Eulogies from Elisabeth's funeral 12 September 2013

Edmund Campion, presiding


J S Bach - Brandenburg Concerto #2 BWV 1047 - 1st movement

Gabi Wynhausen

To honour Elisabeth – the ‘truth teller’, we shouldn't gild the lily.  In our family, Betty was exciting, warm, interesting and generous but could she could also be pretty difficult.  I often tried to reconcile these characteristics but perhaps there is no need, perhaps, in the words of her great friend, James Jeffrey, never have truculence and tenderness cohabited so successfully in one person.

Betty was a very large personality in our small family.  Whilst living in New York, Bet came home every summer. We would schlep out to the airport and then back to Oma and Opa’s house in Balgowlah for the enormous breakfast buffet.  Bet would arrive in an ever-moving swirl of smoke, swearing, shouting, red nails and lips, black clothes, sunglasses inside, bossing everyone around, laughter and whiskeys.

She would dish out the most wonderful gifts to my younger brother and I, and I would stare, transfixed, dumbfounded that someone so sophisticated and exotic could actually be a part of our family. My brother would watch all of this from a corner of the room, timid and wide-eyed with fear (a response he maintained well into his twenties). Everything always calmed down after she left, and whilst there was some relief, I always missed her.

Once back in New York, Elisabeth would send me letters – typed and addressed to me. She knew how happy this could make little girl. Her letters would contain exciting and quite adult descriptions of the parts of new york life that she knew would interest me, and occasionally a brown paper package would arrive all the way from new york city, just for me.  Can you imagine?

Eventually, Bet returned from New York, in great part to be with her mother.  Betty was, as nearly all of you would know, was a terrific comfort and compadre to her mother, Nan.  Despite their very different lives they firmly shared a sense of humour and a sense of the world. Oma was really the only person Betty would defer to.

Bet also had a strong bond with my dad, Jules.  Though they routinely referred to each other as ‘a total pain in the arse’, they shared a great love of the beach, of good food, of literature, of family, a commitment to social justice, a disrespect for authority and a great fondness of the excessive use of expletives.

When my father had his bike accident in 2003, tragically, Elisabeth was once again able to look after him the selfless, almost maternal way they she had as a child. Nan’s great friend, and kindergarten teacher to Betty and my Dad, Jacqueline Meredith, joins us here today.  Jacqueline has told me about her first memory of Bet. She says, "She was a sturdy little three and a half year old girl holding her two year old brother's hand. Nan was telling her to look after Jules because "He was very nervous", Nan's words in her wonderful rich accent.

They had only been in Australia for a short time.  Bet and Jules walked up the stairs to the kindergarten. That dear little girl wiped his tears, took his hand led him to the small chairs, pulled out his chair and sat him down. She helped him with his lunch and slept beside him in the afternoons.

After dad died, Elisabeth honoured him by establishing the Jules Wynhausen Bequest at Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt to support the education of refugee students who want to go on to university after completing their HSC at Loyola and I’d like to thank Rob Laidlaw, principal of Loyola Senior High School for joining us here today.
And now, to my kids.  When Julia Gillard was deposed, she promised to be the most meddlesome great aunt in Australia's history and I thought immediately of Bet, although meddlesome is not the right word to describe the relationships she had with our sons, Saul and Jonah.  Our boys really, really loved their aunty Betty.

Having no time for the prevailing PC approach to parenting, Bet did things her own way. Her sense of fun and mischief ensured she was the best great aunty ever. She picked the boys up from school once a week and took them to the Bourke Street Bakery.  She would buy them a the richest, most luxurious hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant and THEN fish from her bag a packet of m&m’s she had brought for them to mix into the hot chocolate.

She spoke to them, like she did most others, with both warmth and sharpness. She loved those boys and spoilt them with new books every time we went out and mountains of stories when she babysat them at night, but could also happily tell them to stop acting so ‘retarded’, that no, she would not help them with their colouring in ‘because it was just too boring’.   

