CAROL SUMMERHAYES. At a tribute to Graham Freudenberg.- A REPOST from June 8 2017

Jan 13, 2018

Graham revealed in his memoir that he wrote his first speech in Brisbane in May 1945, aged 10, at the time of VE Day, and delivered it to his mother. In 1946 he scored a job with ABC Radio reading scripts of school broadcasts – “I learned a lot about the use of English written to be spoken”. He didn’t know then that this experience would be life-forming: his speeches over the years stand out as words meant to be heard as well as to be read, a different sort of writing altogether.  

I’m not going to talk tonight about Graham’s immense contribution to the Labor cause, but about the man I know, from my perspective. Like Graham, I would prefer to remain in the back room – but he deserves more recognition. It is great that this event is happening so that we can pay tribute to this gifted man. I’ll reminisce about how things were, the olde worlde way in which we worked, and how, twenty years ago, we got together again.

It’s more than fifty years since I met Graham Freudenberger, as I carefully recorded his name in my diary on my first day in the Whitlam office. This was almost three months after Gough had become Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party in February 1967. John Menadue, as Gough’s Senior Private Secretary, selected me for the job of Steno-Secretary Grade 1, mostly, but not solely, working to Graham. Thank you, John. It was a life-changing opportunity.

I had a lot to learn about politics – still have! A few days into the job, I was told to send some statement or other out to all senators and members, so I dutifully toddled off to the mail room with copies for all – Libs, Country Party, DLP, Labor, the lot. Fortunately the mail room was slow to act and I was able to retrieve our opponents’ copies before they went anywhere. Lesson No. 1 – think politically!

But I also had a lot to learn about everything else, and Graham (with occasional input from the Leader) was a fantastic teacher. He used to say: “Stick with me, Carol, and you’ll learn something new every day”. And I did. Osmosis is a wondrous thing – I went on to a successful public service life in large part because I took in so much of value from Graham, about the world, about ideas, about history, about words, about politics, about how to put an argument.

Freudie has been described by Rob Chalmers, that grand veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, as a man of “barely average height (who) wore glasses and dressed in a standard business suit and tie; he could have been taken for an accountant”. Accountant? An especially creative accountant, perhaps. I still have to resist the urge to tidy him up – the tie, the collar, something almost always a little skew-whiff …

We worked long hours in Parliament House – the old one. On sitting days Graham turned up around noon, with a green apple for breakfast, or was it for lunch?  He has described himself as a man of “irregular habits”, and “with my dictations, midnight pacing and stimulants, I was….a high maintenance worker”.

To quote him again : “On major speeches we would push on until the early hours until we were the last occupants of Parliament House except for the sole security guard, the nightwatchman known to everybody as Paddy …. I tended to measure a speech not by words but by packets of cigarettes and beer cans….”. The cleaners used to call his office “the big ashtray”.

I was a little proud of my shorthand speed, not quite 120 words a minute but not far off. But Graham’s dictation speed was not quite 120 words a minute either – I timed it one night; he was dictating at an average of three words a minute, with time between words for me to put my shopping list together. But the words were the thing; the exactly appropriate words – he so rarely changed them after I had typed them up. They were a long time coming but a long time surviving!

Our first year working together – 1967 – was an action-packed year. In May we had the culmination of the long Referendum campaign to remove constitutional discrimination against aboriginal Australians, and on the nexus between the House of Reps and the Senate. In June we had the dramatic confrontation at the Victorian ALP Conference, followed by success in by-elections in Corio in Victoria and Capricornia in Queensland, then a half-Senate election, all capped off by Harold Holt’s disappearance at the end of the year. So we travelled a lot, boosting the fortunes of both Travelodge and the people’s airline, as we called TAA.

Sometimes it got too exciting. One morning, I did shout at Graham. We had flown in from Bendigo, decanted ourselves from the RAAF aircraft at Fairbairn, and I was trying to shepherd the Leader into his car (shepherd may not be quite the word). Graham was hassling me, impatient to find his car. “Don’t you shout at me, you rude little man”, I reciprocated. He loves telling the story, and has forgiven me for my outburst – and he’s no little man, he’s a giant.

