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You wouldn't read about it

By Lionel Hogg - posted Tuesday, 15 April 2008


Andy Warhol once said that “art is what you can get away with”. My father wasn’t particularly talented with any form of paint brush, but on Warhol’s definition he certainly was an artist of rare talents.

Lionel Ker Strutton Hogg was born in Longreach Private Hospital on January 12, 1924. Dad was raised as an only child, his younger sister dying as an infant. His first 11 years were spent in Aramac and Dad’s childhood companions were his old black goat, Poley, and his cousins Cliff (better known as Curley) and George (better known as Mutt). Somehow, Dad escaped the indignity of an outback nickname.

Dad’s parents were kind, decent straight-shooters. They instilled values that stayed with Dad for life and were often repeated to his children. Dad’s father used to counsel him never to call anyone a liar - it was arrogant and “asking for a poke on the nose”. When you make a mistake, admit it smartly. Always, always tell the truth. Go out of your way to talk to people, regardless of their station in life. And make your own luck by hard work and grabbing opportunities with both hands. Dad lived all of these values for 84 wonderful years.

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Dad always spoke fondly - almost reverently - of his childhood in Aramac. Of lazy days with Curley and Mutt, playing any sport on offer and driving Uncle Ben mad when their cricket ball dented his corrugated iron stables. Of being caned at school more than most, mainly for talking in class - it didn’t seem to stop him talking all of his life. Of playing in the fig trees until after dark. Of swimming naked in Aramac Creek. Of fishing from the railway bridge after pinching bamboo from the local Chinaman’s garden to use as rods.

Sport was always a big part of Dad’s life, even after childhood. He was the Central Queensland Schoolboys tennis champion, played in the cricket firsts and was an A grade swimmer. In his adulthood, he continued playing tennis for many years, as well as a weekly game of A grade squash and a regular round of golf.

Dad’s parents leased White’s Cafe in Aramac in the early 1930s. In 1935 and struck by the Great Depression, his father lost a toss for the goodwill of the cafe and the family moved to Rockhampton - a major town at that time - to give Dad a better chance in life.

In Rockhampton, Dad attended Allenstown State School but continued to practise tennis during school hours and then at Rockhampton Grammar School.

While boarding at secondary school, Dad was seriously ill with peritonitis, spending almost a month in hospital with a tube draining fluid from his stomach. Being the consummate conversationalist, Dad spent most days chatting with another patient, an older lady who loved tennis. After finishing Senior, Dad received job offers as a bank clerk and a primary school teacher, but was attracted by the possibility of a first year cadetship with the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin.

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Dad was convinced he could talk his way into a position, but his interview with the General Manager was destined for hopeless failure when, right at the end, a young lady who worked there - the general manager’s daughter as things turned out - walked into the room and identified Dad as the man who used to talk to her mother in hospital. Dad had a job five minutes later.

Dad joined the RAAF and his air crew was called into service on August 14, 1942. But he resumed his journalism career in late 1945, returning to the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin. The war had stalled the careers of many young men and Dad was keen to make up for lost time. He accepted a job on the Brisbane Telegraph after impressing the paper with his dispatched coverage of a high profile murder and Coroner’s Court committal.

Some time later in 1952, after working for a variety of newspapers, Dad was invited to join the Herald in Melbourne, then arguably the best and certainly the most respected newspaper in the country. This period was the start of his most cherished memories in journalism, amazing stories that Mum, Ian and I heard countless times over the dinner table. Dad covered floods and fires, gang wars and murder trials and loved police rounds which uncovered not only criminal intrigue but amazing human interest stories. He met the good, the bad and the ugly in society. He faced a loaded gun. Mick Miller, who became Victorian Police Commissioner, turned into a lifelong friend, but it didn’t prevent Dad regularly meeting with wanted underworld figures and legendary criminal defence lawyer Frank Galbally. He gained trust across the board and broke stories from all angles.

Dad knew Margaret Mee from his school days in Rockhampton, each regularly riding past the other’s home on their bicycles. Dad swears it was Mum who was always keen on him; Mum swears it was the opposite. Regardless, they ran into each other periodically for years until Mum, visiting Melbourne on holidays, saw Dad’s by-line in the Herald and rang to enquire if the writer was indeed Lionel Hogg from Rockhampton.

Stories of their courtship vary and I regard them both as unreliable witnesses, so I’ll adopt Dad’s mantra and stick to the known facts. This time they fell in love - there must have been some doubt for a while, as it was Dad’s third engagement - but they married in Brisbane on March 19, 1953 and forged a partnership of just under 55 years.

In 1954, Dad was posted to Darwin as the Herald’s representative and later recalled tales of the Wild West, the magnificent countryside and the wonders and despair of aboriginal culture. On most evenings, Dad would camp out at the airport to discover any in-bound international VIP’s all in the name of the scoop - the strategy had him talking to them seven hours before they landed in Sydney. While in Darwin, Dad also covered a key part of the Petrov affair, Australia’s biggest spy scandal.