When our youngest son was having problems with another kid in the playground, I told him that he should try to work it out, and if it didn’t work, we would speak to his teacher.  Jonah reported this to Betty. Yes, she said, mum could speak to your teacher or I could just go and kick the shit out of the little bugger.

The kids talked about it for weeks and whilst  they sometimes shocked, they loved that Betty never patronised them and they could share her uncontainable sense of fun.

I know my brother Jesse and his partner Jo were looking forward to their little Rosie growing up to have the same kind of relationship with Auntie Betty. Jo’s aunt happens to be one of Bet’s oldest friends, Susie Carleton, so Rose would have had a formidable combination of not one, but two amazing, crazy great Aunts working in tandem to guide her and teach her how to behave badly.

Bet also had a terrific relationship with my partner Aaron.  They talked politics and he was part of her tech support team. Over the years, their conversations went something like

‘Aaron, get off that bloody twitter when you’re in my house. Its so rude’ to ‘Aarron, you need to change the photo on my twitter account’ To ‘Aaron, did you love my tweet about Peter Dutton? Did you see how many retweets I got!’

Some of us are lucky enough to have had a very important aunty in our lives.  In the main Bet was exactly what an aunt should be - generous, wise, trustworthy, supportive and genuinely interested in me and my journey.   Despite some difficulties, difficulties of her own making, we muddled through as families do, and Elisabeth was a much loved person in our lives.

Of course, with Betty gone, many of our family stories could also be lost. We are lucky that she was an amazing story teller and a record keeper. As well as Manly Girls (mostly factual) and On Resilience Bet has left us with many, many photo albums, organized and annotated, that document a life well lived full of work, fun, adventure and love.

I think I saw Betty happiest when we would meet on a Sunday afternoon on the grassy knoll at the north end of Bondi Beach. She would bring boiled eggs, smoked salmon sandwiches, chocolates for the children and delicious leftovers from her legendary brunches.  We would swim out into the surf, splash around with the kids then stretch out in the late afternoon sun, staring across that beach, utterly contented. We would always remind each other, as if the other had forgotten, that this was what life was all about, is what Oma loved doing – a simple picnic, enjoying every minute.

We seem to have lost a lot of our family in recent years and of course, we have our own ways of remembering people.  Last night I was talking to the kids about Betty. They suggested we have a birthday party for her each year.  Great. I said.  What do we need to remember Aunty Betty? “Chocolate!”, yelled Jonah. “Swear words!”, yelled Saul.

Elisabeth was incredibly lucky to have friends that were like family around her, sending love and looking after her over the years and the last few months, and looking after me and getting me organized in the last few days. You know who you are. Just know that Elisabeth loved you as ferociously as you loved her.

So, Aunty thank you for everything you gave me and taught me. You are part of me forever, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

Dvorak - String Quartet #12 in F Major, Op 96 - 4th movement ('The American')

Tom Dusevic

Her byline was Broadway big, 18 imposing letters. When her name was all in capitals, it was like a luminous marquee in the theatre district beckoning you in for the show. There was never any doubt that Elisabeth was the writer, director and producer, although she always created the space for her characters to shine. Yet in another way she evoked Norma Desmond, the Hollywood star in Sunset Boulevard; Elisabeth was always big; it's journalism that got small.

Because of her passing, we have lost a master storyteller; a kinetic motor-mouth, who niggled and nudged and made us laugh and cry; a person of rare insight into the human condition, who ventured high and low to the frontiers of contemporary life. Her craft was really social anthropology; her tools were street wisdom and the senses, each one of them used to create stories a reader could see, hear, smell, taste and touch.

She began her career at Frank Packer's Daily Telegraph in 1970. "On my first day at work," she wrote in Manly Girls, "I barged into the Chief of Staff's office." It was a stage direction that applied to the rest of her career. When Elisabeth wrote a harsh review of a Channel Nine show, she was hauled in to see Kerry Packer. "You better watch it Elisabeth," he said menacingly. Instead of being sacked, she was graded ahead of schedule and, rashly, later bowled up to see an ancient Sir Frank with a demand for a pay rise.

