An interview with Louise Milligan

January–February 2021, no. 428

An interview with Louise Milligan

January–February 2021, no. 428

Louise Milligan is an investigative reporter for ABC TV's Four Corners. Her book Cardinal won the Walkley Book Award. She is also the recipient of the 2019 Press Freedom Medal. Her new book, Witness, is reviewed in the December issue.


Louise Milligan in front of the Magistrates’ Court, 2017 (Subel Bhandari/dpa/Alamy Live News)Louise Milligan in front of the Magistrates’ Court, 2017 (Subel Bhandari/dpa/Alamy Live News)


If you could go anywhere tomorrow, where would it be, and why?

Were it not for Covid-19, I would love to travel around Italy. I love the food, the people, the culture. I’d also like to take my husband and children to Ireland, where I was born, and Scotland, where I lived as a young child before moving to Australia.


What’s your idea of hell?

Having to be nude on a nudist beach. Being stuck in a dull conversation. Watching anything that stars a Kardashian. Having a large spider crawl on any part of me.


What do you consider the most specious virtue?

The sort of simpering piety that masks sociopathy, lack of empathy, and bullying.


What’s your favourite film?

The Graduate. I could watch it every day. That scene at the end when Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) are on the bus, realising what they have just done, the look in their eyes, it just says so much about the complexity of life, its thrills, and its disappointments.


And your favourite book?

I really love Brideshead Revisited.


Name the three people with whom you would most like to dine

Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, and Katharine Hepburn. Now that would be a cracking dinner party.


Which word do you most dislike, and which one would you like to see back in public usage?

I really loathe ‘gifted’ and similarly appalling noun to verb mutations. I like old-fashioned words. ‘Hornswoggle’ is the title of one of my chapters in my book Witness.


Who is your favourite author?

Evelyn Waugh and Oscar Wilde.


And your favourite literary hero or heroine?

I suppose my first one was Jo March from Little Women.


What qualities do you look for in critics?

Put it this way, the qualities I don’t want to see are undeclared conflicts of interest and faux-intellectual nastiness and élitism. The qualities I like to see are nuance and not taking expected positions. Polarisation of our public discourse is a creeping problem, and I wish it would go away.


Which quality do you most admire in a writer?

The ability to create such a powerful narrative that they suck a reader out of their own world and immerse the reader so deeply in the one that the writer has constructed that they forget their own lives.


Which book influenced you most in your youth?

I was a huge fan of Dickens and his incredible ability to create a character and to use the language – David Copperfield and Great Expectations are particular favourites. There is even a quote from Bleak House in Witness. Those books inspired my love of literature when I was a teenager.


Name an early literary idol or influence whom you no longer admire – or vice versa.

I adored Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov when I read it as a young person. It is beautifully written. But since all the work I have done on the lifelong impact of childhood sexual abuse, I don’t think I could read that book now. Not in a ‘cancel culture’ sort of way, but I think it would just make me feel sick.


Do you have a favourite podcast?

I must admit that I don’t get a lot of time to listen to podcasts. Four Corners is a job and a half, plus keeping up with news and current affairs, and then my writing commitments. I would rather read a book in my spare time.


What, if anything, impedes your writing?

Time poverty.


How do you find working with editors?

I very much enjoy the process. I guess I work with people in similar roles in journalism all the time, so I like the collaboration and the feedback.


What do you think of writers’ festivals?

I love writers’ festivals. I had such positive experiences at them with my first book, Cardinal, and I hope they’ll be back soon.


Are artists valued in our society?

Yes, but I think they should be more valued by political leaders. I feel dreadfully sorry for those left behind in the Covid-19 recession. The response (or lack thereof) from government was disappointing.

What are you working on now?

I’m at the beginning of researching a new Four Corners program. If you have an issue that you think will translate into forty-five minutes of unmissable current affairs television, I’m all ears!

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Comment (1)

  • Lovely to know a little about what makes you tick, Louise. I am somewhat disappointed thAT you make no mention of environment, ecology, animals or nature which are what make me tick and what I am passionate about protecting for future generations.
    Posted by Simone Hunter
    18 January 2021

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