How did you get your name out there?
I was fortunate enough to get a cadetship with Australian Associated Press and that was back in December, 1978. From Australian Associated Press, where you learnt to cover everything. You covered political rounds, you covered state rounds, you covered trades hall, you covered the courts, you covered police rounds (and) you covered sport. You learnt everything. Also went to cadet classes, where you had to do shorthand. Didn’t do shorthand, didn’t get graded as a journalist. So it was imperative that you got your shorthand. You had to go to shorthand three times a week, which I did. Best thing I ever did because I still do shorthand now.
What was your first day like working at The Herald Sun?
Jack Elliot was my old boss and he was the doyen of racing journalism. He set down the law to me as to how he wanted me to come to work. He wanted me to come to work in a suit and tie every day, bit different from now. He wanted me to be clean-shaven. You had to have your shoes polished. We started at 5:30 am. You had to be there at 5:30 on the dot and if you weren’t, you had to have a pretty good excuse why you weren’t. I remember one day I didn’t have a tie and he sent me home to get the tie before I could come back and start work.
You did a lot of stories for The Herald Sun. What is one that sticks out for you?
The Auckland Inter Dominion. Popular Alm was the favourite. He would always beat Gammalite whenever they raced. He just had too much brilliance for him but Gammalite got his measure in the Grand Final. The key there was that the Inter Dominion was a three heats and a finals series over two weeks. Gammalite was just as tough as tungsten and he could cope with all the constant racing. Whereas, the format of the Inter Dominion got the better of Popular Alm. He wasn’t as durable as Gammalite and Gammalite handled the reverse way of racing better than Popular Alm. So all those things combined to make Gammalite the winner in the 1983 Inter Dominion.
Any other stories that really stand out for you?
Michelle Payne – what a story that was! First female jockey ever to win the Melbourne Cup. On a horse that was a 100-1 chance. It was a fabulous story. The reaction from Michelle Payne, who despite all the negativity and naysayers who said that she couldn’t do it, believed in herself. She delivered it with a sensational ride in a race that had some of the world’s best jockeys. She outrode Frankie Dettori and just her reaction, the fact that her brother, Steven, was the strapper. Just so many different layers that made this a fabulous story that will be forever remembered in Melbourne Cup folklore in a hundred years’ time.
You would have interviewed a lot of people, are there any interesting stories to tell?
Funny story. Dermot Weld, who’s the Irish racehorse trainer who trained two Melbourne Cup winners: Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, wasn’t a great media fan. Whereas he would answer your phone calls, he would put the clock on you. He would say “you got either three questions or 10 seconds”. If it was the second, he would count the clock down while you’re asking the questions. If you started off the question, “how you going, Dermot?” he said, “you’ve got two questions left”. What you really quickly comprehended was that he wasn’t there to waste his time so you had to cut to the chase and to make the questions relevant. Hopefully that would enable him or entice him to provide you with a story.
What advice would you give to people starting off?
The simple thing is you got to have discipline. You got to have a really strong work ethic. You got to be ethical. You got to make sure that whatever you report whether it’s verbally or orally is 100 per cent factual.
How do you balance private life and work life?
Some people would say I do it really badly. I’m a bit of a workaholic. For me, the clock is always on. I don’t clock off. If something happens at 7 o’clock, I’ll cover it. I’m not a 9-5 person. You can’t be a 9-5 person if you’re in the media game. The media game is 24/7 and you’re got to be able to adapt. If there’s news, there’s news. News doesn’t wait until you wake up the next morning or you finish your meal or you’ve got friends there. You’ve got to react. The key with news its immediate and you’ve got to be immediate in covering it.