Elisabeth made her mark as an original and unorthodox feature writer on the Bulletin and the National Times. She reported on the street kids of the Cross, went nude with Hippies on a commune up north, and wrote, as she would later reflect, a stack of slyly innocent, widely-read profiles which undercut the pretensions of public figures. Over her career she would write perceptively, and memorably, about people such as Sallie-Anne Huckstepp, Don Chipp, Bob Carr, Malcolm Turnbull, Harry M. Miller, Ronald Reagan, John Irving and Fred Hilmer.

Still, by 1978 she felt bored and trapped, fearing her life would be defined by her job and, as she described, a "series of empty performances". So Elisabeth went to New York. “Against all expectations,” she wrote in her memoir, “I fell in love with the city the first time I caught the subway.” She looked past Manhattan's squalor, as it was then, and identified with its transients and immigrant roots.

Elisabeth scoured the continent, fitting assignments to her own interests. She went to the Deep South to explore racial segregation, Macy’s department store to meet Barbara Cartland, Andy Warhol’s home and an Iowa farm where she encountered a Jesus freak. Years later, she would report about New York’s homeless, crack addicts, and the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors in Zuccotti Park.

As a schoolboy in Sydney, fascinated by America and hoping to be a journalist, I became a huge fan of a writer whose name I couldn’t even pronounce. In those days, foreign correspondents were our main link to the great centres of culture, commerce and politics.

Elisabeth relished being an outsider and, to me, it defined her work. In a spectacular coup, Elisabeth convinced Ita Buttrose to assign her to the 1980 Presidential campaign for the Women's Weekly. She interviewed Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan. "I saw a great deal of the country," Elisabeth would later write in the postscript to Manly Girls. "I surveyed the drawn-out political charade from the perspective of the people at the back of the crowd ­– my natural habitat as a reporter."

In that 1989 book she imagined coming back to Sydney one day, living in an apartment looking out to sea. "I'd write feature articles for one of the few decent publications in the country, unless Rupert Murdoch has laid claim to them all." Well, what a stormy romance that turned out to be, and how lucky we were that they stayed together for the sake of the readers.

Many people here have their own wonderful stories about working with Elisabeth, especially during her 14 years at The Australian. I look forward to hearing them all. But I'd like to tell you about my first excursion with Elisabeth. It was during the 1995 NSW election campaign, not long after she joined the paper. Early on a Sunday morning we set off from Holt Street with Fiona Harari to go to distant Camden for the Liberal party launch. Elisabeth drove like a New York cabbie, yammering away about what was in the papers, turning around to speak to the backseat passenger, yelling at passing cars. We knew each other only casually so, naturally, Elisabeth asked if my people were Ustashi.

We got to the hall and found seats; sitting in front of us was the Tele's star columnist Mike Gibson. “Hello Mike,” she said sharply. “Hello Elisabeth,” he replied a little hesitantly. “I think your column is shit.” She could hardly sit still during the speeches. When the music started and the crowd dispersed to the foyer, she prowled for colour. Elisabeth bounded up to Kerry Chikarovski, then Minister for Industrial Relations and also the Status of Women. "Who did your hair Kerry?" Well Chika was taken aback, outraged even, a political heavyweight asked about her appearance. Elisabeth saw another target, impeccably groomed Transport Minister Bruce Baird. "I like your hair Bruce, where did you get it done?" And Baird’s face lit up like a lamp. The ice was broken, an ego was stroked, and Elisabeth got the story.

Driving back, she spotted ‘Gibbo’ on the footpath and another famous columnist from News. "Quick, wind down the window," she said, stopping in the middle of semi-rural Camden. Leaning over me she boomed. "Hey Piers, miss a meal!" And with that she zoomed off, leaving behind a cloud of laughter and exhaust fumes.

