileged childhood. Was there any sense of snobbery at all?

Well, there was I suppose, yes. As I said, I accepted the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, but we were not so much taught as just by example. There are certain things you didn't do, certain things. You never called university 'uni' for instance. That was considered the absolute pits, you know. And things like -- we used the word 'varsity' if we didn't say university. It all sounds terribly pompous now, you know. And ways of spelling, ways of saying words, like 'h', which still happens I think. But we were taught never to be snobs, you know, never to show snobbery. And to just accept people, but not to be like people. That's what the difference was. But there was, I suppose you'd say now, an element of snobbery.

Now, you finished at your prep school and you went to [Sydney] Grammar. Now, there was a bit of an event there, wasn't there, between prep school and Grammar, where you had the fall off the bike and I'm going to ask you about that. So, when you finished your prep school, did you do well at the end of your primary school education?

Well, yes, for what it's worth. I mean, I knew how to do my arithmetic. And I knew how to spell much better than most of the boys. And I read a lot more. At one time, when I was round about 12, I kept a list of the books I was reading, just for fun, and found I was reading roughly 360 books a year. So you know, that was, in a sense, not the product of school, but I was reading a lot.

And when you did your final class at the school, I mean, did you do well? Did you have an exam?

Sort of an exam. The sort of an exam that was reading, writing, arithmetic, you know, nothing very special. I was in hospital when I left because I had appendicitis and we had a -- I had this nanny who'd come out to be my nanny and stayed on with the family and was the sort of, you know, housekeeper. And she came rushing into the hospital after the prize-giving at the end of the school year and said, 'You're the duck!' And I said, 'What do you mean?,' and she said, 'You're the duck, they've made you the duck!' And of course she meant dux. But it wasn't a very distinguished dux.

And did you go then straight to Grammar after that?

Yes. All the family, all the men, went to Grammar. When I say all, I mean my father and uncles, they went. At that stage the school was full of history and all that. It is the oldest school in Australia, even though the Kings School claims the crest; Grammar was founded before Kings. And, as I say, my father's and uncles' names were scattered all over the honour board. And I'd probably be expected to do well, but I didn't really. Anyway it was very different from this little preparatory school. And that's where I stayed for five years. The school was not in good shape at that time. It had a weak headmaster who wore his trousers at half mast and forgot things the whole time, you know. And it was, it was doing well in sport, which was not its intention, and not its foundation. It wasn't founded for that. But it did have pride in being a total mix of male society, and there was no bar to anybody who could -- there were a lot of scholarships, a lot of boys that were there on scholarships, and we used to take -- it was a sort of a reverse snobbery -- great pride in being a school where you had a grocer's son sitting next to the governor's son, and all that sort of stuff.

Were there any really poor children there, though?

Yes, on scholarships. Lots. Two or three of them became very wealthy afterwards because they inherited their father's greengrocery business and became very wealthy. Much more so than people like me.

So, did you pass out of primary school with flying colours? Did you do as well as your grandfather and father might have led you to believe you would?

Well, it wasn't very hard to do well, simply because it was reading, writing and arithmetic and I knew those. And as I recall anyway, the final exam, so-called, was exactly the same as the one we had every Friday before, during the year. And anyway I was in hospital at the time and I didn't attend this great ceremony. But I remember Nanna, who was our sort of housekeeper, and who'd come out to help Mother when she first came, to help her with me, Nanna came rushing into the hospital and said, 'You're the duck!,' and I said, 'What do you mean? What am I the duck of?' And she said, 'You're the duck! You're the duck!' And it turned out of course that I was the dux of the school for what that was worth, which wasn't very much.

And so then did you go on to Grammar to go to high school?


And so how did you feel going off to start there at Grammar?

Not very well actually because between getting there and leaving Kersworth, I'd been run into on my new bicycle, and the fellow who ran into me took some sort of a spasm or fit or something and started shaking all over and lying on the ground. And everybody congregated round him, got him off to hospital and all that, and I was left to my own devices. And I walked home feeling very odd, and whimpering slightly I must admit. And it turned out that I'd broken my jaw and broken my nose and lost a few teeth and so on. And the effects of this remain to this very day. I was in bands for six years after that.

You mean like orthodontists?

Orthodontists' bands, yes.

There weren't too many orthodontists?

No, there were not. Whereas this fellow, this other fellow, was as good as gold next day, I had this orthodontic six-year period, and orthodontists then were not very advanced. They were more or less pioneers, you know.

I guess having orthodontic treatment was fairly unusual in those days?

Yes it was. I went to a man called Dr Gates in Macquarie Street, and he was kindly and he meant well. He was gruff, he was grey-haired, and he filled my mouth with these dreadful bands and he said they were experimental, and I had them on for six years. They were very, very painful and he even fitted me out with a cap which had very heavy rubber bands fitted round it, and this cap I had to put on at night, and fit my jaw into the rubber bands, you know. And it seems now such an absurd sequence because my -- after all, my parents were very good parents and pretty intelligent, and the idea of trying to change my teeth instead of re-doing the jaw, seems to be so absurd. And anyway this whole 18 years, which at the time ruined my tummy; my teeth were so sore I couldn't chew anything. This whole 18 years ruined my teeth largely, because they never took the bands off, as they do these days, and the teeth rotted behind the bands, and so on and so on and so on.

It must have been extraordinarily painful for you?

It was. It was extremely painful. I got used to it and I'm not saying I was particularly brave, but the idea was, you know, not to complain and this is the family idea. So I didn't.

And this went right through your high school then?

Right through Sydney Grammar.

You were always the boy in the bands?

Yes, yes. And I was also the boy who couldn't play football, which was okay with me. It was good for me.

And so, was it successful? Did they end up sort of getting you straightened out?

No, I'm now an ancient version of what I was then. I've got a lot of false teeth, of course, because so many of them rotted under the bands.


I went to this orthodontist at least once a week for 18 years. God knows what it cost.

And did your jaw go back to the way it had been?

No, no. I'm exactly as I was, an ancient version of my 13th year.

So all the effort was in vain?

Yes. That's why I'm saying it seems so extraordinary. I don't know what my parents' advice was or if they were told, or what their motivation was. But I've only now just really begun to resent it. I didn't resent it at the time, I just took it, you know, for one of these things. But now I say to myself, why the hell didn't somebody tell my parents to get the jaw back by operating on the sides of the cheekbones and the teeth would then come back into their right position.

So, did you distinguish yourself at all at Grammar?


Not in any way?

Well, yes, I did. I was the leader of the debating team, and that was my sole distinction. Well, I did get the possible maximum score of the Intermediate Exam. Didn't do so well at the Leaving. I guess by that time I was getting a bit jaded with these teeth aching the whole time.

And what about your interest in learning and books, what was happening to that?

I was very interested in certain things. Some things seemed to me to be merely odd. Like chemistry, which we used to do in a very desultory way. You know, we'd pour something into a test tube and see what happened and that was it. And, but I was interested in books of course. I wasn't terribly interested, really, in the canon of the classics. Not as interested as I became, of course. And also I wasn't really so interested in Shakespeare, who was mandatory then as he is now. At that time. I didn't -- I don't think Australian schoolboys, probably even now, really are ready for Shakespeare. And I remember, we saw some terribly bad performances of the play of the year. There was the Allan Wilkie Shakespearean Company for instance. And they were real hams, you know. But they were, I suppose you could say they were, fulfilling a need. But the bad performances rather put you off, you know. There were some absurd situations. It was a tiny company, about four people, who used to do things like Henry V, and the arms and the troops and all that, Agincourt, all the great fights and so on, used to be performed by four soldiers marching across the back of the stage, rushing round the back and then round the front again to get across. And this was the supposed to represent a huge army. Things like that were a bit stupid. But as for -- I was interested in books, of course, but I didn't really appreciate the classics. History I became interested in, and we had one master who later became Professor of History in Melbourne, a man called Crawford and he was fresh back from Oxford and a very inexperienced young teacher who had a pretty bad time from the class because they played up and he couldn't control them. And nevertheless he got my interest and after school he used to talk to me about history and the immediacy of history and how it still could reflect human beings, things like that. And also, I was interested in music. We had a master called Mr Moate who was, oddly enough, totally unmusical to meet, but he used to occasionally -- for his own sake more than ours -- play the piano in the big school (which was really part of the school, the historic part) and he used to give lunch hour recitals to himself, for himself, and we used to -- a few boys, about half a dozen boys would come and listen.

And were you musical yourself?

Yes, yes.

And so what form did your study of music take?

Very superficial and very desultory, you know. I used to -- I tried to play the piano. I was in fact considered musical enough to be sent to Mysie Stephen who was a very well-known teacher of the piano at the time. And I developed all these awful characteristics of the self-taught amateur, you know, the small boy.

So you were playing for yourself, by ear, as they say?


Before you actually learned?

Yes. Mother was musical, you see, and we, like many people, took it for granted. We had an upright piano, and we had every conceivable form of music on top. All the sonatas of Mozart, Beethoven and, for contrast, the American Song book, the English Song book. We did quite a bit of singing around the piano. I didn't ever sing but they did, my parents.

So eventually -- you were musical -- and eventually you were sent to a good teacher, but you never became very good at it?

Well, I didn't keep at it because various other things -- I know this sounds corny but it's the story of my life -- I was also extremely interested in painting, and I used to go round Point Piper painting. We had a sort of mentor, a man called Happy Harry, Happy Harry Williams, who had a club foot, and he was an amateur painter, a very, very bad painter. There's one of his pictures upstairs purely for sentimental reasons. And he used to paint the whole of Point Piper virtually and he, you know, gave me a few tips as they say. And I used to go round painting the whole of Point Piper. And then, as Mysie Steven suggested in music, she said I ought to keep at it, because I had talent. I was sent to Grace Cossington Smith for more painting experience -- she lived up on the North Shore in a very attractive villa called Cossington -- and I used to go up there for a while. Only for a while because then again something else intervened, you know. So my experiences with Grace were very, very productive, very good, and also absurd.

Absurd in what way?

Well, she was up in the North Shore and I was, you know, round about 12-ish and I used to go up on Saturday mornings. It was high summer, very hot, and I survived a couple of trips and then the next one, by the time I got there, I was feeling not only very hot, but very sick. And we used to go out into the -- you could only describe it as a sort of meadow -- beyond her villa. And she had this great huge straw hat and floating garments and seemed very cool, and in fact was cool, whereas I was sweating and hot and fussed, you know. And we went on to this lee on this particular day, on to this meadow, and she said to me, 'Now, I want you to try and paint that gum tree.' And I said, 'Okay,' and set to work. And gradually I feel sicker and sicker. She said, 'Try to think of it Mungo in the round, as if you're painting something in the round.' And I tried that and the trees started to do it for me, they just started to go round and round. And finally I vomited copiously and sort of said, 'Oh, terribly sorry,' ... but the disconcerting thing was that she pretended not to notice that I was vomiting all over the place and she gazed into the distance and she was a great cricket fan, and she said, 'Do you think we'll win the next test?'

While you're vomiting?

While I was vomiting. And to add to it, on another occasion she gave me a great chunk of cake which we ate on the meadow. And with all these things in my mouth, I had plates as well as bands, and this huge chunk of cake gripped the plate and so it was -- pulled it out like that, and here was me, you know, trying desperately to claw cake off me and to claw the plate clean and ...

So you had these teeth come right out of your mouth in the cake?

Yes. This was just a top plate that was loose, you know, and the cake pulled. So, as I bit into the cake, [it] pulled everything out and great hunks fell to the earth and kept on falling until I got the plate clean again and put it back. And I kept on saying, 'Sorry, Dr Gates, Dr Gates,' who was the orthodontist. And she, again, she just looked up at the sky and talked about cricket. I thought it was not a time for her to be polite.

But she was very polite?

Oh very. Politesse. The real politesse.

But you learnt something about painting?

But you didn't give up painting because of that?

No, no, no, no. This was in the '60s this happened, much, much, much later. No, I used to paint, I used to paint when we went for summer holidays to the country and, as I say, all round Point Piper. I had a brief -- like many things I hadn't kept it -- but there's a little indoor still life upstairs that my mother had, she'd kept.

Now, as you were growing up throughout this rather idyllic childhood, in a very pleasant spot, did you play a lot with your father? What was your relationship with your father?

Well, it was good, I think it was more the sort of relationship that ... more formal than these days it would be. But by the same token one's reading in the paper the whole time about boys who've had problems with their dad and left home. This was a sort of tight-lipped relationship. He was -- as I say -- he was a wonderful father in so far as he gave, he made things, you know. He made me a magic lantern. He made me a canvas boat to go, for my first ventures on the water. He always made things for us. And he was not demonstrative. Nor was Mother for that matter, and I think that's one reason why so many things now, when one tries to remember them, are mysterious. One doesn't really know because one didn't talk about them, you know.

Was he encouraging of your activities?

Oh yes, yes, yes. You know, you'd say, 'Oh gosh, I've got to get some more paint,' or something. He'd get it. He'd bring it home that night without, you know, asking. He was wonderful. But I suspect he was tight-lipped in the sense that he was disappointed because he'd had a very bad time just after the war. He had had this brilliant legal career, he'd come back to his country, he'd set up as a barrister, and in those days they had what you call a preference, ex-serviceman's preference ...

This was after the First World War?

Yes. And he'd not been allowed to go to the war because of his language abilities and his general thing, and he'd been put into the office that dealt with codes and things like that. And his brother, my uncle, had gone with great distinction and come back covered with glory. And Father set up as a barrister, and because of ex-serviceman's preference, didn't get enough clients, you know. So then he turned to journalism. But I think he was always sad about that.

Was he a good journalist?

Yes, he was an immediate leader writer, you know, he wasn't a reporter or anything like that. And it was very different sort of journalism from going into [reportage] journalism, you know. He'd be applied for by the Editor of the Herald, and he wrote ... he did things in half the time that most people did them. He was very productive. He'd written things as a boy and sent them to journals and they'd been of a quality which made the journals think it was his father, the professor, who'd written them. And from that time on, his father said to him, 'Sorry, you'll have to adopt a nom-de-plume. I can't have you using ...' The same thing happened with my son for a while.

With the name Mungo MacCallum?


So you think that he became rather sad because he had to go into journalism?

Yes, and then he had this frightful accident, which made everything worse.

What was that?

He was a great bicyclist, and he loved going on these bicycling things. And I think that may have been because -- that's maybe why he came back, because he loved the country. But he'd go on these bicycling things and they would really drain him. He'd go on, say a Saturday, and he might do about, you know, 100 miles a day, and come back absolutely exhausted. And one day he came back, and had a gash on his hand, and he said, 'Oh it's nothing, it doesn't matter.' And by Monday he was almost dead in hospital with an infection, bacteria. And of course in those days they didn't have all the things they have now that can clear these things up. He was in hospital for absolutely months, and by the end of it, he was so weak that they couldn't even give him an anaesthetic. And his hand, when he came home -- I hadn't realised in my blithe way, I was, you know, painting around and sailing and I hadn't realised what was going on -- was like a lobster. It was stiff, absolutely stiff, like that, and it was deadly painful for the rest of his life. And he had a golf ball and every night he'd sit at a table doing this to the golf ball, trying to make something happen, to get something into his hand. And he learned during this period to write with his left hand, and this is the period before they had ballpoints, and then he had just -- written again with his right hand, but by sticking the pen into this totally stiff, aching, agonising hand. And that hand pursued him for the rest of his life. And I think what with that and maybe his mother and -- I think he just felt everything was terrible.

And how did that express itself in him?

He began to drink. He was a quiet drunk. Never, you know, a scene or riotous or lurching or anything, but he became a pretty huge drunk. And he still kept on, you know, his leader writing ... 'til almost the end, and then he died at 48 because of this.

And he was able to function perfectly well as a journalist although he was a drunk?

Yes. He became more and more ill more frequently and in fact he was totally exhausted I think in every way, you know, and he died. By that time I'd just joined the Herald myself, and they came to me in the evening and said, 'Your father ...' My uncle came and said, 'Your father's dying.'

Were you aware as you were growing up and during this childhood period that he was ...that drink was a big problem to him?

Oh yes, yes.

How did ... how were you aware of that? How were you conscious of it?

Well, because he was drinking all the time at home when he was at home. And he was ... [INTERRUPTION]

What are some of your most vivid memories of being at school, at Grammar?

One is the tuckshop, which was by today's standards extremely crude, and we used to go up to the corner of Oxford Street and buy terribly filthy cream puffs as luxuries. Another memory, not to do with the school, is building the railway under the park. These huge piles of yellow clay, and I was told by the doctor I had to have some milk at lunch, and secretly I would leave at lunchtime, strolling, and go behind these huge piles of yellow clay and drain my bottle of milk, throw it away, and then come back.

Was it considered a shameful thing to drink milk?

It was not very manly. Other things -- of course, an amazingly crowded school. It had its grounds down at Rushcutters Bay, but then -- in the school, there were only about 600 boys compared with 1,000 now, and they didn't have mod cons like they do now. Now they have, you know, all sorts of technical rooms and stuff like that. Whereas then some of the rooms were the originals, and the desks were the originals and there were some very famous names carved in the desks, you know. And things like that. But basically, yes, I think it was not an up period at the school, and I think the teaching was, on the whole, average, but not above average, you know. We had Cadets of course, which were horrible. Once every term or so, a very gruff military man would come to the school and he would give us instruction. We would all have to get into our uniforms and he would give us -- and produce from somewhere, I don't know where -- some very, very smelly guns, and we would put on a bit of gun gel, then he would go away. Then once a year we had to go on camp, which was frightful, because -- well, the food was awful, and also we had to do a good deal of squirming along on our bellies, you know, and we all got covered in leeches and also I personally found it awful because, as always happens, still does, if I have a radical change of circumstances I get very constipated. So I came back covered with leeches and constipated.

So you didn't feel drawn to the army?

No, I didn't as a matter of fact, although later I was in it.

What were you reading?

At school? A lot of very -- you mean apart from the ...

I mean, you were very involved in books at this time. What sort of books were you reading?

Just about every sort of book. Lots of adventure stories, you know. Quite a few light-hearted social novels. People who were flourishing in, say, the '20s. People like Arden. I don't know whether you've ever heard of him, but he was very popular then. And he wrote social novels, rather like a precursor of Evelyn Waugh, but not nearly as good. Lots of those. Not much history, although I was interested in it at school, and the occasional Australian book. There were some really pretty good books about boys at school in Australia with whom I could identify, you know, set in Whale Beach and in the mangrove swamps of Pittwater, and there is a secret place there where criminals lived, and there was also a lot of spying that went on and a map of Pittwater. And that of course immediately brought everything home. It wasn't like reading about another country.

Who wrote that book?

Can't remember.

But it was one that stuck in your mind, because it seemed relevant to your life. Was much of the literature and the learning and the mental life of your school years really focused on Australia, or was it mostly English and was that your reference point mentally?

That's how it turned out. Or rather European, European sense, and certainly English. That was, I suppose, because that was the only language I spoke, unlike Grandfather and Father. But it sort of marked me for life, actually. I know Asia is important to Australia, and I'm well aware of all that, but ever since I've had much more affinity to the west, to Europe and England than -- even Grandfather was that way, you know. He talks in his memoirs about a trip he made to America via China. And he was amazed at meeting dignified Chinese scholars in long robes, things like that.

And so, for you, I think you wrote somewhere that Australia was a pleasant, sunny foreground to the real action that was actually taking place intellectually in Europe.

Well, I think it was. It was pretty provincial, let's face it. That's how I think it was. And very, of course, inward looking. We -- the whole city for instance, even though it was in many ways a very pleasant city and more so than today in some ways, it was a man-sized height city -- nevertheless people did look inwards a huge amount and then they talked about Home a lot, like mother did. Home being Britain, and they based their attitudes on Home, but they didn't live like that really. Everything was, even then, much more casual than Home.

The historical events that were going on around you in these early years of your life. You were born in 1913, so the Great War occurred in your early years. Do you have any memories of that at all?