The Darwin stint ended a month before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and, with an accommodation shortage and needing a break, Mum and Dad took nine weeks leave in Brisbane and Coolangatta.

During this time, a Ukranian lady, Nina Paranyuk, caused an international diplomatic incident when she failed to return to a Russian cruise ship, on which she was a stewardess. She later obtained political asylum, but for over six weeks couldn’t be found. This was in the heart of the Cold War. She was sought by Soviet agents, ASIO, the Commonwealth Police, the Victorian Special Branch, Immigration Department investigators and, of course, half of the journalists in the country.

When Dad returned to the Herald after his break, she was still missing and he convinced the Chief of Staff to put him on the story. Using contacts and cunning, he found her and, after gaining trust, interviewed her for four nights in Mum and Dad’s apartment. To their landlady’s later relief, Nina was not a communist.

Dad’s story won the 1957 Walkley Award - the second ever - for the best piece of newspaper reporting in Australia. It was awarded in the heyday of newspapers, when television news was embryonic. It was the top award of only three categories - today’s Walkleys have well over 20 reporting categories. It was Dad’s proudest achievement in journalism.

In 1958, Dad became Chief of Staff of the Herald and in 1962 became head of the Herald’s London bureau, working on Fleet Street for two years and filing international stories.

Dad returned from London with his cherished 1959 Mark 9 Jaguar, which he kept until its running expenses got the better of him. It broke a few world land speed records in its time, but I lost count of the occasions Dad simply talked his way out of speeding fines. The most notable was a 15-minute roadside chat early one morning on the Bruce Highway en route to North Queensland in the early 1980s. It took Dad less than a minute to convince the motorcycle cop to give him a break; then they just chatted and chatted and chatted. Dad had that way with people.

Actually, Dad’s life was littered with car stories. Of clearing the car pool at critical times by sending his reporters on bogus assignments so that the cars weren’t available to reporters on the sister morning newspaper. It was always important to scoop even your closest colleagues.

Of overtaking police cars racing to crime scenes in the black Herald Buick in Melbourne. Of having his police rounds driver ignore traffic police directions, again in the Buick. Of driving Darwin police Superintendent Littlejohn off the road in the Herald Chev, on two separate occasions. And of being threatened with arrest but escaping censure on each of these occasions. I shouldn’t admit he taught me to drive.

After 10 years of marriage and travel, children finally arrived. I was born in London in 1963 and Ian in Brisbane in 1966, after Dad had taken up the position of Deputy Editor of the Brisbane Telegraph. Dad became editor of the Telegraph in 1975 and, in 1981, took up a consulting position with Queensland Newspapers until his retirement in 1989. Dad died almost 20 years to the day after the closure of the Telegraph.

Dad was awarded a CBE - a Commander of the Order of the British Empire - for services to journalism in the Queen’s New Year honours list in 1980.

I feel I’ve earned a degree in journalism through a lifetime with Dad. All of his stories and experiences have recurring themes - getting the scoop, gaining and deserving trust, speaking with the common folk, working the contacts, doing the hard work, checking the facts, obsession with the detail and simply having “news sense”, something I suspect cannot be taught.

He lived and breathed journalism. And he well understood the distinction between what we now pejoratively refer to as tabloid journalism - something he detested - and the skills of identifying real stories coupled with the art of selling them.

Dad was testimony to the adage that the person you put in charge is the person who cares the most. He was both audacious and tenacious. His determination to achieve the desired result usually morphed into sheer stubbornness. He was a leader who wouldn’t accept defeat - he wouldn’t even admit it as a possibility. His enthusiasm was infectious and it was matched by a personality that filled every room.

Dad’s favourite expression was “you wouldn’t read about it”. He used it whenever he told - or heard - a great story. It was always delivered with a twinkle in his eyes.

As a father, Dad was unsurpassable. Nothing - absolutely nothing - stood between Dad and what he could do for his children, or for Mum. He was a big-hearted, generous, larger-than-life character who adored us. The only thing that ever embarrassed me about Dad, and I was secretly proud of course, was just how hard he’d try on our account. He simply cared - about our happiness, our aspirations, our daily routines.

Despite his unshakeable self-belief and his imposing presence, he was a gentle and kind man. He saw the best in everyone and got the best from everyone. His standards were very high but he was always the first to help you meet them. As a grandfather, he adored Lauren and James - his eyes lit up every time they entered the room. Unfortunately, the ravages of Alzheimer’s denied him any real connection with Jessica or Alexander, but it’s beyond a shadow of doubt he would have loved them just the same.

And Mum - well, she was his life. As my conversations with Dad in recent times became depressingly shorter and less reliable, the one constant was just how much Margaret impacted his life and his heart.

The boy from Aramac lived his dreams and I’m eternally grateful and proud to have been a part of them. It was a truly wonderful and remarkable life. It was pure artistry. It’s fair to say “you wouldn’t read about it”.

Rest in peace Dad. I love you.

February 22, 2008.

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About the Author

Lionel Hogg is co-founder of On Line Opinion. He practices as a lawyer in Brisbane.

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