She was showing off, as was her way. But it had been a fun outing. I discovered a kindred spirit over the coming years; you could be serious about your work, single-minded, even obsessive. Yet it wasn't a sin to seek joy in the toil, often silliness, and find fellowship with others in the Surry Hills factory of facts and opinion.

Elisabeth was the scourge of fakes, the pompous and malign. Famously profane and loud, she was also tender, fiercely loyal, irrepressibly generous and uniquely sensitive to the emotional state of those in her orbit. In particular, she looked after young reporters, nurturing their confidence, talking up their ability to editors, and building their old-school skills. Although she slipped easily into any situation, Elisabeth was particularly at home with young people. As she wrote on her Backstreet Bondi blog, Elisabeth found herself on New Year’s Eve two years ago wading into the mosh of 12,000 to watch the scrawny rapper Snoop Dogg; a year later, same venue, clutching her notebook she was surrounded by sculpted young men on eccies as she scribbled the Knife Party lyrics, “You blocked me on Facebook and now you’re going to die”.

A friend and colleague wrote in an email the other day, that despite all Elisabeth’s attempts to shock, “there was so often something fresh, innocent and girlish about her.” I will always cherish the way she sang Happy Birthday in Dutch; a wide-eyed, grinning scamp from the northern beaches, hungry for cake.

Elisabeth spent her career chronicling the lives of the dispossessed and inarticulate; people who had been monstered by the system or the ruthless forces of politics and economics divined by our eminent commentators. She understood all that but wanted to square the ledger. Elisabeth fearlessly chased the shonks, spivs and stooges. Early in The Short Goodbye, which she wrote after being sacked from The Oz, a counsellor asked her about career highlights: "I said I had always liked nailing people doing the wrong thing."

For her, journalism was about being there. "I shall bear witness" is a fitting inscription for the child of Dutch Jews who survived Hitler's executioners. Elisabeth slept among the residents of The Block in Redfern to write a classic magazine story. On other missions, she ventured to Mount Druitt for weeks, bought a burka in Lakemba then wandered around Bankstown, and lived in a caravan park to survey the underclass. Her great books of reportage on financial booms and societal busts, investigations into sexual servitude, outworkers, the cleaning industry, prisons, labour hire firms and migration scams, were the product of old-fashioned leg work, a vast contact base and fearlessness.   

To me, her methods were unique; in the paper I described it as "slow journalism", like the food movement. I understood that she did the reporting, saw things first-hand, put in the hours; it goes without saying Elisabeth had immense talent; she ran a subterranean Newspoll, enlisting her colleagues, friends and contacts to see how each sentence "would play in Peoria" as they say in show business. Yet I could never tell if she was a cook, bricklayer, composer or painter with words. Perhaps she was a distiller. I like the image of Elisabeth as a sly grog queen during Prohibition: scrounging for ingredients, agonising over the still, then serving up sharp story cocktails to those with discerning tastes or incurable addictions. 

Great journalists have a solid grounding in the mechanics of language, are creative and curious; some are also courageous, smart and blessed with deep reserves of energy. Elisabeth had all this and something extra: the essential thing about her journalism was people. The grand mission of her career was to be interested in, and then to write with humour and humanity about, everyone. She wanted to know how people worked, why they thought the way they did, what it was like to hold power or to have none, what a person believed in and why.

Editors who said she only pitched "bleeding heart stories" missed the point. All her stories had heart, as well as flesh and bone, and blood and sweat. Elisabeth's genius was to understand our yearning as readers, citizens, humans, to connect with others. And the body of work she produced is a storehouse of what it was like to struggle, think, work and dream during the time in which she lived, the Elisabethan Age. That's it, no less.

