Terry Malcolm, born 1943 in Sydney, worked for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Canberra from 1975 to 1994. During this period he was a parliamentary broadcaster at the Provisional Parliament House and later at the Australian Parliament House and he was also an announcer and newsreader on ABC radio and TV during this period. From 1995 to the present he has done freelance work for commercial radio and for the ABC as well as been a parliamentary broadcaster at APH.
Interview with Terry Malcolm 1
E Helgeby: This is an interview with Terry Malcolm who worked as a Parliamentary Broadcaster at the Provisional Parliament House and at the Australian Parliament House between 1976 and today. Terry will be speaking with me, Edward Helgeby, for the Oral History Program conducted by the Museum of Democracy at Old Parliament House. On behalf of the Director of the Museum I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in this program. Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns the copyright in the interview material, but disclosure will be subject to any disclosure restrictions you impose in completing the rights agreement?
T Malcolm: Yes I do.
E Helgeby: This being so, may we have your permission to make a transcript or a summary of this recording should we decide to make one?
T Malcolm: That’s not a problem, that’s fine.
E Helgeby: This interview is taking place today on the 14th of June, 2012. Can we begin with a little bit of background about your family? Tell me a bit about your parents. What were their names? What did they do for a living?
T Malcolm: My father was a cinematographer and he is actually an accredited movie pioneer. When I think about it, as was several in his family, and he was very active in making films and photographing films in the late thirties right to the forties. Some feature films, some with people like Charles Tingwell, Bud Tingwell, and then he went to move to Cooma in the early fifties, he got the job to be a Principal Cinematographer. In fact, it turned out to be the only cinematographer, covering the Snowy Mountains Scheme. So he moved to Cooma in, I think, ’51. It might have been ’52. We moved there in 1953, the whole family, in other words. And he stayed there doing that job until he retired. He also did other work while he was a cinematographer of the Snowy Mountain Scheme; he also worked for Sydney Sound News quite often, covering News Reel stuff. So yes, he was quite colourful and he was also a very good musician, played the clarinet and the saxophone and was quite a town identity. So that was Harry, who died in 1999.
Mum was a product of her generation I suppose. She didn’t work when she married my father, as women didn’t in those days. She used to work at Anthony Hordern’s in Southern Sydney. She became a housewife and…
E Helgeby: Tell me how did your father come to become a cinematographer? What was his background before that time?
T Malcolm: Look, he was some—young man during the Depression years and it was mainly music that him through them but he also, somehow, became involved in the movies by being a projectionist. He was a projectionist at the theatre at Walgett in the north-west of New South Wales and later in the Mayfair in Sydney. So how he actually—can’t ask him now—went from that to being a cinematographer I don’t know. It’s a long, long time ago now. He started off really as a projectionist.
E Helgeby: Where did he live, or, where did you and your parents live when you were born?
T Malcolm: They were living in Waverley in Sydney, in a very small flat. And that was the main reason really, why my father applied for another job at the Snowy Mountain Scheme because housing was very short, in short supply, after the war, in Sydney. The housing commission list, as it was in those days, was years long, and the position in Cooma had, with it, as an additional attraction, a brand new Snowy Mountains authority house, at very nominal rent. It was really basically that that took him to Cooma, to get housing for his family.
E Helgeby: So that was his — he actually was employed? That was the job that he got with the Snowy Mountain Commission? It was to actually work as a cinematographer?
T Malcolm: Yes.
E Helgeby: Based on his previous experience in that field?
T Malcolm: Yes, yes. He’d had, by that time, quite a few years in movie as a cinematographer in feature films and documentaries. He worked for people like Ken G Hall back in the thirties. He knew him quite well.
E Helgeby: Can you name any of the films that he was associated with?
T Malcolm: There’s one called ‘Always Another Dawn’ that Charles Tingwell was in, and another called ‘Into the Straight’. I have an idea that he was involved in one of the Chips Rafferty films but I don’t know which one. His brother, George, who’s also long gone, was also very much a movie pioneer as well. Yes, about as much as I can tell you about that. But he was a very well-known person in the industry in the forties through the sixties, I suppose, particularly. His films, his Snowy Mountain authority films, several of them won awards at the Melbourne Film Festival in the Documentary Film Category. ‘The Hills are Twice as Steep’ was one. I’ve still got the framed award in my garage at home. There were several that won him awards at the Melbourne Film Festival.
E Helgeby: So, you’re born in 1943?
T Malcolm: December 1943, yes.
E Helgeby: And you lived there for the first—obviously, until the early fifties when you then moved to Cooma?
T Malcolm: Yes, the first nine years of my life in Waverley.
E Helgeby: Where did you go to school?
T Malcolm: Bronte Public School. Yes, that was my first school.
E Helgeby: Any recollections of what life was like living in Sydney?
T Malcolm: All I know is that we lived in a house that was converted from what was once a mansion called Montana, and subdivided into several flats. We had only basically three rooms. There was a kitchen that was really just a fenced off part of what used to be a hallway and a dining-lounge room and one large bedroom where we all slept. Can you believe this? Yes, this is the way it was. This is essentially the reason why they had to move out of there, really, eventually.
E Helgeby: Did you have any siblings?
T Malcolm: Well then, I had two sisters. I have a younger brother, much younger than me, who came much later when we were living in Cooma. In fact, he’s fourteen years younger than me.
E Helgeby: So there were your parents and the three, you three children, who lived in the same—who used the same bedroom in Sydney?
T Malcolm: Yes, three of us. That’s true.
E Helgeby: What was it like from your point of view to move to Cooma? What has that brought with it?
