Talking to people and in on-line discussions, the major reaction to the new year has been one of relief that 2020 has finished. It has indeed been a dog's breakfast of a year! I may try to write something in detail later. For the moment, some random observations in another matter.Hotel Wellington, Canberra 1970. Photo Noel Butlin Archives. Prior to the opening of the National Press Club in 1976, the Wellington was one place where journalists, ministerial staff and public servants gathered to drink on a Friday afternoon
The inexorable passage of time means that events once fresh in our minds, formative periods in our lives, fade. Then something happens to bring at least the emotions and textures alive once more.
Two such were the deaths of Mungo MacCallum and Doug Anthony, bringing alive a particular slice of Canberra in the 1970s.
Mungo's death has been well covered in the Australian media. This ABC piece provides a general overview of his life, the Echonetdaily piece provides a picture of his life after he moved to Ocean Shores.1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside, will give you a little taste of that family. However, we did coincide at drinks.
Canberra was a very small place in the 1970s, a gold fish bowl in which everybody knew or at least knew of everybody else. It was also a remarkably discreet place, at least so far as personal matters were concerned. The sometimes prurient reporting on personal lives that we know today still lay in the future.
I was working in Treasury at the time and sometimes used to drink at the Hotel Wellington on a Friday afternoon. The front press bar there with its walls covered by copies of past news stories was a favourite watering hole for journalists, staffers and the younger public servants including those from Treasury. Mungo was often found there or later at the Press Club after it opened.
My memory is of a tall, slightly stooped figure with a bushy if some what straggly beard. Casually dressed, sometimes wearing sandals, he would expound on the world and political events in a barrage of words and hand gestures. I liked him and found him interesting but rarely joined in, partly because of shyness, more because I had different interests and views.Doug Anthony rather better. At the time I was heavily involved with the Country Party as a party official and pre-selection candidate, I was also involved in attempts to give the party new directions through bodies such as the McEwen House Group. For several years during the Whitlam period, a number of us gathered in Doug's office on budget night to analyse the budget and provide Doug for talking points in response.
I said that Canberra was a much smaller place. It also lacked much of the security paraphernalia you find today. This allowed us to come into Parliament House (now the Old Parliament House) all the time. Technically, the attendants should have stopped us, but so long as you looked as if you knew where you were going, were walking with purpose, nobody objected.
This access plus our knowledge of the Press Gallery was central to the most successful stunt I ever pulled, something I wrote about in The story behind that 1976 Queanbeyan $100,000 Yowie reward.
Upon reflection, Doug was pretty tolerant. One issue at the time was whether or not the Country Party should re-enter into coalition with the Liberals. Our view was no, because we saw this as an opportunity for the Party to continue to rebuild its separate identity. Here there has long been a divide between those whose primary focus lies in blocking Labor as compared to those who believe that the Party must maintain a clear separate identity and adhere to its traditions if it is to deliver for its constituents.
Doug's view was that coalition was necessary. We prepared a counter case, copied it in Doug's office and distributed it to all Country Party Parliamentarians. It had little impact, but the point is that we could do it and were not reprimanded or disciplined in any way.
I found Doug personally charming, open to new ideas, someone I could follow. I am not alone in that view. Reflections on his death across the political spectrum show respect and liking.
As an aside, I am sad that I threw out or lost in moves the material relating to this period. I think that it would now be an interesting historical record.