Campaigns not only involved a lot of time on the road and in the air, with our portable typewriters and suitcases full of Hansards. It is hard to believe now that then we issued only one press statement a day – no Trumpish twittering for us. There were no travelling photocopying machines, so if there were more than six journalists with us, I had to type the thing twice, as carbon paper only allowed half a dozen legible copies at a time. It only seems like yesterday, but it was the Stone Age by today’s standards!

We can’t talk about those days without remembering a couple of Graham’s great mates – Peter Cullen, with whom he spent many happy, if argumentative, hours in the snake pit, as the Parliament House non-members’ bar was known. Extension 279 would always find them, and they always looked out for each other. And Ian Fitchett of “The Age”, a great big burly man with a little head, who tested my collection of bits and pieces late one night when he bustled into the office asking me: “Muggsy, have you got a band-aid?” “Why, Mr Fitch, what has happened?”   “I just jobbed Peter Kelly in Kings’ Hall.” Lucky all he needed was a band-aid. We had plenty of laughs, including at after-hours games of cricket in Billy Snedden’s office where the wicket was taped to the glass door and the ball was made of rolled paper.

On that theme, do you know, Graham, that the Museum of Australian Democracy now advertises tours of our old haunt: “Come behind the scenes and discover that political intrigues are not the only games which have been played at Old Parliament House …. be surprised by the antics of the people who have inhabited this building.” $6 a tour, twice daily – perhaps we should be seeking royalties?

But the fascinating days of Opposition came to an end in December 1972. Graham and I both felt some sadness at the fact that being in government necessarily changed the close relationships we all shared during our almost six years of Opposition … but being in government was, after all, what it had all been about. After Labor won government, Graham and I didn’t see much of each other through 73 and 74 – he was off in West Block in the Prime Minister’s Department, and I was in my little dog box outside the PM’s office in Parliament House.

With my nesting instincts growing, and the attractiveness of long working hours fading, I moved over to the Department to more financially secure employment in April 1975.  After the Dismissal, Graham worked mainly in Sydney furthering the cause there.

But we eventually reconnected – Graham had moved in the nineties from leafy Woollahra to sun-drenched Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, with his beloved border collies. I turned up there in the early 2000s when I was in a relationship with Phil Davis, another Canberra ex-journalist. Phil decided to move to Bribie after we had visited Graham there; he really fancied the Bribie lifestyle. Thank goodness they had each other – no-one on that island could match them in a political discussion, and they enjoyed many a long lunch session together. We all thrived on the reconnection of old and shared friendships. Trivia nights at the local Bowls Club saw us as a team – Graham was the guru on history, literature, music, and politics; Phil the guru on sport, horse-racing, television and politics; Carol the penciller. We won often!

In 2004 Graham started on his memoir, A Figure of Speech, which I loved typing up. I learned so much about him. We would exchange brown paper parcels at trivia nights or, if I was back in Canberra, Graham would mail handwritten notes to me and I would return a typed version. We kept Australia Post in business. A few years later, I typed up his great book, Churchill and Australia. Phil and I greatly enjoyed seeing Graham’s fascinating stories unfold, and we occasionally suggested or queried something. He was always very encouraging of, and generous about, our involvement. His take on things was wonderful and his phenomenal memory is extraordinary, to this day.

Graham revealed in his memoir that he wrote his first speech in Brisbane in May 1945, aged 10, at the time of VE Day, and delivered it to his mother. In 1946 he scored a job with ABC Radio reading scripts of school broadcasts – “I learned a lot about the use of English written to be spoken”. He didn’t know then that this experience would be life-forming: his speeches over the years stand out as words meant to be heard as well as to be read, a different sort of writing altogether.

May I now say, as Graham said in concluding that first speech, “and so with that, I leave you”. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to pay my tribute to this inspiring man and good friend. He continues to astonish; I never thought he would make old bones, but he has survived so well!! Long may he last!

Carol Summerhayes worked with Graham Freudenberg for 50 years as Assistant and friend.  This tribute to Graham was delivered at a dinner in Sydney on 2 June 2017,  to honour Graham Freudenberg’s contribution to the ALP. 

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