T Malcolm: A bit of a shock at first. One of my earliest memories is us diving out of bed first thing in the morning when we moved to Cooma, in our brand new house, and it wasn’t even winter then, it was about half way through May. It would have been half way through Spring I suppose. And we dived out of bed as young kids do and realised how cold it was and dived straight back again. That’s one of my earliest memories. I mean, Cooma was a town that became much larger with the Snowy Mountains Scheme and there was a whole area—Cooma North and Cooma East—that had S.M.A. houses. So we were very much prior-pioneers. The roads weren’t sealed when we moved up there in 1953. That came later. The homes, we thought… after what we had in Sydney, we thought it was a mansion: a three bedroom cottage!
E Helgeby: And you went to continue your schooling there?
T Malcolm: Yes, Cooma North Public and Monaro High. That’s the sum-total of my schooling. I’ve got no University education. Yes, that’s it. So it’s very easy to document my schooling.
E Helgeby: What was Cooma like to live in back then?
T Malcolm: Well, for a while we thought it was great. As I grew up, being a teenager, I came to dislike it, saying ‘there’s nothing to do in this damn dump’ as teenagers do say. We thought that all the action was in the big cities like Sydney and Melbourne. But in the early years we had a lot of fun, I suppose. Cooma was way ahead of its time in many ways particularly in the area of being a multicultural town because so many of the people that came to work on the S.M.A., came from Europe, particularly. We just didn’t have the skills in Australia. Yes, so we had just about every nationality you could think of represented in our school.
E Helgeby: Did you find that easy to deal with? Was there any sense of ‘they were different’?
T Malcolm: Not really. I thought they all integrated very well.
E Helgeby: Any particular nationalities that you had—much of where the other children—are there any that you can recall where they came from?
T Malcolm: Places like Latvia, Germany, Italians, Greece. Not so much Asian in those days it was more European. Americans too, we had a whole street full of Americans behind us and one of the contractors for one of the dams was Kaiser, Walsh, Perini and Raymond, which was an American company. So we had a whole street of Americans with their really, I thought, plush cars in those days which probably were Chevrolets and Pontiacs imported from the United States. I was very jealous. We had a little Ford Prefect. But the street behind us was full of Chevrolets, Pontiacs, Customlines, you name it. So I used to think of them as being very rich. There’s a particular girl who I fell in love with in fifth class. I wonder what she’s doing now. Her name was Cheryl.
E Helgeby: What was your first job, you left after High School?
T Malcolm: First job was—well, full-time job, I did have a few jobs while I was in school, school holidays and stuff like that, working for—delivering letters and stuff, PMG and that type of thing. But the first full-time job was in Hain and Company in Cooma, which was, then, the biggest single owned department store in either Australia or certainly New South Wales, was owned by Lindsay Hain. It was a very large store and I worked in the Menswear department and I ended up being there for about four years before I got into radio. Yes, about four years.
E Helgeby: You started there in 1961, so you were only eighteen years old?
T Malcolm: Yes, and then I stayed until 1965 and then I moved to Sydney and stayed for one year. The reason I moved to Sydney, I just, I had the burning ambition of being a Radio Announcer. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to be.
E Helgeby: How did that come about?
T Malcolm: Just as long as I can remember. I used to pretend to be a radio announcer. I used to be there with my old wind-up gramophone playing the records and pretending to be a radio announcer and so there was only one other thing that I could ever remember wanting to be and that was a double-decker bus driver. I’m glad I didn’t stick to that because, of course I’d be out of a job now; they don’t exist in Australia. But it had to be a double decker bus driver. But the radio announcer was the preferred thing and I always wanted to do it and…
E Helgeby: Is there anyone in your family or any acquaintances that had any connections with radio?
T Malcolm: Not with radio, no. I suppose in a way dad was involved with the media, so there is a connection there. But no, no direct radio links. Yes, so that’s what took me to Sydney in 1965 because I did this course that was a night-time course. It was Charles McLachlan’s School of Radio. He was a fellow at 2GB in Sydney and did these courses at night and they were only once a week, and I did them, I guess, for about twelve months.
E Helgeby: So that was actually—you did that while you were working?
T Malcolm: When I left Hain and Company I got a job at Walton’s in Sydney, basically doing the same thing, selling menswear. So that lasted almost exactly twelve months.
E Helgeby: And that focussed on what aspects? Was it radio announcing or…?
T Malcolm: General stuff. There was nothing to do with hands-on working with equipment or anything. It was mainly how to read a news bulletin; how to read a commercial, if you wanted to go to commercial radio you had to be a bit of a radio salesmen in those days. These days, of course, all they do is press buttons, and they’re all pre-recorded and produced. But in those days a lot of the selling was done live by the announcer and it was very important to be a good radio salesmen. So it was those sort of basic things that we were taught in this course. As I was saying, it was only once a week, from memory, for about a year.
E Helgeby: And was there any sort of examination after that?
T Malcolm: Nothing. Nothing, like that. I had no qualifications at all for what I do, really none. I had been—while I was in Cooma working at Hain and Company, my father was very good friends with the station manager John Scott. I used to hound the poor bloke about getting a job and I can remember an audition I did at age fourteen where, I went up to 2XL with my father and he gave me some news copy to read, and I think some commercials. I can’t remember it was a long time ago. And John Scott’s advice was, ‘Send him back to me’. He had a very gruff voice, he said, ‘send him back in a few years when his balls have dropped.’ Because I was only fourteen and I had a very high-pitched voice.
