VALE MUNGO MACALLUM
Mungo was the voice of his time, who called it as he saw it . . . with great political nouse and intelligence and a ribald wit that drove politicians in his sights to cringe. We chuckled, but the point had been made and we were wiser for Mungo’s analysis and insights.
As a descendent of a line of wealthy colonial adventurers and political conservatives – the Wentworths – Mungo did an about turn to became a rebel writer with a cause in a pack of colourful rabble rousing heroes including… Clive James, Richard Walsh, Kerry O’Brien, Germaine Greer, Martin Sharp, Bob Ellis and a line of editorial keepers of the flame of honest tell-it-as-it-is gonzo journalism.
His father was serious print journalist and a senior programmer as the ABC entered the new world of television.
But Mungo got down and dirty in Vietnam, had his eyes opened to the ongoing racism towards indigenous Australians, and sharpened his pen to puncture political spin, pompous posturing and instead talk common sense. If he was too left leaning for some on occasion, there was no disputing his analytical, rational, skewering put down of what he saw as pompous, possibly corrupt, impractical and a waste of time, effort and money.
Where he saw failure of care and duty, injustice, corruption, political pomposity, ratbaggery and arrogance, he called it out with bluntness, brilliant incisiveness and cutting humour.
Mungo was always on the money more often than not, and in later years his pen sharpened as he saw the censorship, intimidation, oppression and press constriction from politicians and big business. Sending in the Feds to the ABC was a final straw.
When I alerted him to the fact I was starting this newspaper nearly six years ago, he advised me to . . . “Just be brave. Stand up. Have a bloody go.” And allowed me and other struggling and independent newspapers to run his brilliant columns, gratis.
As I had grown up with journalism, (ABC TV journalist Uncle Jim Revitt from Wingham) Uncle John Hutchinson (political lecturer and writer BBC, Berkley University and UCLA) and a family in film and the Arts, journalism was natural affiliation. And, as it turned out, the best training for novel writing.
I didn’t meet Mungo in person until I moved to Byron Bay in the late 1980s which was a blissful backwater of ageing hippies and surfers, a new clutch of wannabes, and 70s protestors. Mungo was writing a fearless column in the Byron Bay Echo, a freewheeling, spirited local paper started by the late indomitable Nick Shand.
As I made my way and name as an author, the town began to look outside itself, so we started a modest Writers Festival…(“no wankers, no literary snobs, and only Aussies” was the original format) which was held in the rustic grounds and cabins of the old Byron Bay Beach Resort ( now sadly reborn and seriously up itself.)
Mungo and local identities like Bob Ellis outdid themselves in shocking audiences, stirring the pot and, in Bob’s case, leaving a string of Ellis anecdotes and antics in his wake as he stumbled from the midnight bushes to one identical cabin after another in search of his bed.
I started Di’s Drinks at my home for those first guests, an event which over a decade swelled in size and reputation, and where Mungo was inevitably a stand out performer in a hotbed of egos and talent.
Over the years Mungo and Jenny’s New Year party are happy remembrances as are many Saturday lunches in the garden of the old Brunswick Hotel with the weekend papers, our dogs at our feet. Until the place got gentrified and banned dogs to Mungo’s disgust.
I last saw Mungo at the now overflowing Byron Writers Festival two years ago. Frail, in a motorised chair, and, while silenced by throat cancer, we managed to converse, agreeing things were not like they used to be and we had had the best of it.
Far from silenced however, he continued emailing, as his brilliant and piercing observations, fearless jibes, wonderfully blunt, wise with the hindsight of history and knowledge, poured from his pen, (via computer) revealing a rapier mind that pierced egos and explained where the country should be, and why.
The last email came a week before he died announcing to us all … “That’s all she wrote”…. ending with a typical saucy, to the point limmerick.
Mungo you will be missed. However, inspired by you, we shall stand up, be brave and call it as we see it.
Thank you Mungo. And love to Jenny and the girls. And of course, the dogs.