REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Lessons of COVID laid bare

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend.

Just like printing presses, life comes at you fast sometimes.

Just like printing presses, life comes at you fast sometimes.

I lost a good friend very recently. Or to tell the truth, I lost him five years ago when we fell out of touch.

So when he died, I didn't even know he'd been sick.

I didn't know he'd been in and out of rehab, depressed, had left his lady, had packed up and moved from one end of the country to another, then another, then another.

I'd sent messages, called, over years, but when they weren't answered I left it, figured he was busy, not feeling sociable, or something. More likely he didn't want to admit he needed help, or was too stubborn to ask.

And then COVID happened and it became a lot harder to see people - particularly in Ballarat. He became more isolated than ever, and this was a bloke who loved a chat. He was already going downhill but the end of the incline came up to meet him.

Why deal with this by putting it in print, as it was this morning, or online now?

First, to lay out the fact that if we lose touch with friends, it might suddenly be too late. And in these days of isolation, we need more than ever to maintain our long-distance connections. Today.

And because this dapper fellow was an old school newspaper man. Ink in his veins, they say. More likely it was in his lungs, from all those trips through the press room, a great roaring beast that lurked between the newsroom and the smoking area.

I owed him. When I arrived in a far-flung place and my first newspaper job, he took me under his wing as a caring, fearless and just perfectly gruff mentor.

News has changed fast and hard since then and he probably wasn't equipped to handle it. Him and many other newspaper men of his generation, who remembered when you could smoke at your desk, and when it wasn't strange for an editor to rip up errant copy and throw it back.

They became subeditors, their experience deployed in quality control, but then the subs were axed in favour of speedier processes and younger, cheaper staff. These changes broke his journalist's heart.

I'm not naming him because there may be some who don't know yet, and this isn't the way to find out. Nor is it a proper obituary, which would talk more about him and less about myself.

He was there when I most needed a friend; we drowned sorrows in country and blues. He was there when I met the love of my life and the mother of my children (that's one person). I'm not sure he ever forgave me for it. "If I was 20 years younger and a foot taller ..." was his refrain.

So, see ya mate. Thanks for everything, and more than that, sorry I wasn't there when you needed a hand.

And if you want to keep in touch on Facebook, you can find the Voice of Real Australia here.

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