So I kept annoying John Scott about jobs. He knew that I was doing the course in Sydney and finally, what happened was — I just got a telephone call from the representative in Sydney, 2XL’s representative, while I was working at Walton’s, and they said there’s a job—a couple of announcing jobs. A couple of announcers got the sack for some reason, and they were very short of staff, and would I be interested. And I said I would, and it just went on from there. That’s how I got into radio, because as I said, I kept on annoying John Scott all the time, every chance I could get, I’d knock on his door and he’d say, ‘No, there are no positions, no positions. But keep in contact.’
E Helgeby: But you have done some formal audition at some point?
T Malcolm: I’d done several. I’d done that one I’ve just mentioned but that was the first one. There were two or three others that I did. Finally, it paid off, when their representative in Sydney virtually said, ‘When can you start?’ I got the biggest shock of my life of course when I got my first pay check because I didn’t ask how much money it was and naturally thought that being in radio you make a hell of a lot of money. When I got my first pay cheque—well, wasn’t a pay cheque, they actually brought around the money in those days, in envelopes, and I thought there’d been some mistake because it was less than what I was getting at Walton’s in Sydney. I went to one of my colleagues there and I said, ‘I think there’s something wrong with my pay,’ and he said, ‘What? Let me have a look at it.’ He said, ‘No, that’s what we get.’ I said, ‘It’s less than I was getting in Sydney at Walton’s’. He said, ‘Welcome to bush radio’. That was my biggest shock, it really brought me down to earth.
E Helgeby: And you stayed with 2XL for about a year?
T Malcolm: Not long, about eighteen months probably. So I’m just thinking, August ’66 I started at Cooma—funny you should say that because a former colleague of mine Holga Brockman rang only last week wanting to know the exact date we started at 2XL because he started about a month after me. I said, ‘I couldn’t give you the exact date’ but I know it was August 1966 and I stayed with them until November 1967.
E Helgeby: And then you moved to Canberra? What brought that about?
T Malcolm: You know, I can’t even remember. I presume there was a job I found out about and applied for because there was a B&T publication, Broadcasting and Television, and most of the radio and television jobs were advertised in that publication. I think I simply applied for it and got the interview and got the job.
E Helgeby: And that was as an announcer?
T Malcolm: As an announcer, yes.
E Helgeby: So there wasn’t really, some sort of carrot dangling at the end of it, to attract you to that job, as far as you can recall?
T Malcolm: Not that I can remember, except that I thought in those days, naively as it turns out, that it was a natural stepping stone to big city radio, going from country town to provincial city—even though it’s the nation’s capital, it was a lot smaller then. The next obvious step would be stardom and replacement for people like Bob Rogers and John Laws. That’s what I thought in those days.
E Helgeby: Can you remember who the station manager was that you worked for?
T Malcolm: 2CA? Peter Carrodus, who was known for—I’m trying to—I’m relying on my rather flawed memory here. He was related to a Labor stalwart of the fifties. Doc Evatt, in some way—like a nephew or something like that. Anyway he was the manager at 2CA then.
E Helgeby: Where was the studio located?
T Malcolm: I just drove past it today, I thought about it - 64 Northbourne Avenue, right on the corner there where there’s a multi-storey building there now. It was a single-storey building, 2CA’s studios and offices, and it had its own car park at the back. We used to just drive into this yard, fenced off by a paling fence, with any amount of car spaces for the staff. This is 1967, December ’67.
E Helgeby: So that would be the time that you actually moved to Canberra for the first time?
T Malcolm: Yes.
E Helgeby: What was Canberra like then to live in? I mean, socially, environmentally or in terms of, even, how it was developed?
T Malcolm: Yes, a lot smaller. In fact I could tell you the population when I moved here in late ’67 was ninety-seven thousand. It was under a hundred thousand. What is it now? Close to four hundred. There used to be a joke going around that was not exactly an exaggeration: ‘What’s the smallest book in the world?’ Answer: ‘A guide to eating-out in Canberra.’ There wasn’t too much to choose from for that sort of thing or entertainment back then.
E Helgeby: Where did you live?
T Malcolm: All over the place. Turner was the first place, and I just had a room there that I rented. Various places: I lived in Turner, I lived in O’Connor, Waramanga, I’m just trying to think of all the suburbs.
E Helgeby: You were just renting, renting rooms?
T Malcolm: Renting and renting and renting.
E Helgeby: So you didn’t have any family or anything then?
T Malcolm: Not then, no. I was still single.
E Helgeby: So that went on until 1972, I see from your notes here. And then you went to Sydney again?
T Malcolm: I went to Sydney and I got a job. This turned out to be quite ill-fated. I’ll be brutally honest with you about this, I had received an offer from Steve Liebmann, who I went to school with. You would have heard of Steve Liebmann? Yeah, in fact, he started at 2XL years before me and he also worked at 2CA. But at this stage, Steve was the News Editor of 2UE and they were trying to get a younger image for their news person in the morning. They were trying to groom somebody and he, out of the blue, offered me this job, and I didn’t think twice about it. I thought, Sydney here we come! At that stage I hadn’t even studied journalism. I had minimal experience in that area. I had worked in the news room at 2CA at various times, so I was very flattered to get the job. And so I just moved to Sydney straight away. As I say, it was ill-fated, it lasted about six or seven months. I got the sack from 2UE, a very ruthless place. And it wasn’t by Steve. He was very, very gracious. He called me in and said that one of the executives hadn’t liked the news bulletin that I did one particular night. I still don’t, to this day, know exactly what I did.
E Helgeby: You actually wrote the material as well?
T Malcolm: Yeah. Yes, I did all that.
E Helgeby: It wasn’t just presentation?