Yes. I wasn't, of course, involved in the fighting. By the same token I remember vividly my uncle coming home and I remember a postcard that came from him, and it said, as I recall, it just simply said, 'It is very cold. Uncle Walter.' And he was on the Western Front, of course, freezing in the trenches and so on. And he came back, and he had the lot, he had DSO and bar, MC and bar mentioned in dispatches two or three times. And you know he was a sort of legendary soldier hero. And then he went to university and did medicine and was very contemptuous of the antics of undergraduates who were not old enough to go to the war. Not because they hadn't been to the war, but because of their antics, which he'd not had, you know.

And you therefore were growing up during the '20s and '30s in this very well-off family. But of course then you would have hit The Depression. What are your memories of The Depression? Did in impinge on Point Piper?

No. We weren't, by the way, we weren't very well off. We were comfortable, but not very well off. By the standards of these days we would be considered virtually below the poverty line.

Relatively speaking, though.

Relatively speaking, yes, but not rich or anything like that. And then The Depression hit, and my first memory of The Depression was I was out sailing on the day that Jack Lang opened the Harbour Bridge, and of course, that was -- what was it? -- '32 and by that time The Depression had been going for a long time. But for some reason the fellow who was crewing for me, and I was in a boat which I'd had specially built and all that, you know, no expense spared, and he said, 'Jack Lang's opening the Bridge today.' And suddenly, it hit me that these years we'd had a Depression. And I really hadn't been involved at all. I'd been very lucky. And Father had -- he was okay, barely alive then, Mother had a small private income from England. There was no question of losing jobs or anything, you know. And occasionally some friend or somebody would drive me through some suburbs in the west, Pyrmont for instance, I remember, and people would throw stones at the car. And that was as close as I came to being affected by The Depression. But the day that Jack Lang opened the Bridge it suddenly hit me there had been a Depression.

Why did it hit you that day?

I don't know. Of course, he was a very controversial Premier, very controversial. And had a huge uproar, finally was dismissed by the Governor and all that, and he'd been leading the anti-establishment forces for years. And I think it was suddenly the fact that he was opening this huge new bridge that made me think of what he'd been doing during these years, defying the financiers in London, defying the Commonwealth Bank and all that sort of stuff. Cancelling people's debts because they couldn't pay them.

Loved by the poor, loathed by the rich.


And how did it strike your young mind then?

Well, even then it didn't impinge terribly hard because I was in a transitory stage myself. And it didn't, you know, make a huge difference to me. Luckily, because by that time Father was just about to die, and then life became more real and earnest.

Let's go back now and talk about the lead-up to your father's death, and about -- there he was working as a journalist and managing to work effectively as a journalist despite the fact that he was drinking too much. How did you as a child become aware of his drinking?

I suppose it was gradual. He was doing -- it was mainly, of course, it started to dull the incessant pain of this frozen hand. I became aware -- well occasionally, for instance, he'd be smelling of beer. Then there'd always be a lot of bottles of beer kept in the pantry and so on. Then occasionally he'd take Mother and the children, including me, out to dinner. And he'd drink a bottle of some awful stuff called sparkling something, can't remember what. And get a bit groggy. And then he started bringing, I think -- yes, he brought some whisky home several times. And you know, it became pretty obvious. And also on public occasions I got a bit worried about going out with him as boys do, you know, when their dads are a bit odd. And then when I was at university, in college, and I was rowing, and he came to watch me, he was very groggy then. And also when I went to the Herald he took me round, which rather embarrassed me actually, and sort of introduced me to all the senior journalists, leader writers, and I felt a bit, you know. And he was pretty groggy then. So it gradually built up.

And did it worry you as a boy?

Oh yes, yes.

What was worrying you?

Well, I suppose the fact that I had a dad who was a bit pissed, you know. Because, as I say, very quiet, never obstreperous or anything like that. And I believe firmly -- I do believe in view of the family history that there is a distinct tendency among the MacCallums, which is partly perhaps temperament, there's a physical tendency there, and I just think that it took quite a long time to come out in him. In fact it took him to be in extremis for it to come out, you know.

What was his relationship with your mother like?

Well, as far as I could see, they were very, you know, very affectionate and again, not demonstrative. There wasn't arms around each other much or anything like that. In fact, I don't think I ever saw them put arms around each other.

But you had a sense that they had a good relationship?

I think so, yes. I know mother adored him actually. The only time -- talking of her stoicism -- that I ever saw her breakdown was when his funeral occurred and she wanted to go to the funeral and it wasn't done much in those days. And my aunt restrained her. She said, 'I want to go with him.' This drinking business -- well, I think it's one of those things that comes with sadness partly on his part, because he'd lost, he'd given away his law thing in Oxford. He'd lost it in Sydney through no fault of his own, even though he lectured in law for a while, and then he had the hand which stopped him doing so many of the things that he adored. Like playing tennis. He was a very good tennis player and he rowed for his college at Oxford, and he fenced at Oxford, he was a fencer. And all these things stopped. Bicycling stopped.

And at a stage when he was still a relatively young man in his '30s.

Yes. He died at 48.

So, returning to you, and where you were ... what were your brothers and sisters like? What was your relationship with the rest of the family?

Well, I think it was more or less typical of that sort of family. Tolerance for each other. My sister, she was very bright, and we got on alright, you know, we didn't pull each other's hair or anything. My first, next, brother was also very bright, but very ill most of the time. I can remember one, another occurrence in childhood, when I was blithe and father was very ill, and another time I was blithe and Duncan was in bed for months. And I can remember this woman in white who had a very big smile every day when she came to massage him. And to this day I'm not sure what it was. I know it was very serious and it affected the rest of his life. It may have been meningitis, or it may have been some form of polio, I think. But these things passed me by. So much of them. And, as I say, it wasn't until father died that I virtually started to, well to, wake up to that sort of thing.

Why do you think it passed you by?

I don't know. I think it may have been a sort of form of, possibly a form of, protection. And possibly a form of egotism. Possibly just, you know, a feckless boy.

You withdrew into your own world a little?

I suppose I did. I mean, I don't recall being terribly hurt or anything like that, except once when father was lurching and I went out with him. But I don't recall being you know badly hurt or anything like that.

You're suggesting by that that you were perhaps a rather insensitive boy. Yet, a lot of people around you thought that perhaps you were too sensitive?

Yes, yes.

Where would you ...

I think it was because I was inward looking and, you know, a friend of mine much, much later, years and years and years later, said to me, 'The problem with you is you're too interested in your own emotions.' Which is true. I've used them for work a lot.

But then you were also, to some extent, a budding artist trying to find what was your metier and having some trouble doing that?


Why do you think that was? Were you just too broad in your range of talents, or ...

Well, some people have said that. I don't, you know, it's not becoming to say one was, but I think I was pretty broad actually and people did say that I was gifted and people said I was -- people kept on advising mother, 'He's very highly strung,' they'd say. I didn't know this. I didn't take any notice of it, but she told me later.

What do you think they meant by highly strung?

I presume they meant nervy and easily upset.

Now, what was happening to you during this period of adolescence, about girls? Were you finding -- what happened with you at that age of sexual awakening? Were you conscious of it all? And how was it affecting your life?

Not really. Not really. I was a very late developer, but I did adore a couple of totally unresponsive girls. There was one who lived opposite us, and she was a natural flirt, and I used to, you know, look at her like that and she'd give a gay laugh and pirouette away, and that sort of thing happened. But absolutely nothing happened in the ordinary sexual sense.

So, when did women in that sense enter your life?

Oh, I suppose about 18, 19, which in those days was quite ordinary. People, men, were very much less reawakened.

And how did that happen?

Well, I suppose I was -- yes, it must have been I started having night ... what do you call thems? ... and you know ...

Wet dreams?

Wet dreams. [laughs] I couldn't think of the word. Yes, I was having those. But you see a lot of people would have them earlier, and especially now I would think.

When did you have your first really serious encounter with a girl?

It would have been about 18. Yes.

And what was the setting for that?

Oh, various furtive places. Once or twice on a beach, and once or twice on a tennis court, without tennis players. And once or twice in sitting rooms, you know.

So, when you finished high school, you finished without quite the academic achievement that maybe had been hoped for you. But a reasonable pass.

No, I mean nobody said ,'I'm very disappointed,' or anything.

But you got a reasonable Leaving Certificate?

Reasonable. Yes, reasonable. Reasonable. I had Honours in English. That was the main thing. Nothing like the Intermediate.

And you -- it was, I suppose, preordained that you were going to go to university?

Oh yes, yes. It was just taken for granted. It wasn't a big deal. They didn't say, 'We want you to go.' Nor did they say, 'Would you like to go?' And I'm glad I went, you know, it was great fun.

So what was that like? Where did you go to university?

To Sydney University and I went to where the family had been previously, to St Andrews College. And it prided itself on being tough. Still does. I heard a thing the other day, it's like a dinosaur that place. They won't -- they put to the vote the other day, the old boys as well as the present, would they accept women in the college. 'Oh no,' they said, 'no, no, no, no.' It modelled itself on a tough Scottish Presbyterian college, you know, Aberdeen and it had Freshers, you know, first-year men whom it bastardised to no point at all in my view. The raison d'être of it was that there were some boys -- or men we called ourselves -- who had been big fish in small ponds at school, and the idea was to show them that they were not. But it didn't really have much effect on them. And it just made life a nuisance for a lot of people. The only good thing about it was that you were rostered to answer the telephone, so that it was always answered, and it went incessantly, every day, every night, with girlfriends and everything.

What did they do to you when they bastardised you?

Oh, in those days, they tried to humiliate you in every way. They'd tell you to sing the national anthem backwards, and then they would make you get up on the bookshelves in the library, which were very high, and stay up there. They'd come to your room, which was in pitch darkness, round about 1 o'clock in the morning and make you stand naked on your bed, shine the lights on you and interrogate you. And the final big bit was to go down to the gym and wriggle your way through a mass of rotting vegetables and stuff. All, you know, pretty futile. Some days had been much, they told me, much worse. For instance, recently I was told that some lads at St Pauls, the Freshers, all had to go out and take the head off a cat. Which I regard as barbarous, you know -- and these are all people who, you know, are going to be doctors and lawyers and judges and so on.

So you came into this atmosphere a boy that was called highly strung and over-sensitive?


How did you react to it?

Well, I didn't like it at all. It was I thought unnecessary and pointless. What it did do of course was show up various facets of the characters of the tormenters. I mean, there were some, particularly those who were going to be doctors, oddly enough, who really had a sadistic streak. And I don't know how they got on as doctors. I hope they weren't gynaecologists or anything.

But then it would have come your turn to be a tormentor?

I didn't, I didn't bother. And my friends there who ... there were three or four of us who were known as the literary clique, and we just didn't bother. We left it to the other doctors to be, you see, to do their stuff.

So, how long were you at Sydney University?

Only for two years. No, sorry. One and a half years in college and then dad died, and I had to leave. I went home. And then two years at -- well I did the three-year Arts course, but one and a half years of it I did while I was on the Herald.

Right. So you did complete your degree?

I did complete the degree, in a very mediocre way.

And you did it, and you did it part time?

Well, I was a cadet on the Herald, and in those days you started as a cadet in the library from 2 to 11pm, and I used to go there. In the morning we'd trot down to Blackwattle Bay to row, then I'd trot back. We'd have breakfast which was the best meal that they had there. And then we'd trot to lectures. And what, with the early exercise and the weariness, just drop off to sleep and that was it. But it was pleasant -- the rowing was good. For instance, we'd trot across from St Andrews to Blackwattle Bay, which is quite a long way, and on the way we'd stop at Arnott's factory and there the night watchman would sell us huge bags of broken, warm, new biscuits for tuppence, which was rather nice.

What had made you decide to join the Herald?

Well, this is -- I don't know. I assume that strings were pulled or something, because I can't remember anything about joining, except dad's being slightly drunk when he took me round. I can't remember anything else. And because the editor, a man called Brunsden Fletcher admired him very much, and in a way sort of protected dad, though he was able to do his work, I think there may have been some sort of string pulling. All I remember is just suddenly being on the Herald.

You don't remember deciding that you wanted to be a journalist?

No. I did after being one. But my earlier things had been vague. I'd wanted to be a distinguished academic when I was a child because we used to go for these rather beautiful occasions on the green grassy quadrangle at Sydney University, and we'd see all these distinguished academics in their coloured gowns and things. And then I wanted to be a boat builder, then I wanted to be an architect, and so on, you know. That's one reason why I didn't do enough with music or anything. I just flitted from thing to thing.

All of them seeming attractive, with none of them actually holding your interest for long enough?

Well, they held my interest, but other things sort of intervened, you know.

So somebody else probably, you think, decided that it was a good idea for you to be a journalist and introduced you to the Herald?

Well, I think so. I don't recall. It must be some sort of psychoanalyst thing that has made me put it out of my mind, because I've tried and I cannot see what happened in between.

What was it like on the Herald? What did you have to do?

At first it was terrifying, because we had a chief of staff who was like a lion, and whose life was in the paper, and, you know, he regarded new boys, especially those from reasonably privileged backgrounds, as being fodder to be chewed up and eaten and found fault with. Anyway, I was in the library and that was good because it gave you an idea how the place worked. But it was so different from now, of course. A very, very, very dignified place, people wore very high stiff collars and all that. And it was on the corner of Hunter Street and Pitt Street in the old -- it's now Westpac, I think. And much smaller of course. But then, after that, you became a secondary cadet and did finance, which meant that -- well, you went to the vegetable markets in the morning and the fish markets and the fruit markets and got the prices, and you went to the Post Office, the GPO, to take down the weather data, and so on. And you became, you got involved in shipping. In finance it was totally useless as far as I was concerned, because what happened was that you were given no tuition, and you were sent for annual meetings and things and listened uncomprehendingly while they talked about the accounts. And then came back to the office, and I still find myself thinking -- when I see the phrase 'an extraordinary meeting was held' -- that it really was extraordinary, not that it was extra. And it's childish, but I just -- I've no idea about balance sheets or anything like that and so on. Shipping was good in a way because you got up very early in the morning, went down to Fort Denison -- to where the Opera House is now -- and got a launch with other journalists, went out to meet in-coming boats, interview passengers, you know. Sometimes you said, one tried not to but one couldn't help it, as they came up the Harbour, 'What do you think of Australia?' That's so terrible. But we got some good stories there and it was a nice life, except getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning. But got some very good stories. I got my first scoop there and things of that sort.

What was your first scoop?

It was this drunken admiral. He'd retired, and he was coming back from a trip to Europe, like most people were, and he said -- he was not drunk at that point of course -- he came up and said, 'I've got a good story for you, laddie.' And, 'Come to my flat later.' So I went to his flat in Potts Point and he, by that time, was absolutely pissed, you know, and he wanted me to join him and I sipped away carefully. And he rounded off everybody in the navy. He said they were all fools, and all his fellow admirals and all this ...

Yes I did. I did continue a lot for many years, ending up in a charge (not me being charged, but another being charged) with having forged Sali Herman's name on some of my paintings, which I'd lost and he'd found, and it was a very foolish thing of him to do, because they were nothing like Herman, but they were mine. Anyway that was the last in my great artistic painting career.

Did you enjoy journalism?

Yes, very, very much, as I got into it. But there were certain things that I never could do and never felt happy about. One was balance sheets and extraordinary meetings. Another was the sort of terrible crash, terrible uproar, type of reporting. You know, you'd go to a big fire when the wool stores went up in flames, which they did, and I always felt sort of spellbound and didn't scuttle around asking people questions and thing like that. Although the Herald didn't do much of foot-in-the-door reporting, I never could do that. My specialty, as it turned out in the end, was special occasion reporting. I was supposed to be good at mood pieces, things like that.

What did you mean by mood pieces?

Well, occasions which were fraught with either atmosphere or meaning. Anzac Day would be one. A dawn service at the Cenotaph, or alternatively, film. It was -- the Herald didn't take the arts seriously, really, but a film about a little village, a fishing village up the coast, and an account of the screening of this film and the local people's reaction. That sort of stuff. Plus, you know, the odd bit of drama which, as I say, they didn't take seriously at all.

So you became something of a feature writer?

Sort of, yes. Plus I was supposed to be a good sub-editor. And seize occasions for jokes which wouldn't be perceived by management.

What kinds of jokes could you slip through?

Well, there was one that -- what's the name of that corset man? -- Berlei. We had a personal column in which we said who had arrived and who had gone from Sydney and I was able to get away with 'Mr Berlei arrived yesterday by the SS Mariposa. He is going to make short stays in each state.' Things like that.

So you were able to amuse your fellow journalists with these?


Get them through to the public?

It was a sort of challenge because the upper echelons who we never saw, the Fairfaxes -- Warwick the elder (who's the dead one) was notoriously unapproachable. And we never saw him. Or if we did, he would stand in awkward silence, never saying a word. They were, you know, pretty hopeless. And also the general manager, a man called Stuart who was well on the way to losing his marbles actually, he ended up mad, was a sort of growling person who'd you'd see in the lift possibly. But there was very little comradeship up top. And the Fairfaxes, I think, regarded -- we knew them socially -- anybody who was an employee as beneath them socially, which of course is absurd.

Could you imagine the day might ever come where the Fairfaxes didn't own the paper?

No, I'm still staggered by that. That young Warwick is an idiot, a total idiot. It's partly his mum's fault, she's, you know ... [INTERRUPTION]

So, there you were, a young journalist working on the Herald. Do you remember what your first scoop was?

There was one about an admiral, a retired admiral, and he was one of the people who came back from overseas and one of the people interviewed and so on. And he came up to me and said, 'Come round to my flat later, laddie. Have an ale. I've got a story for you.' So round I went and by the time I arrived it was the afternoon and he was pretty well pissed. And I sipped carefully at my ale, not wanting to get involved or messed up, and he rounded off on all the naval establishment in Australia. He said every one of the admirals, every one of the senior men, was futile and hopeless, idiotic, and so on and so on. And I dutifully took all this down in my little notebook. And he finally dismissed me, and I had it all there -- it was printed next day, rather to my surprise actually, because the paper was then very careful about various things like that. And he was furious of course, and threatened to sue me and have me keel hauled and drummed out of the battleship ...

So, if he hadn't thought you were going to print it, why did he invite you around to his flat?

Well, this is it. I don't think he meant to be nearly as forthright as he was, because he was so drunk. And secondly, I think he half, half wanted it, well to tell somebody, you know. But it was obviously festering in his ancient heart.

He wanted it to come out but not quite so fully?


And so what happened? Were you, was the paper, sued?

No, because my chief of staff, the one whom I was, you know, a bit frightened of in those days, supported me. I showed him my notes. He supported me. Nothing happened.

Now, during this time, what was happening with your social life?

Well, we went to lots of dances and balls. It was at a dance that I ... or a ball I should say -- we called them balls in those days -- had my first sexual encounter. And we went to a place called Carl Thomas' Nightclub after work, just two or three of us, and it was a marvellous old place because it was in one of the old bond store buildings on the east side of Circular Quay, and a very informal, nice old club with a little orchestra, and you know, lots of drink and dancing if you wanted to dance and don't if you don't want to. And Carl was a very, very good host. We'd arrive there after work round about half past 11 and sit down and drink and talk. And he was, unexpectedly, a remarkably good reciter or speaker of Shakespeare. And it's not normal in club owners, certainly in Australia. And he was the first good Shakespeare [reciter] I ever heard and he restored my faith in Shakespeare. We'd do that and we'd go surfing in the morning frequently, because mostly, being a morning paper, we were on at night and afternoon. And then have lunch and then go in to the Herald to our work. So that it was a very pleasant life in many ways and I enjoyed it and, even though I was never a good -- or very jerkily, very sporadically -- quick writer, it did teach me a bit about that. Just like university had taught me a bit about how to think, or how to try to think, because I've never been a good thinker.

You say you'd never been a good thinker?

No. I'd not been disciplined, I get flits. That's if I'm writing a novel or anything, I start to write and I get a flit about, an idea about it, and I have to write down a word to remind me to incorporate the flit later somehow. I can't just [sit] down and write straight through. And that's one reason why I write first by hand, even now, I've never really been good at composing on a typewriter or a word processor or anything like that. I have to write it first. And of course in those days a written manuscript was quite acceptable on the Herald. But it's remained with me. I've never been able to accept -- once or twice, you know, I can remember being able to put something straight down.