Speaking now about her journalism, as was her wish, is a tremendous honour; growing up from distant fan, to friend to family is beyond a treasure. Elisabeth disapproved of what she once described as "Irishly mawkish farewell speeches." When she was in the hospice, apologising for being, in her words, "an old bag of bones" and not much fun, I said, over and over, that every day with her was a good day. Sadly, she was done with writing. No more yarns or tweets. Certainly, no stories of pathos. But Elisabeth's writing had already said it all: truthfully, directly, brightly. She was, after all, the guiding star in our southern sky, showing us how to give, play, laugh and love, Broadway big.

Madeleine Peyroux - "Dance me to the end of love"

Kim Williams AM

Elisabeth, Betty, Bette, Tante - our dear friend.

We all knew her differently and she had every one of us in our own zone and special space in her life. Nothing mattered more to Elisabeth than family and friendship.

Elisabeth would only take her full name from me and I had known her as a dear friend for 36 years. Yet with others Betty and Bette were perfectly fine. And then of course tante for Gabi and Jesse.

To pay tribute to Elisabeth is an honour. And it was for many of us, a privilege to support her through her trial with pancreatic cancer. I need to tell you what exceptional character Elisabeth exhibited throughout the ordeal from the time of her diagnosis some four months ago.

She bore her lot with a distinctive resilience which was inspiring.  There was love, humour, tenderness and concern not to burden others in moments of extremity.

There was no self-pity. Never. That was not Elisabeth. There was no wavering from the challenge of the chemo and the recent pleurodesis operation. A few of us were invited to talk about the operation beforehand and she brought a disciplined and objective judgment to the decision without any melodrama. It was a matter of fact decision, cognisant of the significant potential pain balanced against the ability to breathe again. She voted for quality of life and had the operation. Brava!

She submitted to all manner of therapeutic interventions for pain and her turbulent innards without complaint even when it made her weary and ever so sick occasioning the most frightful distress.

At all times she exhibited a grace and special beauty with a kindness and consideration towards her nurses and doctors which was equally a source of surprise and devotion from them. They were terrific.

I know many of you wanted to visit but truly she had little strength and was just not up to it. She needed to conserve what reserves she had simply to make it through each day with Gabi’s and Suzie’s extended loving support and that of a number of others here today.

As we all know our Elisabeth had a certain no bullshit, take no prisoners aspect to her personality. She was firm, direct and searingly truthful. She knew she was dying and she saw it in plain matter of fact terms but she lived every minute and she was full of love for her family and you her friends. So much love. Wonderful, uncharacteristically repeated expressions of love. To state the obvious – she was one of a kind.

There was another side to Elisabeth which may surprise some here – she had a profound vulnerability and an insecurity which manifested itself in many divergent ways. At times she was almost cute in the way her insecurity would present when she rang for the tenth time to read through a paragraph, or forty. And as we all learn now, having thought it was ‘our special thing’ she did it with so many of us. “Have you got a minute? I just want to see what you think of this?” Oh Elisabeth!

She also didn’t like being alone – she was an ardently social creature. Even when working – often a fighting experience for her - she needed contact by phone or directly. She had a busy social diary and was usually out at night until the recent affliction, when we had to keep her supplied with good DVDs. In our many sessions in the hospital her lively interest in people rarely wavered. I would arrive and she would say “Kimbo tell me about the outside world,” and we would natter away for a couple of joyful hours. She also loved music and the pieces we hear today are but part reflection of her taste.

There was also her heartfelt remorse when she had said something severe. Something truthful but awesomely or horrifyingly blunt depending on your perspective. Then she was mortified as to potential offense and hurt which had been occasioned to the innocent or invariably not so innocent party. It was her Dutch meets Australian life zone. We encountered it in many recent medical situations. Big time.

Elisabeth was very Dutch and culturally idiosyncratically Jewish. She was from a mainstream cultural Jewishness – liberal, humanist, intellectually generous, thoughtful, kind and good at listening. There was her New York self also – not just the passion for smoked salmon, cold cuts, pickles and blintzes but that marvellous energetic brashness and zest for living. With a strong sense of serendipity in a life lived well.