T Malcolm: No, no, no. In those days, it was Telex machines and typewriters. And so yes, you prepared the bulletin, all that sort of stuff. Read it. It was quite hectic. But the chop came and Steve had to deliver it to me and I’ve got to say he was very good about it. I think he was probably embarrassed because initially I had been offered the job by him and there he had to tell me that I was finished. He said, ‘However, I’ve taken the opportunity to ring Peter Carrodus on your behalf and if you want to go back there, there’s a job back there waiting for you.’
E Helgeby: So it was back to 2CA in Canberra?
T Malcolm: So it was back to 2CA, yes. So that’s the way that all happened.
E Helgeby: What was your job in? What became your job at 2CA?
T Malcolm: It became different. In the end, in the last couple of years, I was involved in the Production Department. I was in charge of getting their commercials produced and, you know, putting music to them. It was very full on. I did have an announcing shift as well, but the main task was in the production area there, in the last couple of years at 2CA. It was very good experience for me. That’s basically my story at 2CA.
I was on various shifts on the air. I started off, when I first went there in the late ’67, I was a disc jockey. I was the night-time disc jockey playing all the hits, which was appropriate because I was a young man of twenty-two. I do remember when I arrived at 2CA—I’m kind of going backwards and forwards here—but I was horrified by the piece in the Canberra Times. There was a story about me and a photograph and it had: ‘Mr Malcolm, 28’—at that stage I was either twenty-two or twenty-three, and I was horrified that they had me down as twenty-eight. I’d love to be called twenty-eight now. The things that you remember.
E Helgeby: Then you stayed with 2CA for about two years or so?
T Malcolm: On the second occasion? Yes, yes. Until the end of ’75.
E Helgeby: And then you apparently joined the ABC. How did that come about?
T Malcolm: I listened to my father, actually. My father had kept on saying that, ‘You should get into the government; get a proper job.’ He never really thought that what I did was a proper job. Commercial radio, I was having too much fun I think. Good superannuation, all that sort of stuff. Again, I applied for a job that became vacant at 2CN, as it used to be called in those days. I applied for it and got it.
E Helgeby: What was that job?
T Malcolm: It was a general announcing type job and I can remember the first six weeks, I was thrown in filling in doing the breakfast program because the breakfast presenter at the time, Chris Neilson—another name you might recognise—he was in Tasmania, long service leave or something like that. So I did six weeks’ worth of breakfast straight up. So yes, it was mainly just general announcing duties, at first, at the ABC.
E Helgeby: And then you apparently went on to, from there, to Parliamentary broadcasting. Now, I’m curious to know, how did you become involved with that?
T Malcolm: I was told to do it.
E Helgeby: You were simply told to do it?
T Malcolm: Pretty much, yes, because before I came along—going back in the previous decade or so before I started doing it, the ABC used to fly announcers down from Sydney to do Parliament and one of those was Kevin Chapman who was my predecessor. For many years he lived in Sydney and when Parliament was in session they flew him here and they had to accommodate him. Imagine how expensive this would be. There were two or three others they used to do likewise. They had decided that from the mid-seventies, it would be much more economical to have local announcers from the ABC in Canberra do the Parliamentary—do some Parliamentary work as well, when Parliament was in session. So that’s the way it came about. And I knew next to nothing, I can tell you, about federal politics, really. Suddenly I found myself having to do that fairly regularly from about February ’76.
E Helgeby: In what way do you think your previous radio career had prepared you for a job like Parliamentary broadcasting, if at all?
T Malcolm: Probably not at all. No, I shouldn’t say that, I had the basic idea about projection of voice and all that sort of thing which you need. A broadcaster is a broadcaster, whether you’re a disc jockey or you’re interviewing people on the air or you’re doing Parliamentary broadcasting or a sports commentator. You’ve got to be able to project your voice, so I suppose I did have that sort of experience behind me. But I certainly didn’t know too much about politics. What I learnt there, like everything else in radio, I pretty much learnt on the job.
E Helgeby: Was the Parliamentary radio position seen as a plum job in some sense?
T Malcolm: I’ve got to be honest here and say it wasn’t my favourite thing. It was one of my duties at the ABC.
E Helgeby: So it was just one of many tasks that you carried out?
T Malcolm: Yes, one of many—for example, a typical day is, I might be rostered in Parliament for several hours. I might start at two in the afternoon. I would finish at six o’clock and then have to go over to the Northbourne Avenue studios, do a half an hour radio program. Because Parliament used to finish then at six, and I think they had a break ‘til eight o’clock, two hours. So I had to fill in the local part, of the Canberra broadcast, from six to six-thirty. What they used to call ‘Drive Time’. At six-thirty we had a program that came down the line from Sydney on radio. I think it was called ‘Sportsman’s Parade’.
That’s when I went to the news room and got made up to do the television news. So, in those days, the Canberra bulletin was, I wouldn’t say tacked on, because it actually came before the main national bulletin. It used to come on about seven minutes to the hour—until seven o’clock. And so yes, I’d finish my little radio stint for half an hour and bearing in mind, I’ve been in Parliament since two o’clock—driven over to Northbourne, done my half hour radio stint, gone and got made up for television, got the news, read the television news. Then, at ten past seven, I’d go and do another radio bulletin on 2CY at the same studio, and then I’d go back to Parliament House, and do some more Parliamentary broadcasting maybe until eleven o’clock at night.
E Helgeby: Was there any kind of interview process to select you for the job of doing Parliamentary broadcasting? Was that assumed when you joined the ABC, that was part of your duties?