What about poetry? You were writing poetry during this time, weren't you?

Yes, yes, but that's -- again, that is something that you don't, you know, bang out on the word processor or even the typewriter. Most poets don't. And that particularly, of course, is not a good example, because as I say, most poems are written in bits and pieces.

So, what was emerging in you through high school, university, and then later as a journalist, was the kind of mind that had moments of inspiration, but that darted about rather. But, you say you did acquire some discipline?

Yes, well one had to, on the Herald. As I say, it was pretty frightening at first. It was the very first time I'd ever been employed, first time I'd had to earn my living, first time I'd had responsibility for certain things, you know. And it was very good in that way. Once I got used to it and began to know what I was fairly good at, it was lovely. Very, very good.

When you first started as a cadet on the Herald, was your father still writing features for them?

I don't think he was somehow, because I remember him taking me round that day of introducing me to various people. But never again do I remember him in there. I think he must have been just on the point of collapse ... it was just, couldn't take the strain, and he'd had the day in bed that he died. So I think he was probably just on the verge of going to bed.

Did you feel that his mantle had fallen on you?

Not really, because he was leader writer, and I was never a leader writer. No, I didn't, no.

Do you remember the first time you got drunk?

Yes. I think I do. There again, it's pretty hard if you were pretty drunk and you know, to remember the very first time. But it was, as I recall, I may be wrong, it was one of the balls or parties we went to, and it was at Hunters Hill. And I recollect discoursing to some girls with animation, thinking I was being interesting. And the next thing I knew I woke up on the sofa at home next morning. And I'd obviously passed out and been brought home. And I went outside and there they were, the heel marks along the gravel path where I had been pulled home.

Dragged up the path?

Dragged up the path. And I felt, you know, pretty gruesome about it. And I knew -- I know this does sound absurd in retrospect, but I knew then I had a problem. That I always would have to fight very hard to control drinking. And I just knew. And that was -- I was 18. And Mother -- this is typical of what I call the stoicism and the quietness of her -- she came down while I was still lying on the sofa, and said, 'You were very tired last night.'

Did you think of your father?

Yes. But that didn't stop me. I thought of him later too, when my sister began. And some say it is passed on.

Did you, in a way, feel a certain compulsion to be like him? I mean there you were, working as a journalist at the Herald, he had died, you'd moved back to home, you were drinking. Do you think that this was all part of taking up where he'd left off?

I don't think so. I know it's very easy to wonder about relationships between sons and fathers, but I don't honestly think that. I remember quite recently somebody -- a doctor -- said to me, 'What were you like with your father?' And this was after I had some pneumonia, and I said, 'This has nothing to do with my father.' He said, 'Oh, you'd be surprised.'

So, girls had entered your life at this point. What did you think of them?

Well, the relationships between men and girls were so different in those days, you know. And, of course, there was very little feminism. Most of the girls I knew came from much the same stratum as I did. Some were the daughters of academics, some were professionals' daughters and so on. We had -- some were known as 'fast', and they of course were the interesting ones. Others were known as dreary and they were. They were much more inhibited, the dreary ones, than they would be now. In other words, a lot of women [these days] are not what you'd call very beautiful, but they are very attractive despite their looks, you know. Or perhaps, because of their looks, they have character. Whereas these girls in those days, even though they were just as intelligent and just as attractive or unattractive, didn't express much character. And that I think was the big difference. And of course, were not nearly as free, and there was no Pill or anything like that. But they were much more buttoned up on the whole.

But even though you had your relationships within this particular circle, and there was a sort of pressure on the girls to stay out of sexual activity, you still managed to find some to cooperate. These were the fast ones?

Yes, this amazed me, because it was a ball, a proper, you know, formal ball in white tie and tails and it was at Government House. And this girl, she was obviously a fast one, and I was dancing with her, and she murmured into my ear, 'Do you fuck?,' and I put on a sort of worldly air, forced a smile, you know, and said, 'What do you think?' Anyway it went on from there, and we ended up on the beach, at Lady Martin's Beach just below my house. And that was my introduction to that well-known activity.

And it went on from there. You did eventually marry. Who did you marry?

I married Diana Wentworth and we lived together -- we didn't live together -- we lived in our parents' houses, but we slept together for, oh, two or three years. And we had to keep it secret because of our parents, although they probably knew. But then it was considered unusual, you know, and we went around together everywhere, and so on. And then finally we got married. And her parents disapproved of me, because I drank too much of her father's whisky, which was very good whisky. Seekay, you never see it now. Whisky isn't what it used to be. And also, they didn't think I had enough money, because they were pretty well off and ...

This was the WC Wentworth family?

Yes. And the old man, he was a nice old man really. He was, I think, incredibly stupid in many ways, but underneath all the crust, he was like Colonel Blimp, you know, underneath all that he was I think a nice man. But he told me that he couldn't consider his daughter marrying anybody who didn't have at least £800 a year. And I know that doesn't sound much now, but by god, it was pretty good in those days, you know. And I said, I thought I might have £800 a year by the time I was 80 or something like that. I told him so, and he huffed and puffed and finally we got married secretly and then confronted them with it.

That was in 1939?

Yes, just before the war.

Now, you came from an academic dynasty really, and you'd married into a really old establishment family. Your family was very strong. Was theirs an equally strong family? And was it different from yours?

Strong in what sense?

Well, you had a strong sense of family in the MacCallum family.

Well, yes, but that was partially because of Grandmother, you know, forcing the family into a clot. Their family was more dispersed, said much more, their minds. Spoke their minds more. They were a very forceful family, still are. And they had these immense quarrels about the estate which was down at Port Kembla, and Bill -- who is the recently retired Member of Parliament, he's still, you know, going strong in his 90s -- he had huge quarrels with his father. Almost every week he'd come to the house, and at that stage we were living there, allegedly temporarily, and I said, 'I'm going to keep out of all these uproars', and Diana did too. But it was a very turbulent family, you know. And it would have done us a bit of good, I think, to have been as turbulent in the sense of speaking our minds more, or being spoken to about our minds. But that's how it was.

So when the war broke out, what happened to you then?

By that time we were living in Vaucluse. We had a flat and I was fighting with the gas company about the cost of the gas, I recall. And yes, I remember, I used to come home with two or three other blokes on the very last tram when we were doing night work, and it'd stop specially for us at the intersection of King Street and Pitt Street, right across the intersection, and you'd see the tram all lit up as we came along from the Herald. And we'd run so as not to keep it waiting too long, and we'd get aboard and the conductor was called Dick. And he was always slightly drunk by this time, and he wore his cap on backwards. And the tram would rocket out, it wouldn't stop anywhere, 'til it got to my flat, which was opposite the tram line in Vaucluse, the top of Vaucluse. And then off I'd get and come home. Then in the morning we'd go surfing. Bondi. Which was, there again, very pleasant, you know.

And when the war broke out, what happened?

It was great turmoil at the Herald of course, and journalism, especially certain sorts of journalists, of which I was one, were a reserved occupation. And the Herald appointed two or three war correspondents, and I wanted to be one but they wouldn't ... They said I would be more use in the sub-editor's room assisting the editors, and so I stayed rather disgruntled, although a bit relieved in fact, because I didn't think I'd be very good with a rifle and so on. And then I thought, well, 'Maybe I'd better join up or try to.' So I tried to join the navy, being very much at home on the water. And I, you know, pictured myself as captain of a torpedo boat, fast and racy and rushing around them, and the wind and spray. And went down to Rushcutters Bay for the test and failed, which infuriated me, because the previous week I had walked all over Vaucluse, you know, getting fit and all the rest of it, and I failed on the simple thing. It was because -- there were about a dozen of us and I was the last on the list to be tested, by which time ... I'd waited all day and I was doing my highly strung feeling, and so the first thing I failed at was looking at your watch in a mirror and telling the time quickly. Which normally I would be able to do, but I stuttered and ummed and ahed and had, you know, finally told the time after about five minutes. And there was another test, dropping a penny and kicking before it hit the ground, which normally I would have done easily. And I missed this time, simply because I was, you know, so upset. And it was absurd, but there you are. I was, it did show, I suppose, that I was not suitable to be the captain of a dashing torpedo boat in an emergency, because I couldn't tell the time.

In the mirror backwards.

[laughing] Or kick a halfpenny into the foam. And then I tried the air force and was rejected for that because, again, the most absurd thing. We were all physically tested and for some reason for the air force they take a sample of your urine. I don't know why. And this room was crowded with men trying hard to have a pee, you know, and finally I had my little pee, and there were two blokes examining them, medical orderlies in white coats, and one of them took mine and looked at it, held it up and shouted to his mate, 'Hey Jack, look at this.' And it was green. And it had never been green before, and hasn't ever been green since. But it was knocked back. They said not suitable.

Why was it green?

I don't know, I think it was something to do with sugar. I do have hypoglycaemia, which means you consume sugar too quickly, and it may have been something like that. Anyway it's never worried me since then. So then I began to feel a bit discouraged, what with halfpennies and watches and green urine, and I had a final go at the army and they said no, and the Herald by then said, 'We won't let you go because you're reserved and we want to keep you here. So then, I thought, 'Oh, well, this is it, stay here.' And then I was approached by Alf Conlon, who was a legendary figure, a back room boy, you know, and he was very influential in all sorts of ways. Much more so than most people think, and a very secret sort of man. But he said would I be interested in founding and editing the army journal Salt. And I thought about it and if I'd known what it was going to involve, I probably wouldn't have. But I did, and it was one of the best things I ever did.

Tell me about the legendary army journal Salt.

Well, it was the first of its kind. Actually it was the property, as it were, of the Army Education Service, which was, again, the first of its kind and became very powerful, did a lot of good work. First of all I went to George Fuller -- this is typical of Fuller -- and said, 'I need a uniform,' without even knowing what rank I'd be, except they did say, 'You'll be a Warrant Officer.' And he made me a Warrant Officer's uniform. I got on the train, they said I had to live in Melbourne, to be in Melbourne, and I got on the train and found people looking at me curiously, and thought, oh well, you know. And one old digger who'd been over the top, as they say, said, 'Have you been over the top, son?' And I said, 'Not yet.' I didn't like to tell him about the urine and watch and all that. I thought it would have seemed inappropriate, ineffective, not a good excuse. Anyway, I got to Melbourne and booked into a horrible hotel, which they'd booked me into, and sat down for dinner, and noticed other people looking at me curiously, and also a couple of soldiers who sort of talked to each other and said, 'Look at him,' and I didn't know what was wrong. And next morning I reported to the headquarters, to army barracks in St Kilda Road, and the first thing that Robert Madgwick, who was the head of the education service and received me said, 'Where are your rising suns?' And the tailor hadn't put those rising suns emblems on my lapel, and that was why I'd aroused such intense curiosity on the way to Melbourne. Anyway ...

So you weren't a proper soldier on the outside as well as on the inside?

Exactly, exactly. And I've always hated uniforms anyway, but then we started, and to cut a long story short, I started Salt and it was very difficult because it had never been done before. And of course, I'd been naive enough to think that it was a good -- in fact I said, 'I'm willing to start as a Private,' which would have been absolutely hopeless, you know. But as a Warrant Officer I had a little bit of status. But I found I was dealing with, you know, colonels and generals, and all sorts. And we were creating new ground, what we were going after was direct access to and from the troops, which was unheard of, you know. And so we gradually set up in Lonsdale Street, and gradually developed. It was, at first, not good, it was pretty simple and not good. But we developed it and finally, by the time it finished in '45, it had this enormous audience, and we had tributes from everybody from the Prime Minister down, to the generals, the soldiers, the everything. And we had this huge relationship with the men.

What do you think was the real secret of its success and how would you characterise its essential nature?

Well, three things. One, I think, was the fact that it had this direct access. They could write to us with their grouches and nostalgic letters. 'What is the length of the naked woman in Chloe's Bar in Melbourne?' That's on the wall in Chloe's Bar. And little things like that. Plus, worries about post-war, a huge range of things. We used to get literally hundreds of letters a week, and we only accepted them if they were signed and the Army Regimental number of the man was on them. That was one thing. Another was we wrote about all sorts of things, not just education or just the war. And we uncovered a few scandals here and there on the civilian front, you know. And it was this rapport that we had with them. But it was this of course that made it so suspect to the brass hats and we had many, many, many fights, terrible fights.

You had enemies on Salt?

Oh yes, yes. But luckily, General Blamey, who was the really top man, came round to our side. But there were many -- politically it was dynamite, the whole thing. And there were questions in parliament and the Army Minister was pressed by the conservatives to close us down and, you know, the lot.

Why were they so worried about you?

Because it was considered an upsetting type of publication. It raised lots of questions. It was regarded -- and of course, it was a place for troop grouches as well as inquiries and things. But it took on in a very big way eventually, and we had this enormous mail. We had people from the other services, the air force, the navy, asked for it. It was found in Czechoslovakia. The Americans wanted it, the English Tommies in the Pacific, and it was, you know, very rewarding.

Could you remember the most celebrated case where you had run something that had upset the top brass?

Well, certainly in my mind it's stuck because it was so ludicrous. We had a lot of drawing contributions. We had a coloured cover, but no other colour. But we could accept, of course, black and white. And this -- I know it sounds trivial but it was typical of the relationship of some of the censorious people ... [INTERRUPTION]

Could you remember a particular example of where the top brass got really upset with a story in Salt?

Yes, although the example is trivial in a sense, but it's always stuck in my mind, because it epitomised their attitude to us. We published drawings, black and white drawings sent in by the troops, and there were some very good ones, and a lot of them. And one day we published, or were about to publish, a very good series of drawings of troops coming back from the line, having their first shower for weeks. And this was troops in New Guinea. And we, you know, we had the block made, it was ready to go in, but because we had to go through the form of submitting everything to a censor, we submitted it and to our utter amazement, he said, 'You can't use this.' We said, 'Why?' He said, 'Naked men.' And we said, 'But these are all shown from the back or the side, there's no full frontal or anything like that. He said ,'Doesn't matter, naked men.' These were troops who'd just been fighting very hard, you know, under the shower. And we finally, we published it, and got a huge reprimand from the big brass. But that's the sort of thing that happened, let alone things about politics or let alone say an article saying that Russia was doing a good job pushing the Germans back from Moscow. That aroused intense irritation among -- especially among Catholic censors.

So this was during the war when the Russians were considered to be our allies?

Yes, yes. And I used to go touring occasionally -- or not touring -- visiting camps and so on in New Guinea and all that, and I found that you could almost invariably tell what sort of a unit it was and what sort of a man its commander was by the reception the troops gave. If they were friendly, if they were enjoying the journal and so on, their commander was friendly, and he was a nice bloke. If he was, you know, a real old martinet stick in the mud, they were unhappy and they were grumpy and didn't talk much, you know, and it was almost invariable, that thing.

What was the political tone of the journal Salt?

Well, people said, its enemies said, it was to the Left and indeed it was, because it treated Russia as one of our allies. And you know we published as much about Russia as we did about Hitler or about Britain or American troops. And there's no question, it was what you'd call a Leftish journal. But what would be the point -- I wouldn't have taken on a journal that was going to be a sort of Colonel Blimp-ish type journal. And I told them that at the very beginning, when they interviewed me in Melbourne and when I went down without my rising suns on. I said I wasn't interested in doing a sort of saddle-and-spur type magazine or anything like that. So that's how it was. And that's how it remained. In fact, though it was never stated, I suspected it, and there were a couple of communists on the staff. But you know, they didn't write as communists.

Apart from the letters that came from the men complaining about conditions, did you ever publish any articles or editorials criticising the top brass?

No, that would have been sudden death I think. Actually there were two occasions on which there were very strong moves to close us down, from people in parliament. But we survived them.

And the moves from parliament came because of your Russian articles?

No, because the journal was a gadfly in many ways. It was an irritant because it was so wide, you know. It had lots of conservative stuff in it as well, masses of it. Dr Evatt was one of our chief irritants. Not so much in terms of politics as wanting to run it. He was on the phone or sending me orders almost every day, you know. He was like that as you know. He took over almost everything he looked at and touched. And he'd send down a great screed about Dr Evatt, saying what a terrific job he was doing and so on, and we didn't publish it and he would be furious and so on.

So you didn't ever take any notice of him?

No. We did towards the end once when he was starting some new policy, I can't remember -- anyway it affected post-war soldiers, and we were very strong all the way on post-war as well as war, because we had so many requests. Soldiers were so -- a lot of them -- worried about what jobs they'd have after it all. A lot of them had just come through a Depression, you know, a few years before and they were worried. So when Evatt sent us this thing which had to do with post-war procedures and possibilities, we published it.

You've never had any difficulty resisting authority when you didn't want to take any notice of it, Mungo?

No, well, the main problem is not to get angry, too angry. I do get -- I tend to seethe and I try to remain cool.

Why do you think it was so clear to you that you had to resist authority? Do you think you owe that to your German grandmother?

I don't think so, because it's a different sort of thing. I think it was because I was very belatedly losing my acceptance of the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie, you know. I think during the war I became politicised, not on anyone's side, but conscious of the fact and I was not interested in running, you know, some fuddy-duddy thing. So it was as much, not to amuse myself, but to interest myself that [I] had this wide spectrum of things.

And you wanted to be relevant?

Yes, yes, very much so.

So why was it important for you to have rank?

Well, it was to deal with people. I didn't get any rises by my own request. I just took it for granted that I would start as a Private, which is an absolutely idiotic attitude to take. But I started as a Warrant Officer Class 1, and then I was made a Lieutenant, then a captain, and then a Major, and Major is, you know, ridiculous in a way, because it's a field rank, which is different, it's a proper soldier's rank. But it was necessary and it was just announced to me by Robert Madgwick, that I would now be a so and so.

And you think that he did that because he thought that you'd need it to do what you had to do?

Partly that and partly because the service was very happy about Salt. They regarded it at their main achievement in many ways, the way in which they'd got closest to troops and things like that. It did help, because being in a reserved occupation, the Herald refused to let me go on leave, and I had to resign. So I had no income, so it was good to have the extra.

Did you ever run any propaganda?

Well, I suppose you could say a lot of it was propaganda in a sense, because we were on one side, you know. We did publish a few rather ordinary caricatures of Japanese, you know, with spectacles and buck teeth and all that. But we were not conscious of propagandising in the banal sense, you know. But I suppose you'd have to say there was an element of propaganda in it, that we, after all, the soldiers' contributions themselves, their poems, their stories and letters, were propaganda in the sense that they took it for granted they were on a particular side, as did we.

For you as a person, what did you get out of the period that you were leading the Salt group, what did you learn and gain from that?

I learned and gained a lot of things, some of them good, some of them bad. I learned, first of all, at the Herald, working for the first time, I'd ceased to be a dilettante, which I had been up until then. And then on Salt I learned that I had a capacity to -- well to lead. I know it sounds pompous but I was able to lead even though I was a fairly unsmiling leader.

Yes, what kind of a leader were you? How would you describe your style of leadership?

Well, it was a very difficult situation because we had to run like a newspaper's [office] but in the army in uniform in rank. And we were required to do certain things, to do the occasional drill, through which we shambled, you know. And things like that were very difficult, a matter of discipline. I mean, if it had not been the army, one would have said, 'Oh for Christ sake, fix yourself up.' But with the army he had to be called Corporal or whatever, he had to be paraded before me, things like that, you know. And the Headquarter people were always on our tails about that because they regarded us, I think rightly, as a fairly motley crew, even though we wore a uniform. And that was a difficult thing, but I was able to get away with it four or five years and to keep them together, you know. And then there was the question of ... we had some recent migrants who had been -- not suspects -- put into a sort of a Land Army, or Workers' Army I suppose you'd call it, and they could be sent anywhere at all, and they were sent to us to be our packos, which was a very good thing for them actually, because it was a stable situation, no danger. And these fellows frequently didn't get on with the old sweats who were from the First World War, who were in charge of packing and stuff like that, and that had to be ironed out quite often, and so on. But more importantly, I think, was the fact that I was able to -- I had a sort of, I found I had an entrepreneurial sort of streak, you know. And it led me into trouble later, but I think it was one of the main good things that came out of it. As for the bad things, when I say -- the war politicised me for the first time. Up 'til then I'd -- even though I'd been in Canberra for the Herald doing a stint there -- been totally uninterested in the politics of it. I was interested in the politicians as people and why they were there, but I not been political. And as a result of the war, and of some the (I felt) grossly unfair attitudes of a lot of officers to -- not my officers, other officers -- Russia and the attitude they'd rather have Hitler almost, you know, I went to the Left. But it was not the sort of political allegiance that would mean anything to a real politician or Leftist, it was very much a sort of social attitude. And that came with me when I came out of the war, and well, I was in a rage by then.

