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THE IMPROBABLE REPORTER


THE IMPROBABLE REPORTER

The Improbable Reporter is an inspirational read that follows Kevin Norbury’s life from the age of 10 when he woke up one morning paralysed by polio. He recovered, but from that day was never able to use his right arm. This book will grab readers from the first page and take them along his remarkable journey as a journalist; facing enormous odds, he proves that with persistence anything is possible. 

****

Kevin Norbury is one of the great gentlemen of Australian journalism. His memoir is a deeply moving, funny and inspired affirmation of will and self-determination and why it still matters to be a journalist in Australia today.

Virginia Trioli

Co-host ABC News Breakfast, journalist and author. 

A remarkable story of courage, determination and persistence that entertains and inspires. There was nothing improbable about Kevin Norbury's success as a journalist.

Bruce Guthrie

Editor and best-selling author of Man Bites Murdoch 

This is one journalist’s story that other journalists will love to read. And so will many, many others who have never tapped a typewriter. Kevin Norbury had to do it the hard way but he makes it sound like fun. His colourful tale of newspaper life is a delight to read.

Colin Duck Author, editor and publisher.

In Store Price: $23.95 
Online Price:   $22.95

 

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ISBN: 978-0-9944084-0-2    Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 278
Genre:
Non fiction


Cover: Clive Dalkins

 


Author
-
Kevin Norbury
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2016
Language: English


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About the author 

Kevin Norbury was born in Maryborough, Victoria, in 1941. He began his newspaper career in Ballarat at The Courier, a regional daily, where he was denied the chance of becoming a reporter because of a paralysed right arm from polio. It took him six years of persistence to get his first break, not via a cadetship as most of his peers had done, but as the sole reporter on a small bi-weekly in the state’s far west. From there he progressed to a tri-weekly, then a large provincial daily in Geelong where he won a prestigious Walkley Award for journalism. What followed were jobs at The Sun News-Pictorial (now the Herald-Sun), and The Age, in Melbourne, a political role as Press Secretary to the State’s Health Minister, the ABC, and newspapers in London. He spent about 20 years at the Sunday Age and The Age, his last eight years as a motoring writer. This is his third book.

He lives with his wife, Helen, in Geelong. He has four children and eight grandchildren.

Acknowledgements 

There are a many people I would like to thank for their support and encouragement during the writing of this book, which has been a long time coming, mainly due to my own self-doubt. 

Thanks must go to Marilyn Higgins, from Zeus Publications, for offering me a publishing contract, recognising in my manuscript a story that will appeal to readers of non-fiction. 

Thanks also go to the publisher’s Editorial Evaluator, Leanne Saunders, and to Julie Winzar who was set the task of editing my manuscript. 

My wife, Helen, and my family, rate highly on my list of acknowledgements for their love and continued support and encouragement during my deep, reflective moods about whether my life story was really worth putting into print.  

I must also thank the many journalists I have worked with over the years, particularly my former colleague and more recently magazines editor Eileen Berry, for her ready advice at crucial times and for her ongoing support.  

My former Age colleague and friend Rod Ashcroft can’t be forgotten, above all for his expert help with my computer problems – and I have always had plenty of those. 

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the enduring friendship of The Age’s columnist and writer Lawrence Money, the paper’s former Education Editor Geoff Maslen, and my Irish mate and former colleague Jim Glencross. 

There are many others who have been supportive in one way or another and to these people I say thanks.   

Dedication 

To Ron Roe,

my first editor.

 Read a sample:

CHAPTER ONE

Death of a newspaper 

 

UNTIL I was ten years old, childhood was just one big adventure for a kid growing up in the country. We roamed the sheep-studded paddocks, climbed the cypress trees after birds’ nests, scaled pine trees to swing on the branches and ate pine nuts underneath. We also caught yabbies in our dam if we were quick enough to scoop them up in a colander the moment they quizzically clawed the chunk of meat we tied to a piece of string. It was also when I was ten that all of this abruptly ended. It’s not part of my life I think much about now. Except when I am reminded of it, as I was at work one morning, by a colleague I have long suspected held some sort of obscure degree in smartarse remarks.  