T Malcolm: It was just part of my duty. There was certainly a panel that I faced to get the initial job at the ABC, there’s only one question I can remember from the panel that stands out. One of the people on the panel wanted to know whether I’d be willing to have my hair cut for television.
E Helgeby: Which wasn’t very relevant to radio, I suppose.
T Malcolm: No! But no, there was no sort of interviewing process for the job at Parliament House.
E Helgeby: Was there any requirement that you had a security clearance?
T Malcolm: No, no. That’s something that’s changed dramatically of course and I think that the thing that changed all that was the Hilton Bombing in Sydney in the late seventies. It was only after that that they put the security entrance in here, under the front steps. That didn’t exist. And when I think about it, it’s almost frightening to think about it, anyone could have gone in. I didn’t have a pass or anything. I really did not have a pass.
E Helgeby: Generally, were you at all interested in politics when you started?
T Malcolm: I became more interested in politics, yes. Look, I wouldn’t say I wasn’t. I was on the air at 2CA the day Gough Whitlam was sacked, and I do remember that. But those sorts of things naturally caught my attention. But as for the day to day politics I wasn’t at all that interested. It was something that just developed with the job, I suppose and with me coming over here and actually seeing them perform, in inverted commas, created an interest in me. I’m very interested in politics now. I mean, I’m a political junkie. Which is good, and it’s bad.
E Helgeby: Can you remember your very first day when started doing the Parliamentary broadcasts?
T Malcolm: Do you know, I can’t. I really can’t. All I can tell you is that we weren’t required to do much. It was a very boring broadcast. And our instructions were, for example: if a division was called—I can remember, there was a card there, with the typed out instructions—during a division, which could last for eight minutes or so, or ten minutes, usually the atmosphere in the chamber is enough to sustain the broadcast. All we had to do was, every now and then, come in over that and say something along the lines of, ‘There’s a division in the House of Representatives, and the division is on the question of the’ — I don’t know — ‘the apple and pear levy bill be agreed to’. And then you just say that the tellers have been appointed, and you name who the tellers were, and that was it. And you go to the atmosphere. So nothing much was said. So that’s the main thing that’s changed since then, we give much more information now than we did in those days. But I was only acting according to instructions. They only wanted us to say the bare amount of things.
E Helgeby: Where were you actually based in the building when you started these broadcasts?
T Malcolm: You mean, like an office?
E Helgeby: Yes.
T Malcolm: We had a—it was on the ground floor, or underground, I suppose. Not the ground floor. I can see it now. There was a room there. There were several rooms where there were tape machines. There was some sort of a studio, and there was a common room, if you like, where we just sat round and watched TV some of us.
E Helgeby: There was already TV, internal TV broadcasting…
T Malcolm: No, when I say ‘watch TV’ I mean there were free-to-air channels when we had our time off.
E Helgeby: But…for doing your announcer job?
T Malcolm: No there wasn’t. No, not that I know of.
E Helgeby: So you were working from this office down on the lower-ground floor?
T Malcolm: I worked, when I did the broadcast, of course, from the booth overlooking the chambers—the tiny booths, in the Senate or the House of Representatives. They were very small, you couldn’t swing a cat in them. Yes.
E Helgeby: Were the conditions adequate to do the job or was it…?
T Malcolm: Well, we did it. I suppose adequate is the word, but almost laughable when you see what we’ve got now. All I had really was—I just had to look after one switch: the microphone switch. The person who sat next to me was the person whose job it was to turn on the microphones so the members or Senators could be heard. They did that whether we’re broadcasting or not, and that’s still the case. They sat next to us in this tiny little booth.
E Helgeby: The booth in the Senate appears to be much smaller than the one in the House of Representatives?
T Malcolm: I’m not sure that it is. Not the booth itself. Maybe, no, my recollection is if anything the Senate one might have even been slightly larger, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t say it was smaller.
E Helgeby: Now, from what you’re saying it seems to me that no one actually taught you how to do this job, you were simply thrown in and said to, ‘this is what you do’.
T Malcolm: Observing people like Kevin Chapman, who’d been doing it for years. There was a fellow by the name of Errol Silver too. In those days, and they just told you the way it was done. Another thing I do remember from those days is that we didn’t broadcast the adjournment debate. Our coverage went until then and when the adjournment debate started, we used to say something along the lines of, ‘The House of Representatives has just commenced the adjournment debate and under the rules of the broadcasting of Parliament, we must conclude our coverage at this point. Tomorrow’s broadcast will be from the Senate blah blah blah blah’. That’s the way we used to finish. We never broadcast the adjournment debate.
E Helgeby: So in a sense the training that you had was observing what others were doing, like Kevin Chapman?
T Malcolm: Basically, yes. There was no written exam or anything like that, it was just sit in with them probably for a week or two and then I was let loose.
E Helgeby: How was this work different from what you did in other forms of radio broadcasting?
T Malcolm: Oh, completely different. I mean, really, there was, aah…
[Part 1 ends]
Interview with Terry Malcolm 2
T Malcolm: It’s just that, you can’t compare it. I mean, other forms of radio broadcasting, you’re really busy doing all sorts of things, whether you’re, in those days, cueing up a record on a turntable, putting in promotional pieces or something like that. It was more, really… And it could be quite boring in Parliament, it still can be. Just sitting there and calling them every ten minutes. No, I think it was seven or eight minutes. If you had a twenty minute speech, about seven or eight minutes past, you’d come in and remind people who was talking. So, the instruction was to try and pick a point, for example, particularly if they were having a glass of water or something, or having a cough, you could have a talk over them. Some of them, it was easy to do. Others, they’d talk under wet cement and you’d just have to go in over the top of them.