Did that lead you to join a political party?

No, no, I never joined a party and my Leftism was really anti-establishment. That's what it was. And you know I raved about things like that. By this time I was back in civilian clothes, thank goodness, but I went through a bad time. The Herald wanted me back and I didn't want to go back, because I'd had to resign from them and they'd never contributed to my pay or anything. So I went to -- I was taken on by the Sun, which was a tabloid, afternoon tabloid, as a very expensive columnist, which was pretty good, you know, I mean it was nice to have some money after a while. And it was an absolutely mad thing to do, because the tabloid world is not my world and also I undertook to fill virtually a page a day with my own writings -- the column was called National Circus, which was an all-inclusive title, and I could write in theory about anything at all. Or I could be amusing or serious, whatever, you know.

But National Circus suggests a satirical bent.

Yes, and on the whole it was a sceptical, satirical column, yeah. In part, you know, it ate up material like mad, and I was trying -- I was drinking a lot at the time -- and I was feeling this anger at the establishment, which became worse and worse because it was totally undiscriminating. Anybody who had any sort of position I would be automatically antagonistic to, which was absolutely ridiculous, of course. And I had this long history of fantasy and the fantasy, from being quite mild and pleasant about people, changed. It became very savage and so on. And also I found there were so many things that were taboo on the Sun which, of course, went dead against all my so-called satirical attitudes and material. So there we were.

What kinds of things were taboo?

Well, things that affected advertisers for a start. Almost everything does when you come to think of it. And I had several interludes with the editor, whose name I can't even remember now, but he kept on railing me back and I'd go off in a fit of fury, go to the pub over the road, have a few drinks and then come back and try to hammer something out. But people, other people, friends of mine, who became friends I should say, were very good. They were very, very supportive and helpful and they listened patiently to my ravings and so on. So that was one of the bad things that came out of the war. And it was a very bad, silly mistake to think of doing a column under those circumstances.

You've always had a sort of scarifying wit which enabled you to really see what was silly and absurd in somebody and caricature it. Do you think that perhaps in some ways it was bad for you to be placed in a position where that was what you were supposed to do all day long?

Well, yes it was, because it was my fault and it was definitely bad for me. And you know, it put my marriage under strain and it put me under strain and I ended up going, on the doctor's advice, retreating into a nursing home for about a month, drying out, and you know quietening down, and so on. They gave me that drug that's supposed to make you sick -- I can't remember the name of it -- but you have a sherry, which I never drank anyway, and then you have this dose and they're supposed to coalesce in your mind so that whenever you touch alcohol you go 'ugh', like that. And it had absolutely no effect on me at all. And it was rather disappointing but rather triumphant in a way, you know; one felt this idiotic triumph if one wasn't affected by this drug.

You were married in 1939 and almost straight away went off down to Melbourne to get Salt started. Did Diana, your wife, go with you?

Yes, but it wasn't straight away. I went down to Melbourne after my abortive attempts at the navy and the airforce and so on, and then Conlon asked me to do Salt. And that was 1941. So we were married two years earlier than that, and lived at Vaucluse where the tram deposited me at night. I went down to Melbourne, yes, and she followed after a while. She was just beginning to be pregnant and so she went down and we had quite a pleasant flat, and she made friends with some of the people on my staff and so on. But neither of us was a Melbourne person, you know, as most of the others were. They were a good lot, I liked them and she liked them.

How many children did you have?

One. We thought that was enough.

And was the marriage happy during those war years?

Yes, in a fraught sort of way. I mean, being war years, they were not very happy and so on, and she wasn't very well, and she had a bad pregnancy, a very difficult pregnancy, and it was -- I liked Melbourne, personally, quite a lot. I don't subscribe to this thing about it being a dreary place at all. I think it's, in certain ways, much better than Sydney. But I didn't want to live there forever or anything like that. She came back to Sydney to have young Mungo, and I came up to see him, and it was in that hospital that's been demolished, the one in Paddington.

St Luke's?

The Woman's.

The Women's Hospital.

The Women's Hospital, yes. And I suppose, as always happens, I was amazed at his colour because he was a deep magenta purple colour. So I looked at him through the glass of this thing, you know, here was this screaming purple thing and I know fathers are supposed to feel proud when they have sons. I didn't feel pride, you know, I didn't feel I'd achieved anything. And several people thought I was a bit peculiar because of that, and maybe I am, I don't know.

What did you think of him as you grew ... [INTERRUPTION]

Well, the interesting thing was, in fact, he came down with her, back to Melbourne, and the months went by. He never uttered a sound, never tried to get onto his feet, anything like that, and I began to have dreadful fears. And then suddenly, one day, just absolutely with no preparation or anything, he got to his feet, started talking fluently, and strode out of the room, you know. And our fears were dispelled. He was alright.

Sounds like you felt a little bit of pride that day?

Yes, yes. Well, yes I did, yes, yes.

And do you think you were a good father?

No. That's one of the things that catches up with you in old age. You think a lot about the past ,of course, and the bad things or the guilty things you feel come up. And one of them was with him. I don't think he realised it himself, but I was so preoccupied with the Salt at first and then later on with the ABC, and you know we had good times. We played together in bed in the morning and all that sort of stuff. But I don't think that I -- I wasn't sufficiently attentive.

Did Diana feel that?

I think she did, yes, yes ... Well, she was under a lot of strain with me, let alone him.

In what way?

Well, because I was drinking a lot and I was so preoccupied with work, and that went on for years, that situation.

So, you feel that you didn't actually, during these war years and then subsequently after the war, pay very much attention to your domestic arrangements?

Not enough. Not enough, no. I was very -- one of the ways of relaxing to me was to do handyman's things. And I did lots of carpentry and I was always very interested in design and I designed special desks and things like that, and I was useful around the house. And you know, we moved several times and I was very capable of improving the house and doing things which, nowadays, we'd get somebody else to do.

So, you did those sorts of material things, but in terms of, as it were, taking an interest in young Mungo's development and in her state of mind, you weren't so interested?

Well, I think it's probably not right to say I wasn't interested. I was careless more than uninterested. Because my mind was full of things. I would have been interested if I had not been so busy.

Do you think your attitude was unusual for that time?

Well, it was unusual among my friends. Most of them, you know, were good family people, or -- a lot were journalists and some were artists and so on, and even though they were supposed to be bohemians they were not very bohemian at all, really.

But we have heard sometimes that, at that period, men really weren't all that interested in what was going on at home.

I think that's true, yes. There was very little talk about sharing duties and so on. My big contribution was, has been and is, helping with the washing up. I know that, you know, it's terrible ... but somehow it's always been done for me, and when I've tried people have said don't worry. So I'm lucky I suppose. Lucky but tainted.

Lucky or clever to make sure you never do it well enough to be asked again?

No, I didn't make sure. I often almost longed to do it.

So, after the war was over, and you were working on the Sun, and getting more and more enraged, and more and more involved in alcohol, what was happening at home at that time?

Well, Diana was bringing Mungo up and he turned out to be bright after all this long dumb period. And he, at four like me, was accepted for Cranbrook, which was very close to where we lived, which was the main reason he went there. But normally they didn't accept people in for the prep school until they were much older. But he went there. I used to contribute by walking down the hill with him, taking him to Cranbrook in the morning. And she, later I should say, developed a capacity, a good capacity, for writing radio scripts and things like that.

And so, what happened after you went to this place where you dried out? When you emerged from that were you drinking less? Even though this chemical hadn't worked, this drug hadn't worked for you, had you succeeded in being off the grog long enough to be able to come out to a more sober existence?


You went straight back to drinking?

Well, yes, but not, you know, with whoops of joy or anything, but just, it gradually resumed, you know.

And what did you do then, next?

I resigned from the Sun, couldn't bear it any longer, and went to England, or to Europe and England. And I went off the grog. I did this whole tour of England, I was away for a couple of years, and didn't ever have a drink.

Did you take your family with you?

No, no.

Why did you make that decision?

Well, Mungo was doing okay at school, and we didn't want to leave him with his grandparents, and Diana wanted to stay and look after him, and she didn't much want to go to England, because she'd been there as a schoolgirl and it was, you know, in the bad old colonial tradition. She went to a very good, expensive school, and all the other girls laughed because she came from Australia. And that put an end to England as far as she was concerned. And on the other hand, I hadn't been, and the war had delayed all these trips that most people take at that stage, or a lot of people. And so she said, 'You go,' and I went.

And what did you do there?

Well, I had a brilliant time actually because they were so easygoing. I know it sounds ridiculous now, but I thought of England as epitomising every virtue and everything, and we went on this ship full of young hopefuls to make their names in Britain and so on. I got there and somebody, not an Englishman, had told me, 'Why don't you try the Department of Information?' So I strolled in there and a very nice woman gave me afternoon tea in porcelain cups and all this sort of stuff, silverware, and I said I was thinking possibly I could give a talk or two. And she said, 'Of course, of course.' The result was that they put me on a salary, a modest salary but a good one, and sent me all over Britain and parts of Europe with a private car, a chauffeur, talking about Australia. Much of which I didn't know anything about, you know. And it was a wonderful way of seeing everything and not only seeing everything, but meeting people as opposed to talking to them. I talked -- they talked to me by the hundred, you know, and we had these very variable audiences. I talked in prisons, I talked to women's institutes, which were the warmest of all, and they used to sing Jerusalem by Blake before every meeting, and it was beautiful.

Why were they interested in hearing about Australia?

Because migration was in the air, post-war migration. And everything there was very tatty, you know, people's suits were threadbare, ruins everywhere, ashes, and these flame flowers they called them, I think, which sprouted because of the huge bonfires. It was the first warmth, they sprouted, in centuries. Things like that. And the English themselves, I found very, well, simpatico. I liked them very much. And even though there were certain occasions when one didn't -- they almost universally, especially in the upper classes, still thought Australia was a colony to which I took umbrage. And I spoke to trade unions, who were very interested in migration. And all those sorts of people. In the West Country I spoke to hunting people. They all wanted to know about a day in the life of Australia, of an Australian, you know. And I used to put a few little criticisms in, like there are lying dogs in the butchers' shops and things like that, to which they took umbrage. And there it was. It was terrific, and these girls, these Department of Information girls wore red and green uniforms and little Robin Hood caps and things. And you know, we sped all over the place and put up in good hotels. It was fantastic.

And what sort of things were you telling them?

Well, some I grabbed hastily from books. But mainly it was a day in the life of the average Australian -- the sort of house they might live in, the sort of food that people ate, the sort of jobs that were available, the sort of schools and their amusements and so on.

So, you're personally responsible for the huge wave of post-war migration from England to Australia?

Not entirely, but to a little extent, yes, yes.

So, did you just confine this then to England or did you ... ?

No. I went of course to Scotland and Wales and ...

Were you always a success in your role as professional Australian, travelling around selling Australia?

Most of the time. I can remember there was one -- it was early in the piece, but rather discouraging episode. It was the first in fact of the talks I gave. It was in Edinburgh, and it was in this vast cinema, and a man met me and we sat on the stage behind the curtain, which was very dusty and and somewhere an organ was playing sad music and I couldn't see, of course, the audience, through the curtain. And I thought, 'Christ, this is going to be awful.' And anyway, the curtain went up, and this man introduced me as, 'Here we have a tall Australian come to tell us about life Down Under.' And there was a ripple of rather muted applause, and I started off saying, 'I like very much being here in England.' And a voice from the audience shouted, of course, 'You're not, you're in Scotland,' you know, and I said, 'Yes, I'm sorry.' You know, it went all right after that but it was a bit off-putting for them and me.

Very bad from somebody called Mungo MacCallum?

Well exactly, yes, yes. And another time was when I was in Scotland and there was this little highland village, very remote. It was a very cold night and very snowy and everything, and they had this warm fire and this little sort of club of men in the house. They were all staunch old, you know, burghers. And they wanted to know about the geography of Australia and what it was like in the inland and all that. And I had mugged up a bit on this, and I put up a big sort of diagram and a map, and talked and talked and talked, boring myself to extinction. And at one stage, about 11 o'clock -- they all listened, you know, passively and didn't say anything -- at about 11 o'clock, one of them said, 'I think gentlemen, it's time to offer Mr MacCallum a little refreshment.' So we had some whisky, and to my horror they then said, 'Now we shall resume.' And this -- by now it was half-past 11, snowy night and very, very muggy and the fire making one want to go to sleep, and I talked on desperately. And I could see their eyes closing. But they were absolutely determined to get their money's worth, you know. And so finally we ended at 12 o'clock and I thought, 'If it's all going to be like this, I'm out. I just couldn't bear it.'

Did you get outside the British Isles on this?

Oh yes. I wanted to go to Germany, post-war. But they wouldn't allow me. They said 'No civilians' at that stage. So they sent me first to Egypt, and I roved around among the occupation troops. But an absurd thing happened on the way. I'd been in France previously and bought, you know, a few things to take home, including a very valuable print with actual gold on it, a Medieval portrait with gold. And at that stage the Egyptians hated the English, and I had this attack of hypoglycaemia on the plane and passed out. And British Airways, when they landed, rushed me to a camp, a medical officer's tent and he said, 'Stay very still for about a week.' And meanwhile, the Egyptian customs had insisted on unwrapping and unrolling my very, very valuable print and messing it all up and ruining it. There I was stuck in this tent feeling, I must say, pretty frail, you know, and then I got up and gave a few lectures. And they were very disgruntled, these troops. All they wanted was to get home. They hated Egypt. Couldn't bear it. And the same thing in Greece. I went to Greece and of course there it was very difficult to move about because there was a civil war going on. And you weren't allowed in the mountains. But there again, one found this extraordinary difference between ([classes, like] I found in Britain) -- it was very concentrated in Egypt and Greece, partly I suppose because it was in the army, and you had officers and men. And some officers patronised one and one'd have to snap back, you know. And the same thing in Britain, there was a woman who -- in the west, one of these hunting types, you know, tweeds and some pearls, and she introduced this 'young man' (which I wasn't) from Australia ''who's come to tell us about life in the Colony.' And I got up and said, 'I'm not young, and it is not a colony now,' and explained why, 'and I don't like being patronised.' And in fact somebody in the audience clapped, to my amazement. She sort of flushed a deep purple and so on, but it actually went alright. And at the end of it -- I'd started by saying, 'I am a typical Australian, an average Australian,' and this man got up and rambled on about how he was of Yeoman stock, old Yeoman stock and he'd been in Australia and Australians were rude and uncouth, and 'this man is not an average Australian.' So I came out of it battered but with my head up.

Now, going into the army had taught you, had politicised you and taught you to feel very critical of the establishment into which, to some extent, you'd been born. Going to England and travelling around for the British, talking about Australia, had perhaps made you think that -- think of yourself more as an Australian than you ever had as you were growing up?

Exactly. Exactly. I became quite fiercely patriotic. Even though I couldn't bear the patronage that occasionally one came across, I became very, very strongly patriotic and if anybody started criticising Australia, I leapt to its defence; even though they may have been half right, I still leapt to the defence. And coming back on the ship, which was chockablock with English migrants, I was about the only Australian there, and I felt they were a pretty wimpish bunch frankly, you know, and I became quite fierce about it. And we held classes -- another Australian too -- and we between us, we were asked to give talks and held classes to inform these migrants of what they were coming to. And they had no idea, no idea at all. They had no idea where we were going, where it was. They had no idea how big it was. All they knew about was kangaroos, you know. And this was despite the fact they'd all had the opportunity to get a lot of information from Australia House in London.

Well, they were very brave, weren't they, to be travelling out to somewhere like that?

Well, I suppose they were, but they were what I would call limp as well. And some of them were the complaining Poms, you know, the sort that later came to prominence.

So was that the only time you travelled overseas?

Oh, no, I'd travelled during the war, and later on. But not nearly as much as most people.

Could you tell me about your travelling during the war and later on?

Well, yes, it was all done by subterfuge because I wasn't supposed to leave the country during the war. I went to New Guinea on one of my tours of duty, interviewing people about how they felt about Salt and so on. And then I thought: I'll go further and I won't tell anybody. So I was in a safari suit, and I got on an American plane. They were quite easy about it, you know, no problem and flew to Hong Kong. And got off at Hong Kong, and went to the army stores and emerged as a Royal Marine Officer. And nobody seemed to notice.

Why did you do this?

Well, because I wanted to be travelling around and I wasn't supposed to be me, you know.

So the Australian authorities had told you not to travel beyond New Guinea?


You decided you wanted to do that ...


... and you disguised yourself?

Well, without greasepaint, yes. Just the uniforms. Didn't wear wigs or false moustaches or anything like that. It was very easy. There was never a tense moment. And at Hong Kong I did quite a lot of interviewing for Salt, and the situation there, as usual, was a bit odd, you know. But there again, there were lots of British troops and I talked to them unofficially. And then I went to ...

You talked to them in an American Marine uniform?

No, Royal Marine.

A Royal Marine uniform?



I didn't ever wear an American uniform. Then I went on to Shanghai. I got on a British battleship ...

I'm sorry about this, but I have to know. Can we go back a step. You went into the store to get a Royal Marine uniform.


The store ...

... Because it was colder and I had a safari, a thin safari suit. And it was colder. So I asked somebody who was quite friendly and he said, 'Oh, go to the store, you'll get your uniform. What are you?' and I said, 'I think I am actually a Marine,' I said then. That was it. They accepted. Nobody asked for identification. And then I went to Shanghai and then I got on a plane, an American plane, and flew over the hump as it was called, to Burma. And that was a hideous -- to Calcutta -- that was a hideous trip, because it was a very dangerous trip in those wonderful old DC4 planes which were sort of packhorses of the army for so long for everybody. It was chockablock with French soldiers and a troupe of dancing girls from Britain who were entertaining the troops, and it stank of petrol, or kerosene, absolutely you know, brimming with it. And it was full, every spare tank and everything was chockablock with this stuff. And there were notices up everywhere, 'No Smoking.' And even in French, for the French, 'Defence de fume', and they all lit up the moment we took off and smoked the whole way over this perilous flight, loaded with fuel, to Calcutta. It was an awful flight, I really was frightened for hours on end.

And you continued on this way through Asia and you weren't supposed to be there?


Did you continue as a Royal Marine?

No. I changed into an English tropical uniform, not a marine, a normal infanteer, and developed malaria. I know it sounds very frivolous, I did a lot of sketching in Rangoon, in Burma, and the great temples and things like that. And brought them back and we used those in Salt too. So it wasn't a frivolous trip, you know, I did a bit of work every now and then.

But you were really having a sort of adventure?

Yes, yes. And I wanted to get away from Melbourne. You know, to be there such a lot during the war did become irksome, especially when there were people dying all over the place up north. And I didn't hear a shot fired in anger I must say. And I had what is -- or I didn't have -- what is normally called a good war, in so far as it wasn't dangerous and it wasn't decorated or anything. But I had a good war from my point of view.

Is there a law against impersonating a British officer?

Probably. But everything went so easily. It was like when I went to England, you know, later -- everything was easy, no problem, as we didn't say then.

When you came back from Europe to Australia, what did you come back to?

