I have a confession to make: I’ve never done it. I’ve come close, many times, but I can’t claim to have ever having completely “nailed it”. Seemingly everyone around me, in this business at least, has done it and continues to do so, but I just can’t seem to crack it.
Despite decades in the news game, I’m yet to pop my “interviewing a serving Prime Minister” cherry.
There are no serving prime ministerial notches on my broadcasting bedhead
A short, sharp “g’day mate” from the “Ginger Dreamboat”, Julia Gillard early in 2013 when our walking paths crossed beside Lake Burley Griffin as she strode with a bunch of T-Shirted Heart Foundation people, got my blood pumping but that was it. All pump and no pop.
I’ve interviewed many Prime Ministers over the past 30 years, but only as either “has beens” – Whitlam, Fraser and Keating or “wannabes”– Hawke, Howard and Rudd. Plus a few “would-bes-if-they-could-bes” in Peacock, Hewson, Beasley and Latham. But frustratingly I’m still “intact” when it comes to consummating an interview with an actual resident of the Lodge.
So desperate was I to break my duck I would have “done the deed” with Julia Gillard with MPs Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor watching on. More disappointment though.
The Prime Ministerial teasing began when I was a much younger man.
Rewind to 1977 and Melbourne’s Southern Cross Hotel, early evening on that “one day in September”.
After a long and lubricated day at the “G” watching North Melbourne and Collingwood draw the VFL Grand Final I experienced my second encounter with a former Prime Minister of Australia within 10 hours. The first came earlier in the day at the famous North Melbourne Football Club breakfast, held in the ballroom of the now gone great Melbourne landmark.
One of our touring party (the Mowbray Hotel Social 8 Ball club’s annual getaway) had gone AWOL the night before. Thankfully he resurfaced at the Southern Cross hotel in the early hours of Grand Final day. After a power nap in the atrium he, possibly disoriented, and Jetlagged (a flight across Bass Strait can be a bitch) stumbled into the lavishly decorated and celebrity laden ballroom in search of his traveling companions from the Island state. Thankfully I was able to drag him away from a bewildered John Grey Gorton GCMG AC CH before security swooped. Apparently he’d asked the former Liberal PM if he “seen any of the boys from Mowbray”?
Many hours later back at the Southern Cross and with the final siren, which rang to end a game of football which would have to be replayed in 7 days, still ringing in my ears,I drunkenly lurched into a lift which just contained one rider….. a tall, broad-shouldered and imposing man who, in my “emotional” state, looked vaguely familiar. I told him as much, too.
Surprisingly unfettered by Post Prime Ministerial chaperonery this Prime Minister of Prime Ministers was extremely cordial under the circumstances. He thrust out a huge hand and, with the timbered, cultured voice of a stage actor/emperor, subtly suggested I’d obviously “had a good day at the football, comrade”…
He alighted at the lift at next floor, and from my unreliable memory, possibly smirking but hopefully amused at the drunken Bogan from Tasmania who had failed to fully recognise the great E.G. Whitlam.
A trench-coated, cigar-puffing, Silver Bodgie came to my radio station for a chat during a 1980s campaign in support of a local candidate. But R.J.Hawke would have to wait a little longer for the keys to The Lodge. Very close but again no chocolates for me.
During the campaign of ’84, I interviewed John Howard and Andrew Peacock but not together: I heard they weren’t getting along too well at that time.
On Melbourne Cup day 1984, an agitated Peacock came in for an on-air chat with a dozen or so members of the press gallery in tow. I asked callers to be brief with the questions as Peacock had to fly back to Melbourne for the big two miler at Flemington racecourse. The media pack had fun with that the next day. A quote in “The Australian” said: “Mr Welsh didn’t need to issue the brevity warning to callers… there were none.”
Malcolm Fraser has also been on my program many times since leaving The Lodge.
Despite all this, I remain a “maiden performer” when it comes to interviewing “serving” PMs. With the “Gillard” window of opportunity now tightly shut , it looks as though I’ll have to lower my standards and settle for Tony Abbott – or should I keep” myself for “Mr Right”, Malcolm Turnbull ?