E Helgeby: What aspects of Parliamentary proceedings were actually broadcast back in those days?
T Malcolm: All of it.
E Helgeby: Both Chambers at the same time?
T Malcolm: No, no, no, no. It was like, it was like today. There were days relegated to House broadcasts and to the Senate. I’m just thinking – in those days, I think – you’re asking me to really remember a long while ago now… But they used to sit only three days a week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. But then they had three weeks’ worth of sitting and they were one week up. I think. That was the pattern. Two of those three days, I think, was the house, and one was the Senate. These days its four days a week and two are from Reps and two are from the Senate. We still alternate.
E Helgeby: And you stated both chambers are not covered at the same time?
T Malcolm: No. But, but, when we’re broadcasting the House of Representative, this is still the case, the non-broadcast chamber is recorded – or, Question Time is – and at the end of the broadcast for, say, the House of Representatives, we conclude the coverage with a recording of the non-broadcast House’s Question Time. We still do that.
E Helgeby: How many people worked together? Were you sort of like a group on duty to cover all eventualities? Your voice might break, or something…?
T Malcolm: There was no emergency back-up, I mean, if that sort of thing happened I can’t remember it happening. I guess you could, you could ring Northbourne Avenue and say, ‘Can you send someone else over?’ But there were three of us. There was: Kevin Chapman, Errol Silver and myself. We were the ones that did the lion’s share of the Parliamentary broadcasting. There were a couple of others: Rod Henshaw, I think, Peter Leonard did, not very often, but he was there. I’m just trying to think of the others, but we were the three main ones.
E Helgeby: In terms of the protocols and rules for Parliamentary broadcasting – can you talk a bit about that: what was, sort of, the guidelines or the rules that you had to work within?
T Malcolm: Number one was to be apolitical, absolutely, apolitical. Back in those days, to interrupt as least as possible. Protocols… mainly apolitical, that was the main thing. And you just had to give the audience a clear indication of what was going on, and that’s still the basic rule for Parliamentary broadcasting.
E Helgeby: So your comments would have to be restricted to facts and what you had seen?
T Malcolm: Restricted to the bill before the House, or whatever the question is before the House, that’s being voted on, and nothing much else. We have broadened that, in recent years. I mean sometimes… it’s very hard you know, when you’ve got five or six divisions in a row, you start to sound like a cracked record. So you’re looking at other things to talk about. So you can now talk about things that happen in the building, like a few weeks ago I mentioned the fact that the building was twenty-four years old – it was its anniversary and there had been a bit of a history leading up to the building. So I can throw in a few of those things in now, which is a departure from the old days when you just spoke about the legislation, the legislation, and nothing else.
E Helgeby: And the name of the person speaking.
T Malcolm: The name of the person speaking, yes. So it has broadened out a bit since then. Another thing too that we had done – this has come in in the last twenty years really – is we were given permission to read some news headlines during divisions. And that works well because when Parliament isn’t in session, these days it goes out on ABC News Radio. So it’s in Parliament’s interest and news radio’s interest to continue that news involvement. And so that’s another way we can deal with divisions.
But I always have the philosophy of these days: first of all, if the division is on, somebody tunes in, they want to know what it’s all about, so straight away, when it’s called, I tell be what it’s all about. You can then also talk about what might be happening in the other chamber, because we’ve got monitors for the non-broadcasted chambers. What’s on the program there, what might even be coming up next week. It’s usually later on, after the second or third division, I might start talking in terms of news headlines and things like that. Yes.
E Helgeby: And this obviously does not take place when someone is speaking?
T Malcolm: No, no. It’s only during, when there’s… Well, usually, you can guarantee there’s four minutes to fill when a division is called because they ring the bells for four minutes. And then there’s the appointment of the tellers for the count. The count usually takes, in the House of Representatives, probably at least another four or five minutes. So you’ve got two lots there to fill. Two slabs, shall we say.
E Helgeby: Tell me to whom were you actually responsible for what you were doing? There must be some hierarchy that would, in a sense, keep an eye that you were sticking to the rules?
T Malcolm: The Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee and any changes were comprising Members and Senators. Any changes that the ABC wants to make, if they want to make any changes, can’t be made really, unless they’re run past that committee. So ultimately, they’re the people we’re responsible to, for the broadcasts.
E Helgeby: So was any monitoring of what you were saying or doing with that… was there any?
T Malcolm: I’ve had very little interference, over the years, or comments from an official area, which is probably a good thing. It must mean they’re fairly happy with what we’ve been doing.
E Helgeby: So the ABC is not, itself, monitoring what you were doing?
T Malcolm: Well I’m sure they are, in certain areas, because I mean, when the broadcast, when Parliament is sitting, in Sydney, News Radio, I’m sure we’re up there on the monitors all the time so people would be listening to us there and I have people in Sydney that I answer to as well. But with the Parliamentary broadcasting, it’s mainly the Broadcasting Committee of Parliament. I’ll just elaborate there, for example – I don’t do this anymore – but, I was running the show for about ten years until a couple of years ago. I was administering the Parliamentary Broadcasting and, for any reason, we need to change broadcast houses – I’ll just give you an example of this – back in 2004, I think it was, when John Howard announced we were going to war in Iraq, it was, from memory, a Tuesday, it was a Senate broadcast day, and naturally there was a bit of knowledge that this sort of statement was going to be made in the House. And I wanted the broadcast switched, I didn’t want to be in the Senate when Howard was making this announcement in the House of Representatives. But there are procedures involved in getting the broadcast switched and they’re fairly cumbersome, even to this day.