Well, in terms of work, to nothing. There was no job waiting for me or anything like that. In domestic terms, to look for a house, because Diana had been living with her parents, and we didn't particularly want to stay there forever. So we found a house -- we were the first or second people of the new wave to go to Paddington. And it was -- Diana's mother, for instance, thought this was an absurd and dangerous exercise. We had this dear little house. It was a bull nose front and about 100 years old. And I fixed it up with my handyman skills, and we moved in and it was great. We were there for quite a long time. And then I -- I forget why -- but I felt, 'Why don't I have a go at the ABC?' And I'd heard about Neil Hutchison, who was Head of Features at that stage, and that he was looking for new writing and that sort of thing. So I went and -- again, I had a very pleasant reception and he was Head of Features which, of course, as you know probably, is an indefinable word in radio. A feature can be almost anything. So I wrote a lot of features and quite a lot of radio drama which also came later under Neil's orbit, and I found that it suited me enormously. It was where I began my first, as it were, personal writing, my first natural, as opposed to reportage, or whatever, my first creative writing, that's what it was. And oddly enough, I know it sounds incredibly banal now, and nobody would notice, but I made my debut with a feature about being drunk. And it created a bit of a furore, and quite a lot of praise, but also a fair amount of criticism, you know, 'He shouldn't write about those sorts of things' and so on. And I went on from there. And then, as usual, I was new to the ways of the ABC bureaucracy, but the bureaucrats said, 'This man is not on the staff. What's he doing?,' and by that time I'd become virtually on the staff, I had an office and so on and so on. So they put me on a contract, which was in those days unheard of virtually, and I was on a contract and I was officially appointed Features Editor and there I remained for a few years.

Could you tell me what radio actually meant to people at that time? Could you paint a little bit of a picture of what radio meant in the society, and what it was actually like to be one of the people who were working in it?

Well I think radio or ABC Radio, as opposed to other radio, meant more or less the same as it does now. It had its very loyal adherents, it had people, like me for instance, who couldn't bear to work anywhere else in radio, and it had people who couldn't bear to listen to anything else but the ABC. Rather the same thing now, Friends of the ABC. And it was influential, as it is now, among, you know, certain circles and important people. It had very good coverage of certain things, like sport, news. Its more aesthetic aspects, its music, was very influential, it had the orchestra, which wasn't as good as it is now. But its other things, its dramas, were good, more along what you would call traditional lines. Lots of adaptations of English books, English novels and things like that, and of course the Blue Hills and its predecessors and so on, all of which had a huge following. But it was not widely influential in terms of what you'd call general or popular culture because, as happens now, the ABC will put on a very good series, say from Britain or maybe America, and it won't have huge ratings. It's sold on to the commercials, it has huge ratings, you know.

What year did you join the ABC?

It would have been about 19 ... -- well I did my first work for them about 1949, and it would have been about 1950 that the bureaucracy suddenly realised I wasn't a number.

So this was some time before television had arrived ...

Oh yes, yes.

... in Australia. So in the absence of television, radio obviously was a much [more] dominant force in people's lives?

Yes, yes.

What kinds of people were actually working in radio around you? Who were your colleagues?

Well, there was Neil Hutchison, who had been the BBC representative -- he was very good to me, and I was very fond of him. He gave me, you know, a free hand. And, as I have written, he was as I imagine Machiavelli to have been, because he was a very attractive, very charming person, and an extremely good intriguer, and that's how he was. There was John Thompson, who did very good radio portraits, documentary portraits of well-known [people]; they are still to be found in the radio archives at the ABC. One of the few things to be found. There were various people, various writers for instance, George Johnston was one. His wife, Charmian Clift. This is when they'd come back from their Greek island. And it was a much more adventurous department under Neil than it had been previously. I probably wouldn't have wanted to join it previously, but I did join and I found a sort of metier for my writing.

And when you'd found this and you were developing it and giving some personal expression to things, did you find that that affected the rest of your life? That you were feeling generally happier and more together?

Yes, although there again I became very preoccupied with the job, too preoccupied for my family's good. As usual. It seems to happen, you know. And I was happy, but raging with the bureaucrats this time. Previously it had been the army, then it had been the conservatives and now it was the bureaucrats.

And how did you express your rage?

Just by grinding my teeth and seething and getting drunk and, you know, not paying enough attention to my family.

And did the family put up with all of this without complaint?

Not entirely without complaint. Occasionally. I admit I was at fault, you know, there was no question about that.

So what happened eventually with that?

Well, eventually we parted, but that was not until 1960.

So, in relation to your work, it continued to develop and you continued to work in radio. What was the next big thing that happened in your career?

Television, and it was interesting because there'd been all this talk ...

... Sorry, Mungo, I've forgotten something. Before we go into that, there's something I want to ask you. You were railing against the bureaucrats and the people who were in charge. Was it ever suggested that you yourself should be put in charge of things?

Well, I sort of made myself in charge. I was in charge of Salt, then I went overseas, I was in charge of my talking. When I was in the army travelling, I took over my route and my disguises. I'd always been in some sense in charge.

And at the ABC, you were working as somebody who wrote features ...


... and produced features. What happened then in relation to that? Were you given an opportunity to lead then?

Yes, because I led in the sense that pioneered certain sorts of work. And then, when I was made Features Editor, all the incoming scripts were sent to me. And I had to either accept them or refuse them, or accept them with amendments, or talk to the writers and hold little seminars for writers. So again one sort of bogged up. Nothing to be proud of really, it just happened, you know.

And what happened when television was on the horizon?

Well it was, as it is today, full of hypocrisy. And not just the ABC but with general society and the commercials. They held numerous very expensive inquiries, the government. And the commercials promised the earth, you know -- we were going to do this and that and so on. And the ABC promised it would do everything and run television and radio together. And what irks one was that some of the arguments for having television were things like, 'Burma has it, and we must have it if Burma has it,' you know . It was virtually swallowed hook, line and sinker by government and ministers and people like that. 'Oh yes,' they said, 'we must have it.' Anyway, it was decided to have it, and there were huge commissions and there were all these applications, all from the commercials, all of which were gross overstatements, you know , but were accepted by the government. And then they said, as far as I was concerned, the ABC said, 'Would you like to go to Britain to learn a bit about television?' And I said, 'Yes, you bet.' And I went and I was there for about a year, and they had classes and practical work. Not nearly enough practical work, actually, a tremendous amount of theory, which I suppose is typical in a sense of the BBC approach. Even though it's so good, mostly, it does have this long-winded approach in terms of lectures and things like that. Anyway I went there and -- I'd previously been in 1948 to a series of seminars there about radio, and they had people from Burma, people from all over the world in fact, but it so happened that I was the most advanced one, you know , and I was sort of held up as an example to people from Burma, most of whom had very little English. It was very difficult for them -- it was nevertheless a very useful course, whereas the television course was, as I say, far too long on theory and not enough on practice. Partly, I think, due to lack of equipment. They were short at the time.

But the idea was that you would go over to England and learn about television so that you could bring this back to the rest of them?


And is that what you did?

Yes. I came back and, after all, a lot of it was on the run as far as I was concerned, or invented; I had to make up things. And it was a very good time, because we had about, I would say, a dozen of what we thought were the core people on programs. See, technical people did it absolutely separately. But we had the core program people and our headquarters was the little church hall in William Street near where the ABC used to be -- which is now I believe a National Trust hall. And like many of these pioneering activities we developed a very close rapport which was terrific, which of course vanished as it became huge and we went on air. But it was a great time and we did very intensive practical work. I felt that, which I thought was the most important thing. We would do all sorts of mock-ups and we made the experiments and, you know, used things just to get by. We had very little equipment and it was very adhoc, the whole situation.

And what was your initial real project for transmission?

Opening night, you mean? Oh, I did opening night, and it was far too ambitious actually, but I thought it would be a good idea to try to represent every aspect of ABC programming on the opening night. So there was a play, Oscar Wilde, one of his plays, and there was some pop music and there was a pseudo-documentary, a pseudo-outside broadcast ...

What do you mean by a pseudo-documentary?

Well, it wasn't really a proper documentary. It was just a little glimpse of fact woven round a couple of subjects and so on. There was Christian Ferras, the French violinist, playing a bit of Bach, there was a pseudo-outside telecast, done from the roof of the William Street building, roving over the city at night, most of which had previously been filmed. And there was -- we had Michael Charlton, I brought him back, he was doing the Test Cricket overseas. I brought him back to be the anchorman. And so it went on.

Now, Channel 9 was the first on air.

They were about a week ahead of us, they beat us by about a week. But they were not nearly as -- perhaps wisely -- ambitious as I had been.

So, what did you feel about being given the task of being the first person to put together and produce ABC television?

Well, you know , I was on a roll, because we'd done several little confined outside telecasts. We went to the Royal Show and the technicians were marvellous, they laid cable all over the Showground, and we did bits of the show in a studio at the Show, which was pretty, pretty, good. And we had, not only things about the Show, we had variety, dance and song, all these things. And we occupied the lower storey of what used to be called the Wine Pavilion, and we had a big problem because it was high summer, or hot at the time, and we suddenly became aware of this awful smell and it was all the oysters in the restaurant on top of us going bad. And they dissolved and ran down the wall, and we heard people coming with sprays of detergent -- not detergent, you know, stuff ...

Deodoriser ...

Deodorisers, and nothing worked. And then the Health Department came rushing with its experts and nothing worked. And here we were gasping downstairs, nearly dying of this terrible stench. And finally the Health Department said to the restaurant, 'You must close down.' So they did. But that was the big failure. Anyway, that was the first public broadcast telecast actually. Then we did another on a Saturday afternoon, which I wish we could have done again, for actual program, public programming. We did a Sydney Saturday afternoon on the harbour. And it was extremely ambitious, but it worked. We had one man on top of the arch of the Bridge, and we had one man on Shark Island at the other end, and we had the Opera House. I had a model of it, and I superimposed the model on where the Opera House would be, and that was the first glimpse that Sydney had had of what it would more or less look like. And we showed these great liners going up and down, people on launches and streamers, planes flying overhead and, you know, it was great. And it was a brilliant afternoon, it was a real Sydney summer afternoon. So that with that, and things ...

So, you'd been off at the BBC learning how to make television. You had to bring this back in order to get television started in Australia at the ABC. How did you go about that?

Well, so I came back more or less untrained and ready to improvise, and that's what we did. We were in this little church hall, this small band of core people from the various program departments, and we improvised for several months, and did quite a lot of work. And then we tried at some public broadcasts, limited ones. And we did one at the Showground, all through the Show, during the Easter Show. Then we did one of Sydney on Saturday afternoon, from the Bridge, having people all over the harbour and the Bridge and so on, which was a great success actually. And then opening night came and we did opening night.

And what happened, was opening night considered a success? What ...

Yes, although it was too elaborate. One could go into all the ingredients of it I suppose, or not.

But you felt that the opening night was ambitious ...


... but how was it received by the audience?

It was received pretty well, because almost anything that was on television screens was so new; everything was new in fact. It was received with curiosity, you know, a bit of criticism. 'There's the old ABC doing, playing a bit of Bach,' that sort of stuff. Very few people at that time had screens, and those who had screens had lots of trouble getting signals. So that you'd have people who came up to you and say, 'I saw a bit of your show.' And I'd say, 'What bit?' And they'd say, 'Well I'm not sure, it was very faint.' And that was it. There was a man in Canberra when I went down there later who said to me -- our representative in Canberra actually -- 'I can't get a signal, I just can't.' And I was staying with him, and later that evening I heard a huge shout, and he said, 'I've got it, I've got a signal, I've got a signal!' And I rushed in to have a look and there was a very faint amorphous sort of ghostly movement, which could have been ectoplasm or dough or anything at all.

And there weren't very many households that actually had a set anyway?

No, but by god, it came on quickly. The rate of television acquisition, I think I read somewhere, was faster in Australia than anywhere else in the world, even Burma.

People used to watch in shop windows, too, didn't they?

Yes, yes. In fact, that was, in many ways, much the best way to watch, because they got good signals. They had big aerials and things like that. And you'd see clumps in the city at night, you know, deserted streets and a shop window with a glow in it, and people would gather round and watch and watch and watch.

Did you feel the excitement of it all?

Yes, I did have reservations. I offended, as usual, Charles Moses, who was the General Manager and great man of the ABC. I was always having rows with him about things. But I offended him once because he misunderstood me when I said, 'Television is essentially a vulgar medium,' and by vulgar I didn't mean nasty or anything, I meant popular, a people's medium. And I think it's true to say it still is. It's basically vulgar, much more so than say Radio National, or something like that on the ABC. It's a medium which there are lots of things you don't want to watch. And I always knew that. But I think for certain things it is absolutely unsurpassed. It's wonderful.

Did you feel that at the time?

I think I did. I was very fond of outside telecasts. I did a lot of those myself, and television was terrific for getting you to the spot where it was happening and giving you the best seat if it was well done. Very, very good for things like royal visits and dawn services and lots and lots of things. Sport, of course.

The royal visits and dawn services were things that you had originally been seen to be good at when you first began on the Herald.


What kinds of things did you do as OBs, outside broadcasts?

Well, we did all sorts of things. I didn't do sport. The sports people did that.

You didn't do sport?

I did, I did it when I was training. I pretended to know about it and we went to Melbourne and we did an Australian Rules match and things like that. But I did various things, public occasions. And I very keen on going to places and showing things which I thought would be interesting, which weren't necessarily all occasions, you know. They were just interesting to go and see how something is made or I was, being keen myself on boats, I was very keen to show how a boat was built and at the shipyards, things like that. And we also pioneered certain things. I was able to persuade the Governor General, who was then Sir William Slim, the famous General of Burma -- once again -- and he was a martinet, but a terrific bloke. And luckily -- I went out to Government House to see him, and I said, 'How about me doing an interview with you in Government House? And Lady Slim.'' This had never been attempted -- let alone on TV -- with any Governor General, and he said, 'Well, I shall have to get Whitehall's approval or opinion.' So I said, 'Very well, sir.' And then a couple of weeks later he summoned me and announced, 'You're a very persuasive officer.' And I said, 'Thankyou, sir,' being the most unmilitary officer in the world. And we did a series of programs in Canberra of outside telecasts, one of which was an interview with him and his wife and that was a tragi-comedy, because he was very, very good. He spoke a lot and very freely. And I interviewed him in his study and there was the usual business of course of putting up lights and everything for this interview. And it went on quite well until suddenly, through the big window, I saw one of the technicians racing past; obviously there was some sort of terrible crisis. And I kept on with the interview and everything went black. And it turned out that some of the equipment had been on a telegraph pole and fallen off. And I thought he would go into a huge martinet's rage. But he didn't, he was very, very decent about it. I apologised and said, 'This is early days of television,' etc, and he said, 'Oh, yes, I can quite understand that, quite understand that.' He said, 'Of course, if I were running this, I would have had my men transfer, do away with that telegraph pole. It spoils the view.'

So on live broadcasts, quite often, the screen went to black for the people watching at home in those days?

Well, quite often. It was all live and very often I think being live gave an edge to it that otherwise it didn't have ... And I had this awful experience with Lady Slim that I was supposed to walk down the rose garden with her and inspect, while she talked about her love of roses. And we had, in those days of course, only microphone cord. And it was a long walk. And here was I towing this cord for about 100 yards, you know. And she had this awful little dog, which yapped and snapped at my ankles because our make-up lady had insisted on powdering it. It was already white and she'd upset it. And it was yapping and biting me. And finally I tried to kick it away without saying. And in kicking it away I got the cord between my legs and it began to saw at my genitals. And here was I making light conversation with Lady Slim and it was fairly gruesome.

You were working in television. Did you still do any radio?

Oh yes, but not much because I didn't have much time. But I always kept in touch with it, you know. And there were many times when I regretted later not doing more in radio. I did go back, but during television time I didn't do much.

And how long did your time in television last?

About three years, that was television alone. And then I was asked to apply for the job of Assistant Director of Talks and, fool that I was, I accepted, because Talks being the most controversial of Departments then, and I suppose now. It was a hideous job. We didn't have a strong board. We had a very -- I thought a very weak chairman ...

Who was that then?

Boy ...


Boyer. And he was an idealist, but not -- he didn't stick up for the staff. He wanted Talks to be, well, controversial, to tackle the main issues and all that, and at the same time he always apologised when there was a public criticism, and you know, it was no good. Anyway, I became the Assistant Director and the idea was -- this was one of many quarrels with Moses -- he said that everybody in ABC on the program side ought to be able to do both Talks and -- sorry -- both radio and television. And of course, there are a hell of a lot of people who're just not able to. Either couldn't or were not interested or whatever. Just like there are a lot of actors who got lost on the way to television because they weren't tall enough or they weren't you know thin enough or something. Anyway, I took the job and was interviewed by the Board as usual, beforehand, and the sort of idiocy that did occur should have been obvious when I was interviewed by the Board, because I was waiting in the ante-room and Betty Cook, who was Charles Moses' right hand and much more, they say -- she was a feared lady. Anyway, she came rushing out from the Board meeting and hissed in my ear, 'When you go in, don't cross your legs.' And I thought, 'Well, why not?,' but apparently it denoted too much ease ... Anyway, I didn't cross my legs and it was apparently a sort of formal situation, got the job, and after -- what was it -- two or three years, solely organising television and getting it moving on the program side, I went to Talks and took on radio and television. And, as I say, Talks was a very, very difficult job, and I had masses of memos all the time from head office saying, 'Why this? Why that? Why not this?.' And found myself snowed under with administration, which of course I should have foreseen. It was the same old story. You swear you'll keep in touch with programs and do them and at the same time you'll do your administration. But very, very difficult to do and very, very seldom achieved. Anyway I did keep in touch with programs, television and radio, and I did programs, made programs, and produced them and narrated them and all that. And finally, four years later, had a breakdown and was carried out of the ABC.

What kind of a breakdown?

Oh, I just collapsed. I was exhausted, and very, very frustrated, you know -- there were so many things one was expected to know all about and you were expected, for instance, to hear every program on the air by Talks. But there were masses of programs. All sorts of things, economics, about which I knew nothing and couldn't tell, and so on. And I frequently stood in for Alan Carmichael, who was the Director of Talks, when he took time off every now and then finding it a bit rough. And there we were. I just became overwhelmed and collapsed and of course I was drinking too, to keep going, and that didn't help.

You were drinking to keep going. Does drinking actually help you to keep going?

Well, it gave you a sort of a lift. Not a real one obviously, but a false lift, rather like, I suppose, not like heroin, but that sort of thing.

And so was your collapse physical or psychological?

Physical and psychological. I couldn't stop crying which was, you know, absurd, but I just couldn't. And I was shaking and trembling and a friend, Arthur Wyndham, said, 'This has got to stop. You've got to stop this and get out.' And he took me home. I just remember that, just about all I do remember of the final days. And the doctor said I had to be boarded out, so I was boarded out.

What does boarded out mean?

You went medically unfit, and it enabled you to have a pension.

What year was that?

'60, either late '59 or '60.

And how did you feel about this happening?

Well, I was pretty numb for awhile. The doctor had me in bed for quite a long time, and I think I was sedated and all that. And I felt that, apart from feeling numb, I felt rather relieved in a way that I no longer had to read or write memos. There were so many of them, you've no idea. Piles like that on the desk, and four phones, people ringing up all the time about my memo. Absolutely appalling.

Did it occur to you that you might have, before it came to the point of collapse, gone and asked to be relieved of this work?

No, not really, because I would have had to come back to it I presume, if it was a relief, you know.

But I mean if you'd said, 'I don't want to be an administrator any more. Can I go back to program-making?''

Well that's what, in effect, I did as a freelancer, which was, you know, rejuvenation. I felt 10 years younger, and people told me I stopped looking yellow and grey and I had a slight spring in my step again. And it was like a holiday.

During the time that you were involved in this administrative position, what was the most controversial thing that you had to deal with? What kinds of things did the top people send you memos about?

I suppose essentially the most important thing -- or not most important, but the most prevalent topic -- was balance. That was the watchword from on top. And that was what Boyer was always talking about. And he was very conservative. I think a very nice man essentially, a grazier, an idealist, who made a broadcast before I was there, to the whole of Australia, asking us to pull together, etc. And I used to meet him occasionally at parties that the Board put on for various people and he was difficult to talk to because I felt as though I was talking to somebody who was so easily distressed. If you used the word communism, for instance, oh, he'd flinch. Once he said to me, 'What would you do if you were invited to go to Russia, MacCallum?' And I said, 'I would go to Russia.' And he said, 'What would you write? How could you write anything?' And I said, 'I'd write down what I saw and try to make it clear that I was trying to be objective,' and so on. And I said again, 'Why else would I go, really.' And he literally shuddered. And you often read about people shuddering in novels, but not often in real life. And not often big hefty graziers, you know.

