I can't imagine that I regarded the moustache you see in the photo here today as a good look. It's likely that I didn't regard it as anything but as I look at it now I can see that it must have been an impediment to eating, drinking and even speaking clearly. If it had a value it would have been only as a filter.
The photo was taken by a Newcastle Herald photographer on October 10, 1984, one week and one day after the state government's sacking of Newcastle City Council, a sacking that was attributed angrily by my critics and delightedly by my supporters to my commentaries in this paper over the previous 12 months.
Indeed, the staff of the then minister for local government told me two hours before the sacking was announced that they'd lifted the phrases and descriptions used in the accompanying media release from my reports. It had occurred to me when I'd read the media release in the minister's office that morning that it was uncharacteristically lurid!
It had been a lurid year since I'd been sent by the editor-in-chief to write about, rather than report on, Newcastle City Council, which I referred to as Newcastle City Circus after the first council meeting I attended. It was political and personal bedlam and things didn't improve.
Strangely, most of the councillors were well meaning and sincere, and most of those conducted themselves with measure and dignity. Among those were John Price, who was at that time also the state member for Waratah and later for Maitland, Joy Cummings, the lord mayor until she suffered a stroke some months before the sacking, Don Geddes, the deputy lord mayor and the patron of everything, Margaret Goumas, who took it upon herself to present the woman's point of view and who did it with style, the deputy lord mayor, John Tate, who was to become lord mayor later, and Frank Rigby and Doyne Lanham all the way Stockton.
Individually these and some other councillors had Newcastle's interests at the top of their priorities, together it was a dogfight. Perhaps it was that the collective spirit was hijacked by those whose primary interest was a political party rather than Newcastle, perhaps too it was that the chairmanship of the gracious and long-suffering lord mayor Cummings could have been firmer.
I don't know, but I do know that in terms of at least good intent the council was very much less than the sum of its parts.
So there I am, a week after the dismissal and feeling anything but triumphant. Suddenly I had very little to write about. There were to be no more arguments into the wee hours of the morning over a handful of oleander shrubs, no more balding heads slipping slowly under the table, no more streams of childish points of order. The circus was over.
The retired town clerk appointed as administrator to replace the sacked council, Colin Saunders, and I had a very good relationship and he answered every one of my calls, but he was drab. Colourless, and Newcastle liked it that way. No debate, no invective, no storming out of meetings, no political ambition and, boringly, no question about whose interests were paramount.
Somewhere along the line chicken moved from a weekly or special occasion dinner to a cheap, everyday meat. Pork belly and lamb shanks moved from poverty to posh, we fell out of love with devon and camp pie, and bread went from textured and palatable to disturbingly cheap unpalatable pap to expensive artisan sourdough.
I remember feeling after the turmoil of the sacking that my wings had been clipped, and I seem to look that way in the photo. I asked the editor-in-chief who'd sent me to the council to send me somewhere else but he refused, saying it had been the council that was sacked, not me. State Parliament was ruled out because I'd be too long away from my young family.
It was a subdued and difficult time at work for me. In the years following I was features editor, chief of staff, business editor and, as you may know, for many years a columnist, so things did change.
Things changed in so many ways.
On my right in the wide version of the photo is a teacup saucer serving as an ashtray. Most of the 100 or so journalists at the Herald then smoked, and those that had a desk smoked at their desk.
On the side of the filing cabinet, which held the stuff that wouldn't fit on the desk, is the sign "Your right to smoke is respected, your decision not to is appreciated", and I suspect I put it there as a joke. The sign may have been among the first shots in the war against smoking.
Some young adults today would have to be shown how to work the dial phone you can see in the photo. The change in telephones alone over the next 20 years was beyond imagination.
Peeking out from behind my left upper arm is one of the paper's first computers, in reality little more than a fancy electronic typewriter with a screen, so the greatest change of all was underway.
The paper! Everything that arrived in our office, bar phone calls, did so as paper, and even phone calls resulted in notes on paper. If it was something we might one day use we had to keep it as paper, so a fair slice of our day, from the editor-in-chief to the newest cadet, was paper sorting.
In front of me is what we called a cuttings file, our only means of filing the stories that appeared in our paper, an important means of research and reference. Cutting and pasting into the files was a laborious job, for two or three people. We had no idea of the change on the way.
At home, our third child was nine weeks old, and my wife was flat out with three pre-school children. If you'd told me we'd have two more children I'd have been as incredulous as if you'd told me I'd have a combined phone and computer in my pocket 20 years later.
The moustache was to be replaced by a close-cropped version soon after this pic was taken. I had a crewcut as a dare, and that made the moustache so ridiculous that even I recognised it as such. Very good riddance.
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