Our Elisabeth was a great listener – of course only when you could get a word in!
It is what made her a great journalist and a marvellous writer. Many is the confession Elisabeth heard from her friends and she dispersed absolutions through long conversations and hilarious celebrations of all the foibles that make us all, us. She was usually discreet and took the collective secrets shared with her, never having betrayed the special trust many reposed in her.

Her sense of humour was definitely not exclusively Dutch. Thank god. Limited recourse to fart jokes and physical comedy! Her riotous sense of humour was in the best Australian, Jewish and New York traditions – earthy, witty, clever and profoundly funny. I am sure I speak for all of us when I say I doubt I have ever laughed as hard and often with any other person than Elisabeth. Betty. Bette. Tante. Boisterously, hysterically, repeatedly, side splittingly, joyfully, mischievously and whole-heartedly. We laughed in the hospital and we laughed in the hospice. Nothing was protected – there was always something to lift one’s spirit with the fluent camaraderie of a really good joke or seeing the funny side of things.  But her humour was never cruel and never at the expense of others. That was not Elisabeth. Never.

Elisabeth was extraordinarily generous – in every way. She was generous and loving with Nan, Jules, Gabi and Jesse.

Elisabeth was also wonderfully generous in her friendships; her relationships; with her colleagues; and with her community. She was kindly and considerate to all manner of people. She loved people and never stopped talking about them. And she was a great host – we all loved a Hastings Parade Sunday brunch and the Boxing Day Sydney to Hobart party was a compulsory event – come not, at your peril!


Always convivial, in the 70’s Elizabeth was a real party girl. Never a real drinker she made up for that by smoking with a committed vengeance. Never more than half a cigarette consumed but so many that she gave new meaning to the term wilful smoking. Quitting in the early 90’s was a really major thing – smoking was so much a part of her personality.

Elisabeth was fiercely loyal and as an utterly proper person expected the same. She was unusually capable of forgiveness and there was her other side. Let’s not go there – it was a minor space but there was a ferocity in some of her views that one could not help but admire. It came from a strong ethical core and protective sense of self. She was morally tough and had an inflexibility in some matters – enough said.  

In fact there is little in Elisabeth I did not admire personally. She was strong, independent, original and also very warm. We were never in doubt about her perspective on most things, were we? She had a world view and she shared it – often energetically!

She rebuilt a career at least five times. First there was the period at Frensham as a teacher. Then the Bulletin and National Times and some of the memorable long studies she wrote in the seventies and early eighties – Kathy is reading from her work today.

Then she remade herself and personally blossomed with the move to New York in 78 – they were made for each other. In New York there was The National Times, the gig with The Women’s Weekly and then The Age and of course the writing of Manly Girls – the perspective from a distance helped her make it as good as it is. We should all campaign for a reprint. The return to Australia saw an initial flirtation with the possibility of radio. Frankly she had a great voice for print!

The move to The Australian followed and a host of fine pieces – where I recall in particular her work on indentured Asian prostitution and the material which produced Dirt Cheap. Then came her last three published works – each of them important, original and splendidly written – Dirt Cheap while she was still at The Australian, The Short Goodbye when she was not – as is made very clear therein. And of course her love letter to family - On Resilience.  Many of us lived through each of them.  Personally I recall the determined rejection of my fiftieth birthday invitation because she was in the field living on a pittance in doing the hard yards for Dirt Cheap and she refused to let me pay to bring her back to Sydney for a small party at home. It was inconsistent with her self-imposed program of work and the discipline she adopted.  Her email address doesn’t say it all but it conveys her conviction.


Recently we have had which has some superb pieces. Elisabeth loved Bondi, London and New York – and I think it is fair to say of the three she would choose Bondi provided there was a trip to the others every few years. Please read Hot ham and pudding at the Three Steps and Aunty Pearl at the Astra to get a sense that Elisabeth never stopped working in her pursuit of great stories about remarkable people. She was a painstaking writer. Her craft was one of distillation, careful juxtaposition of thoughts in beautifully composed prose which was polished and refined through agonisingly deliberative processes. I am thrilled to tell you that there is a new website (Elisabeth with an s of course!) which has been beautifully designed by Libby Blainey. It is a great tribute to Elisabeth and a spectrum of her finest work. 