Was the concern only about political things or was there also a social conservatism about what you were broadcasting?

Well, I don't think it was so much social, we did lots of programs about people and their occupations and it had a pretty wide scope, Talks. And of course, the Boyer Lectures later were established and they were about social matters primarily, and so on. But Moses deferred to him, though to no-one else. And Moses himself, he was pretty conservative. And admittedly, he did have to run the place and meet half the objections first before he sent them on to me. But I just felt that the Board and, well, the hierarchy was not in touch with what they were asking us to do.

Did you feel worried at all that those beneath you would resent you the way you'd resented the bureaucrats when you were in that role?

Well, there were a couple who did, because they had applied for the job. And they were older than me and they'd been in Talks for a long time, and they did, yes. And there were ego clashes, you know, every now and then there'd be squabbles among the staff. It was absolutely -- on top of everything else, it was absolutely infuriating.

And did you find that it was easy for you to take criticism, or did you feel sensitive to criticism as a manager?

Well, I think it was pretty easy to take criticism about work and what I did. But I did resent the sort of criticism we were getting from Boyer, that sort of criticism. But I think I was reasonably open to criticism, yes.

So, after you recovered from your breakdown, you came back and started working on contract as a freelance ...

Not on contract, simply as a freelancer. And it was 100 per cent better, and I was able -- I did -- was asked to take part in quite a lot of television programs, and programs on television about the arts and things like that. But I returned to my old love, radio features and drama. And that's what, in many ways [is] to me the most important writing I've done.

So what are some of the highlights of that for you?

Well, I suppose the highlight had to be I won the AWGIE for the ...

... That's the Australian Writers' Guild Award.

Yes. For the best script in any medium of the year. And that was -- well it chuffed me quite a bit.

What was that for?

It was for a program called Stone Bloody Henge, and well I can't go into it now, it was quite a complicated thing. But it was four separate scripts, broadcast one after another. All self-contained and all part of each other.

And about what?

Well, it's difficult -- it was basically about an old pioneer grazier family who lived in Stonehenge. They called their property Stonehenge because it was all stony, and the break up of the family. The sons came to the city, one became a very fashionable architect, the other had a limp, was born with a club foot, and his father despised that. He was that sort of father, you know, a very tough rough old father. And the son's gradual awakening. He insulated himself because he felt his father despised him. He went into advertising, insulated himself against emotion, met this very enigmatic, exotic Hungarian girl, woman, who was a painter, and became absolutely obsessed with her, and -- well, the story went on from there.

And you drew very much on yourself to write this story?

It was on myself only to the extent that I felt I wanted to include a European woman and I wanted to include painting in some form or another, and I used -- well it was imaginary the whole thing -- but I used places I knew, such as old country homesteads and the Australian art, things like that.

But also it was about somebody who was emotionally fairly insulated?

Yes, yes, he was insulated until he met this girl -- but I didn't have the sense or intention of making it a portrait of myself.

What happened to your marriage during this time?

Well, it continued to have its ups and downs, mainly its downs, which were mainly due to me. And again, I got very caught up in other things, which Diana was not particularly interested in, such as she was interested in antiques, she played very high-skilled Bridge. We both had books in common, we were both mad readers. But it was simply that I think I was such a bad husband really, you know. And things went on until 1960, which was just after I'd left the ABC. And I'd made a lot of new friends whom she didn't like, a lot of painters and people like that.

Why didn't she like them?

I think it was partly because her family conservatism was beginning to show. Something like that. I don't know.

Did she think that -- I mean, did you drink with them and so on? Did she think they were a bad influence on you?

I don't think that. I think she felt more I was a bad influence on them. I frequented lots of the new little galleries and all that sort of thing, bought some pictures which she didn't like, except for one. And also I think that a lot of these people were uncouth, and she thought they were, you know, pretty, pretty off, a lot of them.

And so your marriage broke up and you had the collapse at work all around about the same time?

Yes, yes.

Were they interrelated, do you think?

I suppose they were up to a point, yes, yes. But I didn't sort of officially feel that.

So you now had a new arrangement with your work at the ABC, which took you really through the '60s?

Ah, yes.

And you also had now left your marriage?


What were the '60s like for you? What are your memories of that?

Pretty frightful. Apart from work. Because I realised, as never before, how much I relied on other people. And I was not used to living a more or less roving life from pillar to post and all that. I was used to taking meals, and their preparation, for granted. All that sort of awful male thing, and all my life, you know, I'd had somebody who automatically did it. And now I didn't.

So you had to look after yourself. How did you get on with that?

Well, not too well. People were very kind actually. I lived with various people and they made me meals and things like that. I sometimes helped with the rent and so on. But I felt very insecure and I -- well I realised just how much I relied on other people.

Your son Mungo had grown up by this stage?

Ah, yes. He would be about 20.

And how was your relationship with him in adulthood?

Off and on. He had the thing, as most young men do, that he wanted to take up where dad had left off, you know . And he'd had a very good Higher School Certificate pass, and he went to university, and then he got a job, he got two or three part-time off-jobs. One was cutting clippings on the ABC and all that, which I didn't help him get. He got it for himself. But then he got on to The Australian and did very well indeed. But for that reason partly we didn't see much of each other, and also then he was sent to Canberra which, unlike me, he thought was terrific, you know, he loved it. And he was there for about 20 years. And that's where he made his reputation.

And did you feel proud of him then?

Well, I felt glad he was not stupid, you know. I didn't say to myself, 'My god, father of a wonderful son!'

So -- but for you personally, the '60s was a very difficult time?


And when you say you were sort of alone and a bit lost and finding it hard to take care of yourself at a personal level, how did this express itself in terms of your behaviour?

Well, I think I behaved much the same as before, with the exception, wonderful exception, that I didn't have to bother about memos. I was still well, writing well, writing better in fact, as witness the AWGIE. And I was much in demand for radio and for television and for programs like Any Questions, which was quite fun. No problem to do. And programs on the arts. And both presenting and chairing programs on the arts and books and things on television and radio. So it was, you know, pretty good. I enjoyed myself very much. And there was never a problem, it never was difficult, and the Drama and Features Department in radio gave me a free hand virtually, and said, 'You write what you like and submit it and we'll probably accept it.' And the same with television, you know, with subject matter of various talks and things, it was the same.

But you said the '60s was actually no good for you. What do you mean by that?

Well, I mean in terms of the way I lived. I was used to stable households for the whole of my life and meals appearing at the right time.

Do you think it's rather difficult to be a true bohemian without a stable household somewhere?

Yes, might be so, although most bohemians are supposed to live from hand to mouth, aren't they? They don't have mums in the background.

But when you were living from hand to mouth, you didn't enjoy it that much?

No. But I don't regard myself as a bohemian, except in certain temperamental ways, but not in physical ways, not at all.

And so how did this end for you?

I was invited to judge films at the West Australian Festival. And I flew over, got off the plane, was greeted by Polly who was then the public relations officer for the festival, and we ended up in bed that night and, you know, it's never stopped. I stayed for -- instead of staying for a week, I stayed for three weeks, and came back and we corresponded and she said, 'What about my coming over?,' and three weeks passed and she came. And we lived together for a while and then partly for my, by then, very ancient, mother's sake, and partly for her daughter's sake, we agreed to get married formally. Which we did.

What year was that?

A few weeks ago, it was 25 years ago, which have gone like a flash in many ways. But I can't remember the exact date. She can.

And this actually transformed your life?

Well, yes. I was stable, and I was reasonably content, as content as one can be I suppose. And I was very fond of her and she of me and here we are.

And what sort of changes took place in your professional life at this time?

I don't think any.

You just continued in the same way freelancing?

Freelance, yes ... People were a bit pessimistic, not pessimistic, but they warned me. They said, you know, 'You've only known this woman for two weeks, three weeks, it's ridiculous.' And I said, 'We're both old enough to know, pretty well.'

Has writing always been an important element in your life?

Oh yes, yes.

Could you tell me when it began?

Well, I suppose when I was at preparatory school, I used to write for our little school magazine, and then I was editor of The Sydneyian, which was the Sydney Grammar journal. And then at university I did quite a lot of writing and wrote ...

Did you write for Honi?

A bit, a little bit. I wrote things like -- well for myself I wrote -- I was very much taken up with people like Ernest Hemingway, and I tried to write like Ernest for a while. And I wrote the College Revue and all that sort of stuff. And then of course on the Herald, one did write, yes. But it was different.

In that developing writing during your childhood and youth, what were the main characteristics of your writing?

I would think probably imitation. I think, as they are with most boy or girl writers, I was very taken with certain writers. And they would vary as I grew up of course, and at one stage I was mad about a book for boys of, I suppose, about 11 about British Sea Scouts and their adventures. They were great sailors, they were boat and yachtsman, and because I was too -- I was a boatman, not a yachtsman -- I got very much involved. They sucked me in, you know. And I think things vary from time to time as you meet some approximation of it in your life, you are interested in writing or reading, certainly, books about or little bits about various things that happen.

Did your writing help you make sense of what was going on around you?

I don't know. I don't know whether it really connected or not. I mean obviously it wasn't very good writing, but I came across some cuttings recently at which I was amazed at how early they were. They'd been published, and these were short stories, but by that time of course I was well into my teens. And they were there. I'd completely forgotten about those, so they obviously weren't very important to me.

So getting published didn't matter so much as writing?

At the time it did. It was terrific, you know. I went around very proudly.

When you started writing professionally as a journalist, how did that relate to your private writing? Did you continue to write privately?

Yes, yes. It had virtually no relation, except in so far as there was a slight overlap between what was called my mood writing assignations -- my mood pieces as they were called -- and perhaps the fiction that I was writing in short stories. They were both allied, I suppose, to a feeling of romance in some way, a romanticism.

Was your fiction published at that time?

Yes. It was short stories -- I wrote quite a bit of poetry then too, and some of that was published in things like the Sydney Mail, which was a branch of the Sydney Morning Herald. A very, very, very dreary periodical, but it published poetry.

Were you pleased with your poetry?

I don't think people, or very seldom do people, really get pleased with what they do, creative people. Put it this way, they tried something and they know like everything it has to be imperfect, and I've always felt what I think most people have.

Do you think you've felt it more acutely than most? Have you been ...

Yes, I think so, judging by what other people say. It's like this business of having to write things down with my hand rather than put them straight on to the typewriter. It's a sort of nitpicking feeling, you know, that one feels about one's work. Nothing is ever perfect.

Do you feel that about yourself too?

Oh yes, yes.

So, you've been sometimes found to be a person who could find fault with other people. You don't find much difficulty finding fault with yourself as well.

No, none whatsoever. It's the easiest thing in the world.

With your writing you were saying that you have a way of looking at things which sometimes glances onto something and it's hard to capture it, and your writing is a way of pinning it onto paper?


Could you tell, in the course of your life ... I mean, just perhaps talk a little bit about the way your writing evolved through the various stages, and how you feel about it in retrospect, looking back at how it worked for you in the course of your life, what your writing meant to you?

Well, firstly I suppose it was private, it was a way of expressing something private to yourself, even though you were chuffed if it was published, but it's primarily private. Then one's technique improved. I was always very interested and very much involved in how people said or wrote things, let alone how they painted them or made films or whatever, you know. And I was always very much involved in shape, in form, and I think that form, or the purposeful lack of it, is absolutely vital. It's a very conscious thing as far as I'm concerned. I don't really usually much like these people who -- or I don't admire them -- who say, 'Oh, it just rolls out of me.' Usually I've found what rolls out ... and one my best friends who practiced this -- I won't name him -- and he used to just [say] it poured out of him, and my god it looked like it, you know, it seemed like it. It was very superficial, full of cliches, and banal.

And you won't name him?

No, I don't think it's fair. I'll tell you this, he's dead. I'll also tell you this -- his wife was a much better writer than he. So puzzle over that. Anyway that sort of writing is not for me. If you are lucky enough to have a run and to be going well, okay, go with it. But look at it next day very carefully I think.

And your first novel, when was that published?

It would have been in the '50s, I would think, yeah.

You wrote it after the war?

Yes, yes, yes.

And what was that called?

A Voyage In Love. Some people thought Love was a sailing ship or something, but it wasn't.

And were you -- how was that received?

Quite well. In fact, people like Ken Slessor, the poet and guru at that stage, said that it was the first novel he'd read which took the city and being in it for granted. Which was, from him, very high praise, you know.

And you wrote another novel after that, didn't you?

Yes. Son of Mars. I couldn't think of the name of it at first. But that was much more elaborate and people liked it. It had very good reviews. I don't like either of them now. if I look at them, which I very seldom do.

And you didn't continue as a novelist and felt much more at home writing for radio? Why do you think that was?

I don't know. It was partly because I -- radio, episodic radio, like episodic film, thinks -- it's more like the way I think, with the flits and quick changes of scene. And of course, you can do things which you have to describe in writing, and on radio you don't describe what you're doing, it happens. And I like to see , well, I used to call it the fourth dimension of features and drama in radio, that you can do things which are magical virtually.

With sound?

Yes, yes.

As a young man were you interested in film?

Yes, but the films -- it depends how young you mean. [When] I was very young I thought the film scene was pretty awful, although we hear now about how wonderful we were in those days, and we have festivals of people on horses and so on. But I suppose it reflected the society to some extent, truly. But then a bit later it seemed to me -- well it did fade off a lot ... filmmaking [INTERRUPTION]

Radio was very important in your life. Can you remember when you first heard it?

Yes, as a child, and we listened to commercial stations because it was before the ABC had started, and we had awful racist things like the Honourable Archie and his Japanese servant Wong and, you know, they parodied a Japanese accent and so on, and Inspector somebody who used to say, 'Just the facts, man.' And 'Take him away' at the end.

And that was quite important in your childhood to listen to radio?

Yes, I suppose it was. We had a lot of gramophone records as well, which left a much more lasting impression, much, much more. They were the beginnings of music as far as I was concerned.

Tell me about music in your childhood, both listening to it and playing it?

Well, it was, as with many families, a family affair. I was supposed to be possibly talented at the piano and I thumped things out, and had a few music lessons, and we would quite often gather on Sunday evenings and sing American songs like Camptown Races and so on. And mother would sing a thing called O Love Dear Love Be True in her sweet soprano, mezzo soprano. And as Margaret and Duncan were born and George, they all joined in. I had my orchestra. That was when I was about four and I'd read about orchestras and the conductors, and in those days there were cigarettes called de Reszke and he was the famous singer, de Reszke, and he was on the packet in his formal drag, you know. White tie, waistcoat, tails, and he inflamed my imagination. And so we were the family orchestra for a while, which was absolute torture for the grown-ups because there was no question of music, it was just making noise. I wore a monocle, a curtain rod, like de Reszke and so on. And then we progressed a bit and we had these American song books and things like that, and then we had Beethoven and Mozart and so on, and then I had lessons from Cossington Smith. But at one point Father had composed a thing called Triumphus Romanorum, A Roman Triumph, which of course would be unthinkable nowadays. I remember my brother wanted to get it published round about the '60s and I dissuaded him, because it was about a Roman triumph, the return of a triumphant Roman General with all the slaves and the paraphernalia, through the streets of Rome. And I was supposed to set this to music, which I thought I did, but of course I didn't. All I did was bang chords and they sang along, you know. But then went one to more, well to proper music, records, Paul Robeson for one, lots of Rachmaninov -- he influenced me enormously because he was so passionate. I used to think of myself as growing up to be passionate like Rachmaninov. We had a lot of records for that time and they were played on a little gramophone like they made in those days. No hi fi or anything like that, with cane needles, and you had a cane cutter that put new points on the needle after each record. And they were supposed to give a warm tone, a warmer tone than steel needles. But what happened was they always got very blunt very quickly and they'd just skid off the record. So that was music in the younger days.

And what about painting? What role did this have in your life?

Well, quite considerable, because apart from anything one did in town or on Point Piper, there were the summer holidays. We used to go to a little village called Rydal, which was quite near Bathurst, and the train journey there itself was quite an adventure because we used to travel as a whole family with Nanna and mountains of luggage; you've no idea how much luggage there was in retrospect. And we'd arrive there. We went there for several weeks every year and I went out every day and painted the bush, trees and things, and I was a so-called romantic painter and I followed painters who are now forgotten more or less, who painted rather fuzzy watercolours, you know. And mine were very fuzzy, and very watery and when I took them indoors out of the sun, they were just terrible looking dark blobs, you know. So that was my main painting milieu when I was a child.

And as you grew, did painting play a part in your life?

Yes it did, it produced a ridiculous situation, I got involved in a police case and this was quite late, much later, when we were living in Paddington. I did a lot of sketching in between things, just offhand, you know, because I refused, as with music, to take painting and music seriously for myself, because I considered that they were full-time or not at all, and if you did bits you must think of them as bits, no more. And these collections of sketches were left lying around in various places when I parted from my wife, and I lost one. And the next thing I knew was a man ringing me up who wouldn't say who he was, asking me if I would sign some of these sketches. And I, like a fool, said, 'No, I don't even want to see them,' because he sounded crooked. And the next thing was the police arrived saying that Herman, whom I knew and whom I'd made television programs with, had disowned some sketches which the accused person had signed in his name, and which he'd asked him to sign more of. And they were my sketches. And he'd stolen them from one of these houses and put Herman's name on them, which was a most absurd thing to do because they were nothing like Herman. And then the police came to see me --that was the first I knew about it -- saying, 'What about these sketches that you've put Herman's name on?'

They were accusing you?

Yes. And well I succeeded in saying I hadn't and then we had a big police court case. And it took up such a lot of time, this absurd thing. And at the end of it, even though the fellow was guilty and found guilty, he was let off with a caution. So there we are. That's what painting did.

But was it important to you in expressing things that you felt about the world around you?

Ah, not as important as writing. But very important. Not as important as music, although I didn't really ever compose music. No, it was strictly -- really from the start, I think, you would say it was strictly a part-time thing and no more.

Can I ask you now about your brothers and sisters, and the family. Who were your brothers and sisters and what became of each of them?

Well, the first one was my sister Margaret. She was very clever, she did very well at school. She took after, in looks but not temperament, thank god, her German grandmother. She had this round blondeness that you often see in German women, northern German women. And, as I say, she was clever, she went to SCEGGS in Darlinghurst and she became dux of the school. And then she got a job, long before I did, with the ABC Weekly, which at that stage, they put out every week and filled with radio programs and articles. And then she had a few affairs which I knew about but Mother didn't. And Mother would have been very upset. Then she went to England, she made the pilgrimage and spent virtually the rest of her adult life there, on the BBC, and had a boyfriend, -- he was not a boy any more than she was a girl by then -- but it was virtually a life-long affair. And he wanted to marry her but his wife wouldn't give him a divorce. And so it went on. And one day -- this was years and years later -- she had made an appointment to see him at a place where they normally met, and had coffee and stuff. She went there and waited and waited. He didn't turn up. And she was frantic. She thought some terrible accident had occurred and then she thought, 'Oh no, he's ditched me at last,' or something. And he was dead. And somebody, a common acquaintance, told her and she was absolutely devastated because she hadn't gone to the funeral, she wouldn't have been welcome anyway with the wife, and she felt very, very alone suddenly, because she had lots of friends, but he had been the light of her life for so long. And then she came back here, and by now she was, you know, in her 50s or somewhere. And she was -- I was shocked when I saw her because she was more or less a travesty of what she'd once been. And she didn't feel at home, because she'd spent so long in Britain and all her friends, virtually, had either grown up or died or gone away. And she just felt absolutely rootless. No home here, no home in Britain any more. And she started drinking, same old pattern. And lived for a while in units, and then my other brother died, and she moved in to live with Mother, and shortly after that died.

And what did she die of?

I think probably heart and alcoholism. I don't know. But you know, it was difficult, I tried to -- I couldn't obviously -- I was in no position to talk to her angrily or anything like that. And Mother didn't. She was very upset by it of course but I did try to persuade her, you know, I said it's so much worse for women who drink than it is for men; even though it's so unfair, it is worse. People think worse of them. And she agreed, but it didn't stop her.