You’ve got to approach the presiding officer, officers, the President of the Senate, Speaker of the House, and they have to meet then and run it by the Broadcasting Committee. I don’t know whether they email these days – usually takes about a day to get the permission, but it’s not an easy thing to do. So that’s the type of thing where the Broadcasting Committee becomes involved: if you want to switch the broadcast. That’s why I made it a practice not to do it too often unless I really thought it was necessary.
E Helgeby: So, from what you’re saying, you weren’t often, if ever, criticized for comments you’d made during broadcasts?
T Malcolm: I can’t really remember, no, no. And I usually remember things like that pretty well. I have had comments, criticism, on the ABC, doing the ordinary – when I say ordinary, the announcing job – I’ve had that, but not in relation to Parliamentary broadcasting, no. So hopefully, I must have done things correctly and remained apolitical and done everything I should have done.
E Helgeby: What were your hours of work in a normal week or day?
T Malcolm: Fairly typical one would start at like two in the afternoon through ‘til midnight, when Parliament was in session. A fairly typical one.
E Helgeby: You’re talking about the days when Parliament would be sitting, basically one hundred percent of your time was spent in Parliament?
T Malcolm: No, no, no. I can hardly ever remember a day when I was one hundred percent back in there. I usually had to go and do something at Northbourne Avenue whether it was the bit of radio or a bit of TV or both as well, during that break between six and eight o’clock. So I guess, a typical day, along those lines of between two and eleven, the majority of it would be in Parliament. Say from two until… I guess I must have left there at five or five thirty to go over and do my bit at Northbourne Avenue. And then I’d go back and do my bit from eight o’clock onwards I suppose, because you’ve got to have time to have your dinner and all that stuff.
E Helgeby: Can I ask you, what was the pay like in relative terms? Was it a well-paid job? Better paid than, say, a standard, someone who works solely on announcing?
T Malcolm: There was no loading from Parliamentary broadcasting, if that’s what you mean. No, no. It was just the same pay. The pay I received when I joined the ABC was considerably better than the commercial pay, and that’s still the case. Unless you happened to be one of the stars on one of the commercial radios in one of the big cities – they make a lot of money, of course. But generally speaking, and it’s still the case, the ABC pays better than commercials. That’s still the case. But no, there was no loading to do additional work with Parliamentary broadcasting, nothing like that.
E Helgeby: Were you ever a member of a union?
T Malcolm: For a while, yes. For a while, not all the time, yes, I was a union member. I can’t remember what was the union – Commonwealth Public Service Union it was, I think it was.
E Helgeby: Was there any industrial dispute while you were working and that you may have taken part in?
T Malcolm: I can remember, one time, yes. Prodding my memory here, I can remember being chastised by the Union once because there was an industrial dispute in Sydney and we were supposed to go out in sympathy for them in Canberra. It was quite a Sydney issue, and we were supposed to go off the air for half an hour, during the period that Sydney had their meeting, I think it was, and just put tone on. We decided, for whatever reason, not to do that in the Canberra branch since it was purely a Sydney thing. I’ve still got the, I think I’ve still got the letter at home, where – this was frowned upon at the Canberra branch – that we should have gone out in sympathy for this. So the place was quite unionised in those days. So yes, I was a rather naughty boy, I suppose, and it’s me and Errol Silver. It was Errol Silver who was then the manager of the branch and he actually said that we’re not going to do this and I agreed, and we didn’t. But I got the letter, where they said, ‘Punitive action will not be taken at this stage, we have decided; however, you’ve been a naughty boy.’
E Helgeby: To what extent, when you were doing this, were you part of the Press Gallery?
T Malcolm: No, never. In fact, I didn’t know too many people in the Press Gallery. I mean, I came across them early in the piece. I can remember George Negus coming into the studio downstairs here and Paul Lockyer who died last year, I can remember him. You might say, ‘G’day’ and have a bit of a chat with them but I wasn’t great friends with any of these people, they were sort of quite separate to what we did.
E Helgeby: Did you have much contact with parliamentarians and/or their staffers?
T Malcolm: Not a great deal, no. In fact nil, I’d say.
E Helgeby: On a slightly different thread here…
T Malcolm: I’m just correcting myself, from time to time, and it happens these days, there might be a Member of Parliament comes into the broadcast booth for whatever reason and has a bit of a chat. That sort of contact, but nothing regular, no.
E Helgeby*: Not at a social level?
T Malcolm: No, not really. No.
E Helgeby: I was just going to ask you, what are the sort of technologies were you working with in 1976, when you started?
T Malcolm: Much different to today; of course, it’s all digital these days. For example, when they recorded Question Time from the non-broadcast house, that was done on reel-to-reel tape of course, and that had to be edited in accordance with Parliamentary procedure. They had, and this is still the case, they’d take out points of order and any interruptions for the replay. So it’s physically cutting tape, in those days, and splicing it together. I didn’t have anything to do with this part of it, but I observed it happening in that area downstairs that I was telling you about.
E Helgeby: Was that not done by the Hansard editors?
T Malcolm: No, I’ll tell you who used to come in. Who used to come in was the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Usher of the Black Rod, in those days. Doesn’t happen now, and you used to say, ‘That’s got to come out, that’s got to come out.’ They used to actually sit here and listen to it and tell the operator what had to come out. So that’s something that’s changed, since those days.
E Helgeby: What sorts of things would they cut out?
T Malcolm: Just points of order. Interruptions. Oh, and also questions that give rise to a personal explanation. They were the rules.
E Helgeby: But that was not something that involved any of the announcers?