For me Manly Girls and On Resilience are an indelible part of my life. I have read Manly Girls many times and when On Resilience was released it was so strikingly concise and spoke such truth that I read it twice immediately – it was a deeply personal effort for our Elisabeth. She loved Nan and Jules so and as we all know she was truly a practically perfect daughter and sister! Theirs were wonderful relationships. It was ever so lovely to hear the family grazing between English and Dutch and when Elisabeth spoke with Nan her English accent even changed sounding quite like the girl from the rural Netherlands in South Limburg.  Dank u vell.

Elisabeth passed from this world on Rosh Hashanah and whilst not a religious person it had a certain symmetry and conveyed a very special blessing even she would accept, I am sure.

We all take comfort in your release dear Elisabeth. We thank you for all that you gave us, many times over.

Elizabeth is truly deserving of the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning for a woman -  Eshet Chayil - which translates as ‘woman of valour’.

God bless you dear friend – you live in our hearts evermore.

In the Jewish tradition - may you all live long lives!

Schubert - Piano Trio #2 in E flat major Op 100 D929 - 4th movement

Kathy Bail



I wanted to slow down and take stock, and it wasn’t possible in Sydney, where I felt trapped in a role of my own making.

 I was boyish, boisterous and theatrical. I courted attention and wore costume, going to parties in a sailor suit, and to work in a second-hand pair of overalls from a Rolls Royce Factory in England.

I stopped wearing costumes in New York. I liked being anonymous.

No-one cared what I thought, no-one noticed what I did, no-one expected a thing from me.

It was as if I were free to reinvent myself, an illusion with a logic all its own in America, where a distortion of history gave rise to the pervasive myth that it was possible to throw off the shackles and begin again.

 Instead of dreaming up another self, I stubbed my toe against intractable reality and came up against the same old limitations. But I managed to cling to the liberating notion that my life was my own invention.


If [my mother’s] compassion was on one side of the ledger, her aptitude for commerce was on the other. She was a curious combination, a soft-touch who regarded it as soft-headed to let opportunities slip through your fingers, who for all her own generosity, was aghast at the realisation that both her children lacked her instinct for business. I always thought she could have had an interesting conversation with Kerry Packer, a man with some of the same contradictory impulses, who was so resilient he came back from the dead.


I tiptoed along the hallway to the reception area of the Club, feeling that I had strayed into the wrong half of some Upstairs Downstairs fantasy.

I was there not to apply for membership, but for a job.

 The luminous hall, with its green-damask walls and huge bowls of rhododendrons, looked like a setting for Masterpiece Theatre, the distillation of theme-park English class.

 The pictures were better, though. A voice pierced the clubby stillness.

 ‘Do you remember Margaret Olley? A woman with silver hair said to her companion. The Olley hung off to the right. There was a Fred Williams to the left.

 I didn’t dare to get up from the sofa where I’d taken a seat to inspect them, lest someone thought I was casing the joint.

I assumed that sitting still and smiling with forced cheerfulness would make me seem dim and compliant. And I felt compliant, not like my normal self at all.

I was obsessed with the thought that I could be identified. I didn’t know that I was about to enter a world in which even people I had met would give no sign of recognition when I served them.



I had led a charmed existence as a journalist, largely doing what I wanted to do, but leaving was nothing like the wrench I had expected.

Through a fortuitous set of circumstances, the last few months at News Limited had set me up for the next chapter of my life. I could write books I felt like writing, so great a luxury I had the feeling of wanting for nothing.

 I would do my work without seeing the wolfish smile of the managing editor or the shit-eating grin of an editor I had once told to put his head in the toilet.

I was in a fortunate position. I owned my flat. I had enough to get by.

Verdi - Sempre Libera - from La Traviata