Mungo MacCallum

Tim Bowden, ABC journalist and historian, hosted a television program called BackChat between 1987 and 1994. Viewers could write in with their comments on Aunty’s offerings. One correspondent criticised the Rob Sitch-inspired spoof of the commercial current affairs programs, Frontline ...

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By the time I arrived in Canberra in the late 1970s, Mungo MacCallum was already a legend in his own lunchtime, which, as he admits in this latest book, ‘frequently dragged on towards sunset’. He was famed for introducing a new style of political journalism into Australia: irreverent, opinionated, witty, at times scurrilous. He was impatient of cant, and punctured pomposity. These qualities are all apparent in Mungo: The Man Who Laughs. It is avowedly neither autobiography nor history. It is an odd hybrid, divided distinctly into two parts: a set of autobiographical sketches devoted to his early life, laced with politics and laughter; and a personalised chronicle of the age of Gough Whitlam.

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It seems strange to describe Diamond Jim McClelland as, really, rather an old-fashioned man. Few septuagenarians have anything like his energy, his forthrightness, his optimism, or, most of all, his receptivity to new ideas. But if there is a continuous thread in his extraordinarily full and complex life, it can probably be best summed up as a very untrendy, passionate commitment to morality. The catch is that his ideas of what constitutes morality – or at least what is the best way of achieving it – have gone from here to there and back again.

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