It was the early 1990s. By this time I was a reporter on The Sunday Age, one of Melbourne’s vibrant new Sunday newspapers, the Sunday edition of The Age, a prominent, influential Victorian daily. The new paper had been cobbled together rather quickly and out of necessity, after media baron Rupert Murdoch had pulled the pin on the Sunday Press, a not-so-influential, but nonetheless popular little tabloid where I had been working. That paper was jointly produced by Syme, owners of The Age, and Murdoch’s Herald and Weekly Times group. It had succeeded despite reasons for its existence, which were, by all accounts, to undermine the ambitions of the devil-may-care editor and publisher Maxwell Newton and his Melbourne Observer, the only other Sunday in town. But Murdoch had ideas of his own and took everyone by surprise in August 1989 by launching not one, but two Sunday papers, the Sunday Sun, a tabloid, and the Sunday Herald, an upmarket broadsheet version of his afternoon daily. His aim was to corner the growing Sunday advertising market, leaving The Age no alternative. 

While plans for this were going on, I was still beavering away at the Sunday Press, where I had been a sub-editor, then reporter, and while I knew I had a job on The Age’s new Sunday and could have been working on the dummies leading up to its launch, I could not abandon the poor old Press in its dying days and saw it out to its sad and emotional end. I’m really glad I did. I will never again experience a ‘galley rattle’, or a paper’s ‘death rattle’, the printers’ traditional mark of respect to a newspaper’s demise, and this was done as the last pages of the paper were put to bed. Compositors and printers strutted around the production room of the Herald and Weekly Times building in Flinders Street, holding metal galley trays aloft – the long trays that once held the metal type before it was put into a page – hitting them with bits of metal or simply just hitting them together, although by that time we had already moved to pages that were paste-up or ‘cold type’. The noise and emotion in the room on the night of August 12, 1989, was electric, as printers and journalists, many from both sides of town working a casual shift on Saturdays for extra cash, gathered to mourn the passing of this under-rated little newspaper they all loved. Galley rattles are a thing of the past now because newspapers – what’s left of them – are produced on desktop computers. More’s the pity!  

The new papers hit the streets of Melbourne on the morning of August 19, 1989, with much fanfare. That al fresco coffee drinkers now had three Sunday papers to choose from was a luxury they had never before experienced. For the next weeks and months reporter battled reporter, photographer battled photographer. For a while there, the new Sunday Age, edited by staffer Steve Harris, with the urbane former Herald deputy editor and foreign correspondent Bruce Guthrie as his deputy, was about as popular as a barman’s strike among some senior journalists on the daily, clearly not happy with having another broadsheet sharing their patch. Some patch. But I couldn’t complain. For me, nothing could have been more exciting, a far cry from the tedious, stuffy little proofreading room that had been my lot some thirty years before on a regional daily in the old Victorian gold-mining city of Ballarat, where a domineering managing director with very curious habits practically destroyed what little ambition I had when he bluntly told me that I was never likely to become a reporter, not then, or any time in the future. His message was loud and clear: ‘Son, get back to the mind-numbing job you were hired for and forget about those silly notions.’

Nonetheless, here I was, after many disappointments, endless frustration and who knows how many soul-destroying nights and fruitless job applications, living my dream in a grey pin-striped suit and purple tie, a general reporter on not just any old rag, but a significant big-city newspaper that would ultimately make its mark in Melbourne and beyond. My former bully-boy boss and his very curious habits were by now pushing up the daisies so I didn’t even get the pleasure. 

So what if I were generally unknown in metropolitan newspaper circles; sitting beside me during that first year, our desks jammed together like conjoined twins, was The Spy columnist Lawrence Money, the purveyor of gossip and a well-known scribe around town, having come from the city’s afternoon daily, The Herald. Sitting behind me was my old mate from Sunday Press days, the Beatle-cut American Steve O’Baugh, a chick magnet in every sense of the word, with charm and olive-skin good looks from his Apache Indian heritage. He had been chief-of-staff at the Press and had picked up the same gig on The Age’s new Sunday. Apart from his escapades with the opposite sex and his connection with Great Train Robber Ronald Biggs, whom he visited on frequent trips to Rio, O’Baugh was known for his unorthodox news contacts, his very, very long lunches, his impish laugh, and his long association with the actress Lorraine Bayly. 