And what about your other brother?

Well, the one after Margaret was Duncan and he was a beautiful child, and again a very clever child and won lots of medals and was on the honour board at Grammar, replacing the gap left by me. And he was in the war as a member of Alfred Conlon's unit, a specialist unit. He was in no condition to do physical things, because all through his youth he had had this illness and he had a very bad physical life. He was almost invariably in pain and so on and so on. And then after the war he went to university and became a lecturer and specialised in economic history of Australia. And had more and more illnesses. And didn't ever leave home. And I think became extremely eccentric. He was regarded at the university as a lovable eccentric. And that's what various academics who've written books have written, described him as. And no doubt he was, I know he had enormously warm influence with people and he was very generous to people without saying anything about it, you know, giving them money. And then he, as I say, got iller and iller and died.

And ...

Never married, had a, you know, I think a rotten life. And, as I say, a lovable eccentric, but very difficult to life with. And he and I just didn't get on.

Did he take over the controlling of the household that your grandmother had ...

Yes, yes. He'd inherited that Germanic thing, and that made it very difficult and he was always telling me about my lack of responsibility. And one couldn't answer him back, you know, ruthlessly because I felt so sorry for him. But he used to infuriate me.

What happened to baby George?

Baby George was the one who died very early, but who potentially was a bright star, as a person. He was the happiest and most radiant person I've ever known. Everybody adored him. And he was totally unspoilt, and he again got his name on the honour board. And then went to university. He wanted to be a doctor, and they wanted, he and his friends wanted, to found what at that time would have been the first group practice. Each doctor specialising in something different. And he went through university, did very well, graduated and with five other friends, all of whom had just graduated in medicine, decided to take a break before enlisting because it was the middle of the war. And so they hired a launch and set off up the coast for Broken Bay where they were going to camp and fish and so on. And the launch ran into a storm, broke up and they all drowned, except for one -- the only one who couldn't swim, they gave the single life belt onto, and he by a million-to-one chance, drifted across the searchlight from the bows of a fishing trawler in this huge storm, unconscious with a broken leg and on the life belt. And they picked him up and he was saved.

Was your brother ever found?

No. We searched, actually even though it was war time and there were lots of people being killed and so on, it was a big event, the loss of these doctors and so on. And I got leave and came up and hordes of people, the army, the navy, everybody, police, friends, students, so on, all searched. We hired boats and launches and absolutely scoured every inch of Broken Bay and the ocean. And nothing was found for weeks and months and months, and then finally a plank, which was identified as the Robin May plank -- Robin May was the name of the launch -- was found drifting up on Lion Island in the middle of Broken Bay. And that was it.

There was all this tragedy in your family.

Well, yes, and this is the point that as of Father's death, when she was 51, Mother had a century, literally, half a century of widowhood, and never once complained. And I know she was offered in marriage, offered marriage by somebody. She refused, and I think she refused for the sake of the family, because by then we were still you know around, or most of us. And quite young.

And so she buried three of her children?


And was left with you?


Did you feel a big responsibility to her?

Well yes, in the sense that it was very -- well, it was something that had to be done, and she'd lived in that house all her life for 70-odd years. And we didn't want to move her, and I didn't think she wanted to move. And by that time I'd just got married to Polly, you see, and if Polly had -- if I'd known this was how things were going to work out, I would have felt extremely diffident about asking Polly to marry me, because she, as much as me, more than me really, had to take on Mother. And so we moved in -- having found a little house of our own, we had to leave, rent it to somebody else, and we moved in and naturally, even with nurses every morning and all that, Mother needed a fair amount of looking after. And more and more and more everything started to go wrong with her body, though not with her mind, and she kept on saying to us, 'Put me into a nursing home,' and I'd say, 'Well, no, we won't.' Finally we had to. And there she was until 101.

With all three of your younger siblings dying, did you ever wonder why you were the one that was spared?

Yes, yes. I did.

Especially George?

Especially George, yes.

You said something to your mother about that, didn't you?

Yes. I said it should have been me.

Did you feel that?

I did really, but not continuously. But quite a lot, quite a lot. But when I think of what was lost in him, you know, he was such a wonderful person.

Can I ask you now about when you were child and your father used to make things and do things for you. Could you tell me a little bit about some of the things that he made for you and the way he used to encourage you to develop your talent, and the things that he engaged in with play with you?

Well, as I say, we were not what you'd call very articulate with each other and he built things for me. He was pretty rough, but a good carpenter, you know. And he made a magic lantern for instance. And we had a willow tree in a corner of the garden and one day he went down to the beach for a swim, up and down the beach, every day, morning and winter. This was before he had his hand and everything. And he came up to us one day with a bottle and an old piece of paper and said, 'Look what I've found.' And it turned out that he had found a pirate's message, which said, 'Look for the gold. Look for the silver beneath the tree in the house, beneath the sad tree in the house of the laughing children.' And we thought, 'Goodness, gracious,' and suddenly he said, 'I know where the weeping tree is, the willow, the weeping willow.' So we rushed down there and dug it up and sure enough, there were these silver pieces, which each of us had. And that sort of thing he was very good at, you know. And then he made me huge piles of trains when I was a small child, wooden trains to tug around everywhere and infuriate everybody, because they made such a clatter. And he bought all our gramophone records. He made this boat. He had a great friend called Simpson, who in a way was rather like him. He came of an establishment and they'd all been judges, his people, and they made him do law, which of course a lot of boys were made to do against their will. And even now. And he shared chambers when he was a barrister with Claude Simpson. And they both nattered on to each other a lot. I only went there once but it had revolving chairs which squeaked, it had walls full of dusty books, it was in Phillip Street, in a little terrace house, Phillip Street being very different in those days from now. And it was a typical Dickensian lawyers' chambers, you know. But he and Claude Simpson used to do things together occasionally, and they contrived this boat, this canvas boat which collapsed and which opened out, and it was soaked in linseed oil to keep the water out. And it stank of linseed oil. And we would take it down to the beach, you know, wobble around in it. It was the first of my boats.

Mungo, the water, Sydney Harbour, has played a very big part in your life, in your fantasy, hasn't it? Could you tell me where that began and how it developed?

Well, it really began almost as a baby, because we were so close to the beach. And dad went down every day to swim there, and we took to going with him. We learned to swim very early and the water held no fears for us. There was no problem. And then he gave us a canvas boat, and then after that I graduated to a little rowing boat, dinghy, and then to my first sailing boat, and then to a -- well, a specially built boat, and we used to go out on Saturdays and have friends from school as crew and so on. And we'd go sailing virtually all day. We raced a bit occasionally, but it was mainly the sailing itself that we liked. And frequently we capsized, as did many other boats then. They were far less easily uprightable. And they had to be towed to the nearest shore, and then righted and bailed out. And I remember one day we did this, beautiful summer's day, a sparkling brilliant day, and a strong nor' easter and we capsized and we drifted in, because we were quite close to a little beach on the end of Darling Point which juts out into the south part of the harbour. And beyond this little beach there was this lovely green land and at the end of it, there was this little stone castle, baby castle. And on the lawn in front of the castle was this gay fashionable crowd exchanging banter and tea and cocktails and things. Anyway, from the crowd came a man and he strolled, very dignified, who looked like an ancient Roman statue, dressed in very well-tailored modern clothes. And it was Lord Beauchamp, who had once been governor, a very controversial governor, because of his private tastes and so on. And ...

What private tastes?

Well, he was alleged to like 'rough trade,' as we say. And he'd come back after ending his governorship, from England, partly because (apparently) of his social inclinations and they were not happy about them in England at that stage. And here was this very statuesque, rather beautiful man, and he stood looking down on us, three little, we were all little-ish boys, soaking wet and shivering, righting this boat. And he said one word after a while. He said, 'Yes.' And strolled away. And the next thing we knew was a splendid English butler came walking very proudly, holding this huge silver tray in front of his impeccably attired formal butler's clothes, and the tray was loaded with cucumber sandwiches and silver teapots full of tea and cups. And he said, 'My master sent me.' And we thanked him, and -- we were freezing cold -- gobbled all the sandwiches and drank all the tea and when he came back, I allowed one of my fantasies to obtrude, because at that time I was crazy about PG Wodehouse, the comic English writer, and he wrote about lords and country houses and gentlemen's gentlemen and all that sort of stuff. And so I piped up to the butler, 'Please thank your master.' And he gave a slight smile and bowed and retreated, and we got away on the boat. So that was one oddity that happened on the harbour.

Can I take you forward in time now? During the war, did you go overseas at all on behalf of Salt?

Yes, I was anxious to get away into the army, as it were, and I went first to New Guinea, and then I decided that I would try and dissolve for a while, disappear in terms of my own headquarters, and I was wearing a safari suit, and I went to the soldiers' store and they hadn't anything -- yes, they had ordinary battle-dress. So I put that on and talked my way onto an American aeroplane and they flew me to Hong Kong -- no, to the Philippines first, and there I had a cup of what they said was their wonderful Java coffee, which I found awful, and flew on from the Philippines to Hong Kong. And when I was there I thought -- there were masses of troops and things, English troops, and I thought I could change and become an English major, which I was in Australian terms as well, a major. So I went to their store and spun some story about how I needed a heavier uniform, and so they gave me an English Royal Marines uniform, a dark blue one. And, you know, everybody seemed to accept me with no trouble and I was never asked for any identification. And I went to their Mess and ate with them, wandered around. I was writing articles meanwhile for Salt and so on. And then I got onto a British cruiser and we steamed up to Shanghai. And I didn't like Shanghai, it was a pretty -- well it was a filthy town in many ways. And one understood its reputation, but there was no problem either, because they accepted me, just as a Royal Marine Major. And then I got onto an English plane, because I wanted to go west for a while, to India and so on. And this plane was absolutely chockablock with French soldiers and some dancing girls from an army entertainment unit, and everywhere were notices saying don't smoke, don't smoke, in French and English. And immediately they got on, these French soldiers all lit up their [Sweet] Caporals and stuff like that. And the atmosphere was absolutely awful, because the plane stank of all the fuel that was on, and then all these Caporals and it was pretty gruesome. So we flew over the hump, which was the great range of mountains between India and China, and we landed at Calcutta with just enough fuel. It was considered a very dangerous flight to take, and it was the only way to do it at that time. And in Calcutta I wrote some more articles. I didn't send them, I just kept them all, and there again, there was no problem. I just became part of the British Army in Calcutta. And then I was able to get onto another plane, a rather less risky one this time, and I went to Burma, to Rangoon, and did a lot of sketching there and so on. And I remember I was accepted, but some people knew, and yet accepted, because we were housed in a huge officers' dormitory and they didn't have mosquito nets, which was a fatal thing in Burma. And I was wide awake at about two o'clock, beating off these mosquitos, and there was a little group of English officers at the other end of the room, and they heard me. I said, 'Christ,' because they wouldn't shut up, and also because of the mosquitos. And one of them said to the others, 'There's an Australian bloke over there. He's quite a good bloke, let's get him to join us.' So I got up and we drank beer all night, and they knew I was an Australian, but nobody said anything. And then I flew back home and developed malaria.

So you really travelled all around the east unauthorised, impersonating a British officer ...

No, it wasn't impersonating, I just wore the uniforms of a British officer. But I didn't ever -- you know, I didn't ever lie. Nobody ever asked me my name. And how these blokes in the ward knew that I was Australian, I can't remember. But nobody ever, you know, raised any objections.

And none of your superior officers knew that you were even there?

Well, apparently not, no. I was never asked for my identity card or my disc or anything like that.

And back home in Australia, they didn't know?

Well, I told my staff, of course, when I got back.

But none of the top brass knew?

No, no, no.

So this was rather of an escapade. Why did you actually do it?

Well, I wanted to get into the field a bit, and I wanted to travel a bit for the sake of getting some stuff from overseas, which was our own, as opposed to stuff which agencies and so on sent.

Would you have been in deep trouble if you'd been caught?


Did you know that?

Well, it somehow didn't seem important, and one just -- I didn't worry about it at all, no. But I assume I would have been either very severely reprimanded or maybe even, you know, court-martialled for desertion or something.

Now, can we fast-forward until the present time, and I just wanted to ask you -- in the last several years of your life, you've had a certain amount of peace and stability with your second marriage to Polly. What have been the main events of the last 20 years?

Well, the main events I suppose -- one has to be a main event, and that is stopping smoking four years ago. Because I'd been smoking 60 years, up to 40 cigarettes a day. And everybody else was stopping, and I didn't want to stop a bit, but I thought maybe I'd better. So I went to Smokenders, which is a pretty efficient outfit. I probably wouldn't have stopped if they hadn't been holding sessions in the local hotel. All we had to do was just go five minutes. And they were efficient. They had a lot of American bullshit, you know, the highest things and transcendence and so on, and nevertheless they were very capable. They gradually got us off it and, again, I wouldn't have been able to do it without being in the group. There were 12 of us, all much younger than me. And this gradual withdrawal, and one felt that one had to do the things that we were supposed to do, namely stop smoking, do this and that. And I just couldn't have done it without the group, even though I'm not a joiner and hate joining groups, you know. But nevertheless it worked. It was agonising and I still feel it, still feel the need four years afterwards. But it saved me an enormous amount of money. And of course, one of my physicians said that I must have enormously strong genes to have been able to go through 60 years of 40 cigarettes a day.

Had it done any harm to your lung?



I have some emphysema and I have a lot of bronchitis, and as you can hear now, the voice is very hoarse and rough, and also I suddenly lost my voice and my metabolism changed and so on and so on, and I developed what they call a lungus longus, which is from smoking, but it didn't show until quite recently. Your lungs force their way down, and that gives you a little pot, which you can't do anything about.

And has giving up smoking improved your health?

I think so. I think so. And that leads one to another very important thing, that was of course my marriage to Polly, because if I hadn't found her, I'm sure I wouldn't have been here now. And I mean I didn't stop drinking or anything like that, but I think she stabilised me enormously and I owe her a great debt.

What drew you to her?

I don't know, it was simply that -- well I liked her enormously, you know. And I'm not sure about this thing called love, because it's always -- when I was younger I thought love was something very romantic and it was the sort of stuff that sloshy novels are made of, but nevertheless it was a real romantic thing. And then I thought to myself, 'This is ridiculous. It is not, because it goes wrong so often.' And it's not a lifelong commitment or anything. So then I came round to the idea that it was primarily a close and sympathetic comradeship. And I've always had this problem of being sceptical or romantic at the same time. And that's why I think I came to her, because she was a great comrade, and we were not sure at first, you know. But we were very close. And when I came back, she wrote, I wrote, and she came over.

Your attitude to women throughout your life. What part have women played in forming who you are and how ...

... A lot ...

... do you think about women?

Well, that's how they've played their part I think. Again, I veered between the romantic and the sceptical, and I've always respected women a lot. And I've enjoyed their company enormously because they're much quicker, frequently, not always but frequently, they're much quicker than men. And you can tell a joke and put on an expectant smile and the man will still be sitting there wondering what it's all about, whereas the women will have laughed and passed on to something else. And things like that. That, and what is it about women? I just, I feel, I know this sounds incredibly old-fashioned, but I feel that among certain women there is a certain sort of mystery. And it's not simply biological, it's not simply mental, you know. And also I've got this, I've always had this fear of being the intrusive heavy-handed male with women, which has frequently made me a bit slow, slow on the -- not the attack, but the relationship.

You've held back at times when you wanted to ...

Oh yes, yes.

... make a move?

Yes, yes.

Because you've felt sensitive?

I didn't want to be insensitive. And you know, occasionally women have said to me, 'Oh for goodness sake, kiss me.' And things like that. And you feel such a fool, you know.

Well, certainly when you were growing up, it wasn't something that was seen as the male role to be asked.

Yes, the male took the initiative, and that's how it was. But it's always inhibited me a bit, except of course, and this is typical, if I've been, not drunk, but you know, had a few wines.

It would give you courage?

Yes, yes. I won't be frightened of being insensitive.

The scepticism that you talk about that's been a characteristic of you all your life, and it's something that people who knew you and knew your work when you were working, were very struck by -- that there was always this wry eye on the world, and you had a way of looking at the world that saw the absurdity in it. Did this scepticism sometimes spill over into cynicism?

Well, I tried not to. I tried to laugh at the scepticism, you know. And there were occasions when I was very cynical and I always tried to stop myself. The scepticism, I think, is quite a healthy thing in general. And it fed my fantasies of course, and my sense of continuing absurdity really, and -- they varied -- sometimes very bitter as after the war when I was going through a bad patch, and then later much softer. And now they're pretty healthy and well and not cynical, and they are more and more to the fore. I find myself making fantasies about almost everything. I don't drive nowadays, but when we're out in the car and Polly's driving along and some fellow shoots past us in a huge car, I find myself saying to myself, 'What he's doing is saying to himself get past her you silly fool, get past her. And then take it cool and easy lad.' And I keep on thinking that everybody's saying this, you know, and it's absurd.

When did you first notice that life was absurd? Do you remember?

I would think, probably, in my late teens. Sort of crept up.

And can you remember some of the key moments when you really suddenly saw the absurdity of the situation you were in?

I can remember one key moment when my first wife and I went to a meeting and it was a lecture by Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher. And he was introduced by the senior partner of a very superior firm of lawyers here. And this partner introducing him said, 'It's wonderful that this great man should come down to us lowly folk and mingle with us in the marketplace.' And we went into paroxysms of giggles like this. And from that time on, I thought that sort of utterance was absurd.

You've always been very critical of other people, but I have a suspicion that that very strong criticism has been more frequently turned on yourself. Do you feel that perhaps you've made life hard for yourself by perhaps being a little bit too critical, a little bit too aware of your own limitations and faults?

Yeah -- well I've certainly been aware of my own limitations and faults and they've come -- the awful things I've done -- back to haunt me in old age. Old age, of course, always is supposed to go back to the past a lot, and I've found I'm no exception. But the problem is that so much of what comes up in my mind are the bad things I've done, the trespasses. And I don't think -- I mean one can do nothing about it now, and I think a lot of the people involved have probably forgotten it. Whereas they've all stayed with me. And it's not a very pleasant experience, you know, because you can do nothing about it now.

Has that been true all your life, that you've tended to notice more when you got it wrong than when you got it right, and to listen more to those who criticised you than those who praised you?

Well I think I have, yes, I think I have.

And that's considered to be rather a recipe for depression. Has depression been an issue for you?

Yes, a lot, a lot.

Could you talk about that?

Well, it's pretty hard to talk about when it's just an amorphous depression. It's not something which, you know, hits you because of any particular incident. You just wake up one morning and find yourself enormously depressed. And I, once or twice, like many of my friends, have been tempted to think about suicide. And then I've realised that I'm just dramatising myself to myself, you know. And I've known many suicides, and they've been in much worse condition. But I'm depressed frequently by the pointlessness of everything. Then I suddenly think well how lucky I've been, how rich, not only my life but life generally is, how extraordinary nature is and things like that. But the depression does creep back.

Do you think that was linked to your battle with alcohol?

I think so, partly, yes, yes.

You wrote your first radio feature about alcoholism?

Yes, about me.

And I wonder if you could now talk about your relationship with alcohol throughout your life, your struggle with it, and what it's actually meant to you?

