OPINION: Colourful characters and a case of history repeating

SOME people think journalists have a glamorous job.

They supposedly rub shoulders with celebrities in showbusiness, politics and sport.

They lead public opinion by the nose by revealing astonishing facts no one ever knew before.

Sometimes they ferret out grubby deals and expose them.

After all, “the public has a right to know” and we make damn sure they do, yeah?

In reality, the job is a hard slog, though extremely interesting, often funny and sometimes sad.

I should know because I’ve been a reporter off and on for almost 50 years and am now about to give it away.

However, I’m not ready to retire from journalism just yet but will swap my notebook and recorder for the blue pencil of the sub-editor, a backroom boy.

At times like this, a good reporter says: “Fifty years? Bloody hell, that’s a long time — you’ve must have seen a lot of changes”.

Not really — only in the technology.

My experience is that basically we tell the same stories over and over again, and only the faces, the places and the timing change.

Last week I reported on a gung-ho conference in Wodonga in praise of the High Speed Train, only to discover that The Border Mail reported a similar stunt in Wodonga in 1989.

But then it was called the Very Fast Train — see what I mean about changing names?

It’s true a reporter meets celebrities, sometimes before they become famous.

Lee Kernaghan was a quiet, scrawny teenager when I saw him third on the bill at Albury Carols By Candlelight, supporting the lovely Julie Anthony and golden boy Simon Gallagher.

Lee’s left those old stagers behind long ago, and good on him.

Twenty years ago Keith Urban came to Albury playing second fiddle (or rather rock guitar) to Slim Dusty, but look at the lad now.

Then there was a young monarchist called Tony Abbott who came decrying the Australian Republic push and later a little-known politician called Julia Gillard.

In my experience, some lovable, colourful eccentrics were more fascinating.

Think of Bill Yates, of Tallangatta, Alex Savidge, of Wodonga, and Hume councillor Jack Kiley, to name only three.

Jack farmed at Table Top, his dad knew Banjo Patterson and Jack himself had met Edward, Prince of Wales, in the 1920s.

Alice Haydon, born in Albury in 1900, was another true character, who once told me: “My auntie was at the Glenrowan hotel (the night that Ned Kelly was captured).

“Ned said: ‘We are not going to hurt you, we are just here to have a bit of fun’.

“He asked auntie to pull his boots off, saying that they were growing to his feet. So she pulled them off and he put his hand in his pocket and gave her a handful of blackberries.”

Ned Kelly was a guy I couldn’t shake off professionally.

Last month I attended his funeral service and met a relative who recalled Ned’s sister, Grace.

Funnily enough, there were blackberries at the funeral, too, but mourners switched them off.

A reporter must write sad stories, such as those in today’s paper about the firefighters’ tragedy.

Personally I found it a tough call to write of the passing of friends such as Cliff Chamberlain, Ian Glachan, Gerald Curtis or Cameron Thompson.

But then every news day is different, a mix of happy and sad.

Today I’ll be looking for the unusual, weird or unexpected, or “secret” someone doesn’t want printed.

But please, no more fast train stories, another hospital crisis, council stoush or angry mums protesting.

Been there, done all that.