While the area occupied by the new Sunday’s cluttered editorial floor was generally limited, it wasn’t long before reporters were shifted around like the deck chairs on the Titanic. By 1993 my desk was halfway down the room, jammed up against the divider wall separating us from the daily. Beside me now, over a low partition, was no longer the gossip columnist, but the outspoken Dubliner and writer Muriel Reddy, always ready for what she called ‘a bit of craic’, and behind me sat the bearded, feisty reporter Gary Tippet, who at the time was fresh out of the Labor Party’s media unit after the fall of the Kirner State Government. Which brings me to that unforgettable day one morning after the daily news conference. Tippet was in deep discussion with the dark-haired feature writer Liz Porter, who sat beside him. The topic was work, no doubt driven by something the conference had drummed up to help fill the pages of the next edition, and I decided to add my penny’s worth. I’m not sure what lit Tippet’s fuse – often it didn’t take much – but no doubt I had made some comment about work and he turned on me like a pitbull terrier, teeth bared (I’m dramatising here). His words I have never forgotten.

‘Mate,’ he barked. ‘You couldn’t work in an iron lung!’

I found an odd pleasure in what he had said, knowing that his sarcastic off-the-cuff remark was just his caustic style of humour rather than an intention to be offensive. In my case, anyway, it could not have been more pertinent.

 ‘Listen, Gaz,’ I barked back. ‘If you must know, I would be the only person in this room who knows he can work in an iron lung because I have!’

I’m not sure what he knew about me, except I had my right hand permanently stuck in my pocket and typed one-handed with my left. He probably presumed that what I had just said was true. I might have explained more later, but right then I just wanted to beat him at his own game. I first met Tippet in the mid-1970s at The Sun News-Pictorial where I was a struggling sub-editor fresh from country Geelong, and he was a cadet reporter and ghost writer to Australian football’s Collingwood legend, captain and star rover, Lou ‘the Lip’ Richards. Like Lou, Tippet shot from the hip and usually fired off the first thought that came into his head. He’d grown up in Melbourne’s western suburbs and could handle his tongue as well as his fists. I was no match for him in a verbal or written context. This time, though, he had fallen into his doggy bowl. 

It was true. I had been in an iron lung as a boy after being struck down by polio in the last epidemic in Australia in the early 1950s, in my particular case after having injections at state school against whooping cough and diphtheria. Both my arms were paralysed, my right arm completely and, as it turned out, permanently. Some of my chest muscles were also badly affected and I was struggling to breathe, the reason for the iron lung. Data on the epidemic reveals that one in 200 cases of polio lead to irreversible paralysis, and five to ten per cent died when their breathing muscles became immobilised. I was one of the lucky ones. I could still breathe on my own, but with great difficulty. Fortunately for me, though, when I was put in the iron lung, the treating specialist decided not to turn it on. In that context I actually did ‘work’ in it as I told Tippet. Had it been turned on, I might well have stayed there. Others had. 

Some years later, the quietly spoken South African expat reporter Larry Schwartz wrote a sensitive piece for The Age about a woman so confined for a mind-boggling fifty-five years. She lay there, as he wrote, day after day, ‘her head protruding from the metal chamber in which alternate pulsations of high and low pressure force normal lung movements’. I told Schwartz that his story had literally sent shivers down my spine. I knew that, but for the grace of God that could have been me. The strict instructions given to Ward 9 nursing staff by the Melbourne polio specialist was that the machine should only be turned on when and if I stopped breathing altogether. At that stage no one knew if I would live or die. I didn’t die, obviously, and went on to live a productive and relatively normal life. But no one could ever have imagined that one day I would become a newspaper reporter, certainly not in the prying eyes of that Ballarat managing director who had sentenced me to a night-shift job taking late classified advertisements and holding copy in a proofreading room. At that stage of my tenuous employment prospects, a reporter’s job might well have been as improbable to me, too, coming from a small, working-class Victorian country town as it was to the locals who knew me as this shy, curly-headed boy who had spent years in metal splints and four years in Melbourne at Yooralla’s ‘School for Crippled Children’. It wasn’t exactly a background conducive to the path I had taken.

 

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