Well, I realised this when I was brought home unconscious from a party when I thought I was talking wittily. And from then on, I knew. On the Herald of course, as now I suppose, journalists did quite a lot of drinking. And every Friday night, for instance, we'd assemble in a particular bar, or we'd go to the Coopers Agency in Sydney and drink Coopers, which was very strong and so on. So in those days I drank just about anything, like any young man. I wasn't outstanding in terms of alcoholic consumption. But we used to go to the Press Club, which was a pretty dreary squalid place then, and there was a lot of drinking on Friday nights again. And somebody once came up to me and said, 'Can I have a word?,' and I said, 'Yes, what?' and he said, 'I know you're an alcoholic,' and I said, 'Oh why?,' and he said, 'I know because of the way you drink. You don't, you can't sip, you drink like that.' And you know I was not, not affronted at all. I had no reason to be, but he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I felt a peculiarly joyous person. And very earnest, very sincere, all the right things. And he wanted me to join Alcoholics Anonymous. And I went along to a meeting and was so repelled by this business, everybody called everybody else only by their first names and they exchanged these, I thought, terribly dreary reminiscences about how Jack had come round to help Bill when he was having a bad trot and Tom had hurt Jerry by refusing to come when he called him. And all this sort of stuff, you know, and it depressed me beyond measure. And in fact, that sort of stuff has been the big cause of depression when people talk like that. Then gradually I settled into a lot of beer, which I never really liked, because it's gassy, and I can't take it and so on it went. And I drank a lot of whisky and, well, I drank a lot of everything, except liqueurs, because they were sweet and I didn't like that. And it wasn't until some years ago that I concentrated entirely virtually on white wine. Still white wine, never champagne because that gives me a huge belly ache, the moment it goes down. And anything sparkly does. So now I drink only white wine and if there's no -- I'll drink a light red if there's nothing else, you know. But I drink about, I would say, between two and three bottles a week, which isn't very much you know and the doctor's quite happy about that.

But at the height of your drinking, was there a factor, because there was a very strong belief among writers at the stage that you were writing, that you needed to drink to write?


And of course, that's a view that's now been discredited. Did that play a part? Did you feel that it released your fantasies?

Well, I don't think it has been, for me anyway, or when I was writing, didn't discredit it, because you might get a run on after a few beers or wines or whatever, and you think this is not bad. And then you look at it next morning and frequently it was bad. But as often as not, it was not, if you fiddled with it and fixed it up a bit. And I think wine can be a help. Not if you're half-seas-under or anything, but if you're into an enthusiastic phase, I think it helps.

When you have dried out from time to time, have you felt better afterwards?

Yes, I suppose so.

Why do think you managed to stay on the wagon the whole time you were in England?

I don't know. It was a complete change of scene -- oh, I suppose I couldn't have done the job I did if I hadn't been. It may have been absolute force for circumstance. I don't know. That didn't apply here. I think it was probably the novelty of what I was doing, completely new scene, new people, new everything. It may have been something to do with family strains. I didn't think so, though.

You grew up with a very strong sense of really belonging, in many ways, to Europe.


And I wonder if you could now talk about your relationship with alcohol throughout your life, your struggle with it, and what it's actually meant to you?

Well, I realised this when I was brought home unconscious from a party when I thought I was talking wittily. And from then on, I knew. On the Herald of course, as now I suppose, journalists did quite a lot of drinking. And every Friday night, for instance, we'd assemble in a particular bar, or we'd go to the Coopers Agency in Sydney and drink Coopers, which was very strong and so on. So in those days I drank just about anything, like any young man. I wasn't outstanding in terms of alcoholic consumption. But we used to go to the Press Club, which was a pretty dreary squalid place then, and there was a lot of drinking on Friday nights again. And somebody once came up to me and said, 'Can I have a word?,' and I said, 'Yes, what?' and he said, 'I know you're an alcoholic,' and I said, 'Oh why?,' and he said, 'I know because of the way you drink. You don't, you can't sip, you drink like that.' And you know I was not, not affronted at all. I had no reason to be, but he was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I felt a peculiarly joyous person. And very earnest, very sincere, all the right things. And he wanted me to join Alcoholics Anonymous. And I went along to a meeting and was so repelled by this business, everybody called everybody else only by their first names and they exchanged these, I thought, terribly dreary reminiscences about how Jack had come round to help Bill when he was having a bad trot and Tom had hurt Jerry by refusing to come when he called him. And all this sort of stuff, you know, and it depressed me beyond measure. And in fact, that sort of stuff has been the big cause of depression when people talk like that. Then gradually I settled into a lot of beer, which I never really liked, because it's gassy, and I can't take it and so on it went. And I drank a lot of whisky and, well, I drank a lot of everything, except liqueurs, because they were sweet and I didn't like that. And it wasn't until some years ago that I concentrated entirely virtually on white wine. Still white wine, never champagne because that gives me a huge belly ache, the moment it goes down. And anything sparkly does. So now I drink only white wine and if there's no -- I'll drink a light red if there's nothing else, you know. But I drink about, I would say, between two and three bottles a week, which isn't very much you know and the doctor's quite happy about that.

Why did you come home?

Well, I suppose that's quite a good question, because the BBC asked me to stay, and I could have stayed like Michael Charlton did, but by the same token I felt -- quite apart from what Diana would feel about it and what she would want to do -- a certain sort of loyalty, because after all I was only on secondment from the ABC. I was still actually a member of the ABC. And they had provided my fare. The first time they didn't but the second time they did, and I think it was partly a feeling of loyalty and partly of course because I wanted to, in my rather foolish -- I wanted Australia to grow up, and I wanted to be part of the growing up. Because there were many things that irked me very much here.

What does it mean to you to be Australian?

Well, now, I've never been sort of a flag waver. I think this is -- certainly in old age -- a wonderful place to live. And I think Sydney and generally the whole feeling of the country has changed for the better, even though everybody's complaining about recessions and skyscrapers and lack of planning and all that, I do think that, as many, many visitors do, that this by comparison say with living in Europe, is a paradise. And I think it began just after the war, World War 2. It used to be so provincial that I used to always then wear brown suede shoes. And people would look at those shoes, you know, they'd eye them as if I was some very odd person. And there was a very limited attitude to so many things. And with the advent of all the immigration from Europe, first from Europe, things improved out of sight in every way, you know, food, tolerance, all these things. Much, much better. And they are now, with the Asian influx.

What are the qualities of Australian-ness that appeal to you most?

I think frankness, and the egalitarian, even though it has disadvantages, I think it's that. Access, as between different strata, is so much different, so much easier. And there's none of this arrogance and haughtiness that used to irritate me occasionally in England. But then again, England, in certain ways, was much better than here.

How important have friendships been in your life?

Pretty, very important, actually.

Could you take us through your life and tell us how friendships at particular points have affected you?

Well, after the war, for instance, when I was on the Sun trying to do this ridiculous column, and doing a page a day and getting drunk every day, the other fellows there, several of them, rallied round enormously, and were terrifically helpful and friendly and remained friends until they died. And ... [INTERRUPTION]

Throughout your life, has friendship been an important element?

Yes, it has, it's been very important, partly of course because I was frequently depressed and frequently upset and frequently drunk and frequently, you know, generally not very good. And a good example was at the Sun, the tabloid after World War 2, where I had this absurd huge column that I'd taken on to write. And frequently I just couldn't. And friends, you know, covered for me. They were lifelong friends after that, of course. They're dead now, but I always remember them very much. And a lot of women friends, quite apart from, you know, partnerships, being just friends. And that has frequently happened, and I've appreciated that very much. And by and large I've been very well done by, by friends. I think a lot of people have been scared off at various times, maybe because of the drinking, or maybe -- I was once told, somebody said, 'You terrify me,' and I said 'Why?,' you know, I thought I was being very benevolent. And she said, 'Because your eyes look through me.' And I immediately lowered my eyes, shut my eyes and I didn't know what to say. I can't help the way I look, you know. And also this big broken jaw gives me a very pugnacious look and that puts a lot of people off.

Have you ever thought that it's rather odd that you're somebody who a lot of people have liked a lot and been a good friend to, that you're somebody who has achieved remarkably well in every area of endeavour that you've taken up, and have been acknowledged in that way, with prizes and good reviews and so on. And yet I suspect you're left with a slightly poor opinion of yourself?

Yes, I am. But I think that's natural. People who have a high opinion of themselves are frequently, I think, wrong. And frequently unbearable anyway. People have said that my standards are too high. And I think that's a bit ridiculous, because I think that something's not worth doing unless you aim for a high standard. And I've never liked this thing about 'she'll be right,' you know, which was very frequent in, say, parts of the ABC technical staff, because they didn't belong to the ABC, they were with the Postmaster General, and they had no relationship with us at all. And they were naturally anxious to get the job over and done with and we'd say, 'No, let's do something ... ,' and they'd say, 'She'll be right.'' And I'm not blaming them at all. I think it's the most natural thing, but now of course that it's all one and much better as a result. But I don't -- I mean, why shouldn't one criticise one's self?

Well, perfectionism can, in fact, set you up for failure and a sense of failure.


And maybe that sense of failure isn't justified when in fact you've done rather well?

Yes, I don't really feel I've failed, but I do feel I've made a bit of a mess, doing too many different things. And things like that. But I don't feel that I've been misguided really. I think I've had a pretty good life.

What's been the element in your life that you think has been the best thing for you about it? What has made you happiest? What have enjoyed most?

Oh, it's like saying, 'What's your favourite record? What would you take to a desert island?'

Let me ask it another way.


In thinking about life and about what's valuable in it, what for you have been the things that have given you an element of pleasure and joy in times, perhaps even when things didn't look too good?

Well, music would be one. It still does. And art. In the presence of any great piece of work, whether it's art or whether it's music or sculpture, or you know, good, wonderful writing, those are I think both the great consolers and the great anti-consolers, because they make you realise how un-good you are, how bad you are comparatively. And I think those have been important to me in that way. Probably lots of other things too, but you know, I can't think. One test is that I do cry fairly easily and I'm not ashamed of that at all. But if something is pretty wonderful, I want to cry.

As the man who started ABC television, what do you think of television today?

I think in some ways, technically of course, it's much better than the early days; it was pretty rough. In terms of subject matter, I find it hard to judge because one feels one's been there, seen that, you know. I think a good example is whatsisname, the English naturalist broadcaster.

David Attenborough.

David Attenborough. His stuff was superb, I thought, and we were riveted by it, as were many, many people. And at the same time, aren't the nature programs today just as good? Yet I don't want to look at them really now. I think it's because one gets jaded. You've been there, and therefore one is not a good judge. I did television criticism for a long time for Nation, the journal. And I was pretty critical. I tried to be critical and constructive at the same time. And there seemed to me to have been more innovative attempts in those days, because less had been done. Whereas now everything has been done in some ways it seems and even though the techniques are much, much better and I think in many ways the acting is much, much better, the only thing I have against it is that I've seen it, in some form or other, and that for people of my age, this very fast accelerated form of production with very, very limited attention spans -- I think that's what it's made for, people who can't think about something for more than about 10 seconds. But you get this flittery jittery form of presentation, especially in drama. And that I don't think is an improvement. Also, even with a plain talking head, there is quite a bit of talking head on SBS which is excellent I think, but on the ABC frequently, the talking head is filled with gimmicks. It's as if the producer was a young producer who'd suddenly been told there are all these different gimmicks and decides to use every one of them. And almost blot out the head, you know, you might see the little voice, see the little mouth and voice occasionally, but he's talking away or she's talking away, and it's very hard to concentrate on what they're saying all the time, when there's this jit, jit, jit jit, jit.

Do you think at all about dying?

Yes, I do a lot now. I didn't think at all about aging or anything until I was 80. That was the solemn note suddenly. I thought, 'Eighty, God Almighty,' you know. And, as well as the past and all my faults and things -- well I don't think about it, I just know about it. I know I'm going to die soon. And there's all this talk about euthanasia and so on, and every day in the paper you read about a new disease, or a new cure, and things like that go on the whole time. But I only know two, three, things. One is that I'm not really afraid of dying providing it's made reasonably easy and they either put me out or at least fill me up with morphine or something like that. Secondly, I don't want to become demented beforehand. And thirdly, I want it to be quick and you know, without mess. Don't want to be a nuisance, it'd be terrible. But -- and I'm absolutely convinced that people who don't have religion, don't go to church and so on, frequently when there's a referendum or a poll, when asked do you believe in god, they say yes. And these are people who are not religious. And it seems to me absurd. I don't believe in ... I believe that if there is a god, we made that, we thought him up or her up, and he's in us, in our mind. We need somebody or something to think about. But I'm absolutely sure that there's no exterior god. What I would like to know is there must have been a primal force, and I want to know what that was, and nobody can tell me.

Have you got any ideas?

No, because you think, you read, the scientists and the famous cosmologists and all these people and they talk about the first explosion. What I want to know is why did it explode, and what is going to be there? Nobody can say. Nobody that I know of anyway.

It's not something that your fantasy can help much with?

No, no.

Do you think death's the end?

Oh yes, absolute oblivion, yes. Sometimes people say how would you like to be remembered and I don't really know. I don't think it matters terribly, but I find that I have a sneaking feeling I'd like to be remembered with some affection for a while, because these things all pass and everything will stop and that's it. But just for a little while. I don't want people to be able to say, 'Well I'm very glad he's gone,' you know.

Have you got any grandchildren?

Yes, two, both girls. And I'm fond of them although in a recent publication there was a terrible misprint. I had said, and I still say, that I don't go overboard about them, any more than I did about my son when he was born. I don't say to myself, 'They're wonderful,' and so on. And in this publication it left out that I don't say that they are wonderful. It was, 'They are wonderful.' But I'm very fond of them, and they're both, I think, very likeable, you know, and very clever, which is good.

You had some very distinguished ancestry. Does the notion of family and continuity mean anything to you, and does it matter to you that there's no Mungo MacCallum to carry on the name?

Well, I have fleeting regrets about that -- it's simply -- I know it's a bit silly really, you know, and what does it matter? But as a sort of dynasty, which is not the usual thing in Australia, it would have been quite fun, I think, to have had another Mungo, you know. As for, what was the other bit ...

Just that whole sense of family. Because one of the things that's quite striking looking at a pattern in your life was that you were born into a situation in which family was an overwhelming consideration, and you seem to have distanced yourself further and further and further from investing any real feeling in that?

Yes, well as I say, I'm fond of these two girls and love it when they come to see me. But the legacy of that family clench and the harm it did to Dad, and the harm it did when it was reproduced in my brother Duncan, and the harm it did in one sense, even to my marriage, first marriage, because I had an uncle who was married to my maternal aunt -- sorry, my grandmother's daughter -- it affected their marriage very severely, this family clench. And he was a friend of Diana's as well and when she told him that we were going to get married, he said, 'Be very careful Diana. You'll marry the family.' So it wasn't just me who thought that this was an absurd situation with Grandmother. And that's why it's had a life-long effect and made me scared of these things. Not that I'm scared, you know, of now or situations. But it left a long memory and I wouldn't like to see it happen again to any of them.

This notion of judging yourself and finding yourself wanting, which you defend as being a perfectly reasonable stance, do you think it could have something to do with the fact that the family did have such high standards?

I suppose it could, I suppose it could. Although by the same token people occasionally have accused me of arrogance. So, you know, I don't mope around finding myself wanting the whole time. Quite often I throw myself about and that's one of the things that I regret a bit now. That I remember.

Like what?

Oh, my relationship with Moses. As I say, we respected each other and I think admired each other, both in our different ways. But Betty Cook who was Moses' alter ego said I was arrogant when I argued with Moses. And maybe I was after all. And little things like that, you know. And also sometimes, when drunk, I used to get arrogant.

And that was also associated with your raging against the world?

Yes, I think it was, yes.

You had this idyllic, happy childhood, and yet there were lots of tragedies looming for you. When you were a child, were there any intimations of the darker side of life? Were you, did this fantasy that you had throughout your childhood, ever incorporate in it elements of life around you that were in any way sinister, threatening or dark?

Yes, I don't think I fully realised at the time, but they remain so vivid I think they must have. The first was a boy called Lee at preparatory school and he had a harelip and it was very hard to make himself understood. And he was told to go and get his hair cut one day, and he went and got his hair cut. And the barber misunderstood him, took every spot of hair off his head, and there was this big, shiny skull and these big wet eyes, and this terrible lip. And I felt very, very sympathetic. And some boys laughed, of course, which you expect. And I thought, 'You poor wretch, I'm very sorry for you.' And that was the first time I'd really, as a child, felt a sort of sorrow for him. And then up in the country in this place Rydal where we used to go on summer holidays, there were two other examples of, I thought, grief and hardship, mental, spiritual hardship. One was a travelling magician who came with his assistant who obviously was his mistress and a very rude boy who did the heavy work. And he was a lion-faced big man with a very loud voice and a very bad magician. And he gave a show in the village hall that night, and all the locals gathered. We went. And there was this terrible air of tension the whole time and he spoke more and more and more loudly and he did a trick with an apple at which you see obviously that it was a different apple from the one that it pretended to be. And everybody could see this, and nobody laughed. Or if they did laugh, they laughed scornfully. And he spoke more and more loudly. And I thought it must be rotten to have that sort of life and be battling along knowing you're not much good and trying to drown your knowledge out by speaking more and more loudly. And the third was at the same place, Rydal, a travelling parson who was a very nice man and who one felt was very lonely. He serviced this quite large parish of rather ordinary churches, very ordinary churches of simple country people. He was obviously an educated man, and he started his sermon on the text of St Paul, saying, 'A little wine is good for the stomach,' and I thought to myself, aha, you know. And there again, he was so lonely and he came to lunch afterwards and he and dad walked in the garden together for a very, very long time, just talking. And his parson's collar was very dingy and I thought, 'Monsignor is so sad and lonely.' And they were the first intimations, really, I had of loneliness and sadness and hurt.

And there was to be quite a lot of that later coming from the family. And the tragedies that the family lived through.

Yes, yes.

And when you look back over what was really a very tragic family life, what impact do you think that had on you as a person and the way your mind worked?

I think it made a lot of different impacts. I think it affected my attitude towards women. I think it affected my attitude towards learning and scholarship and so on, by which I was surrounded, but knew I wouldn't be very good at it and felt, you know, slightly wanting in various ways. For a long time of course I forgot these things. I was just a little boy, you know. But they kept on coming back and I was always aware that there were people who were much worse off than I. Which didn't, in fact, stay with me much during the Depression, when I was so lucky. And I wasn't even aware really of the Depression being on, you know. But they were there, in my mind, and I knew about poverty and loneliness and things.

I've got a pick-up to do which relates to Salt. How did you all feel when Salt came to an end?

Very sad. In fact, we toyed with the idea of continuing it in civil life, and it would have been very, very, very difficult for many reasons. One was that, apart from me, most of the staff were Melburnites and had families there. And another was that we would have to find big publishers, with big machines to produce the numbers. And another was, of course, that it had been distributed free to all these people, and even though they loved it and it had this very wide appreciation, we couldn't distribute it free in civil life. And I did go to see -- of all people -- Ezra Norton, the notorious tycoon who published tabloid papers and he heard me out. But he knew and I knew, you know, it just wasn't possible. So, we were going to call it Salt in Civvies to carry on the name.

And the final edition, what was it like?

Yes. What about that?

What was it like? What did it contain?

Oh, well, from our point of view it was triumphant, because it contained these bouquets from everybody, from the chief of staff right down, and from lots of civilian organisations like the RSL, to my surprise, and things like that. Scientific organisations, Salvation Army, all these sorts of people who'd moved among the troops and they all were glowing, wonderful. And we published a lot of them, of course. And also we published the cartoons of not only me, but all the staff with appropriate witticisms. And a few farewell bits and pieces but no earnest advice, you know, no 'stick at it lads,' nothing like that.

If you had to step outside your mind for a minute -- if you can do this -- and describe the way your mind works, what kind of a mind have you got, do you think? You said you weren't an academic type?


But what kind -- could you describe the way that you see your mind working?

Well, it is a flittery mind. It's changed a bit recently since I was 80. It's a bit slower. It used to be very fast, and very full of words, very articulate. It's not a very good planner. I used to say to people who'd been to university and in fact quite recently, when my autobiography came out, a philosopher whom I know wrote me a note saying he'd read it and he enjoyed it very much, but he thinks it's just as well I didn't do philosophy, because I'd see that philosophy, if I'd done that, would have taught me more about coherent thinking. And I've never been a coherent thinker, I've always been a darting thinker. And he said, 'No, it would have spoiled you.' Which I was surprised at. Interesting.

So maybe there's some validity in your way of thinking after all, even though it wasn't quite what the family expected of you?

Oh yes, yes. It wasn't a heavy expectation. You know, nobody ever told me that I ought to be something, oh no, no. But the darting, after all, it's not uncommon among reasonably creative people. It's the other sort of people who normally do become philosophers and so on.