T Malcolm: I wasn’t involved. I was aware of it happening and yes. And that’s why, when we produced the recording of question of time, we’d say, ‘This recording of questions and answers has been edited in accordance with Parliamentary procedures, certain points of order and interruptions have been deleted from the recording.’ I can say it off pat because we used to… I don’t know how many times I said it.
E Helgeby: In what way did technology change during your years that you worked, and are still working?
T Malcolm: Very much so, you’ve only got to look at the difference between the two booths now – the booth that still exists now in the Old Parliament House with these ancient little buttons that they had, and what they’ve got now, which is all digitised. I’m not a great technical mind at all, but it’s just changed enormously and now we’ve got television monitors, of course. We didn’t have those in the old booth. The Question Time replay was actually played from the booth in, I think, on a machine that I think is still in the House of Representatives booth up on the wall, tape player. I’m pretty sure it’s still there.
E Helgeby: How did you regard the job of Parliamentary broadcaster, as something special, or just a job?
T Malcolm: In the early days, probably just a job, I’ve got to say. But as I say, it’s one of these things that crept up on me. I became… And sometimes you’d actually take hold of yourself and say, ‘Hey, Terry, you know, this is pretty good stuff, what you’re watching. There’s not too many people that can sit and look into the Chamber of the House of Representative and the Senate during Question Time.’ I can still be knocked out by that, when I think about it, these days. But it’s something that you tend to take for granted, and I suppose you shouldn’t. Yes.
E Helgeby: Would you see it as kind of a democratic measure, allowing people to hear their representatives speak?
T Malcolm: Yes, we should never underestimate that, in this country. We’ve got so many ways we can follow Parliament. We can come and watch it live; in many countries you can’t even do that. We can hear it on radio. We can watch parts of it on television, you’ve got Question Time. You’ve got, of course, the internet these days. There’s so many ways you can follow Parliament and, as I say, we should never underestimate that. It’s a privilege, I think. And the fact that we can come into our parliamentary building, still – and I hope this never changes – and not have to go through terrible security to get in. I mean, everyone has to go through security but that’s something too, that we enjoy in this country and a lot of people take for granted. We shouldn’t.
E Helgeby: Quick question that just occurred to me: you’ve been talking about the reporting what’s happening in the two chambers. So much of the Parliamentary work these days happens in committees, which are now televised and you can see them live on various channels. Did the kind of job that you had as a Parliamentary broadcaster get involved with any of that or was it a separate operation?
T Malcolm: No, the operators that I worked with, and still do, that do the sound for the chambers – they also work on the committees. So they have far more involvement than I do, in fact, I have nil involvement with the committees – I know that they’re on, of course – but no. We were never involved in any of that as far as broadcasting went.
E Helgeby: And the people who do work with them, do you know whether they would operate in more or less the same kind of way that you would?
T Malcolm: Well, they’re there just to physically get it recorded. I’m talking about the people that sit in the booth with me for Parliamentary broadcasting. Their additional duties include: covering those committees and all those committee rooms have rooms off them – control rooms, if you like, small control rooms – where the operators sit to do their job. So everything is recorded in the building, I don’t know how long they keep all this recording for, I can’t answer that. But everything’s there and needs to be, when you think about it, for the permanent record.
E Helgeby: What changes did you experience in the building of Old Parliament House while you were working there, in your time? And what were the changes that happened when you moved up to the Australian Parliament House, because you continued with your work there and are still working there?
T Malcolm: The main change was really the security one, under the front steps. A major change, as I’ve mentioned before. Apart from that, nothing much really changed during the years that I was working there. They made minor cosmetic changes to the staff dining room – that type of thing. There was, I thought, there was a far better feeling of camaraderie in this building than there is in the current building, simply because of the sizes of the places. I mean, I used to regularly dine with my operators down in the staff dining room and we’d be all in one table. I never see that now. In fact, they all seem to go to their offices, they get take away and they go to their offices somewhere to eat. So we’ve lost a bit of that, which I suppose was inevitable. That why, I suppose, I’ve got a soft spot for this building because, in terms of camaraderie, it was far superior to the current building.
E Helgeby: So you had a chance still, even though your job was maybe locked away – you were locked away in a small office down below – you still had a sense of being part of a larger…
T Malcolm: You really felt more like you were part of a group. Yes. With one aim – to get the broadcast out there. Yes.
E Helgeby: So from working at the Australian Parliament House after you left, the main differences up there were space and…
T Malcolm: Space and the fact you just don’t come into contact with politicians like you did in this building, simply because of the very nature of the building. It’d be quite common to pass a Leader of the Opposition or even a Prime Minister in Kings Hall here, back in those days. Now you hardly ever see that in Parliament House. If they come into the building, they come into the rear of the building, into the Ministerial Wing, which is so far away from the main public areas. That’s the main difference between that building and this one.
E Helgeby: So did the move towards television coverage of proceedings, rather than purely radio – did that lead to any changes in procedures or the way that you operated?
T Malcolm: Not in terms of the radio broadcast, it was quite separate. Television, I think, came fairly late in the piece, in this building. And of course, with the current building, it opened already with cameras in place poking out of the walls. So it was built for the TV coverage which this building clearly wasn’t. Now, I forget the question now that you asked me about – what was it?
E Helgeby: Simply, whether that the move now towards – we see more television coverage than we listen to, perhaps, radio – whether that change actually lead to any procedures? Because you were still doing the announcing, whether it was a telecast or…
T Malcolm: Yes, I don’t know whether it lead to them, but there were changes in the procedures – the way we approached the broadcast. I think I’ve mentioned this, we gave more information than we did in the early days. We were far more conscious of it being an actual broadcast and so there’s much more information given out now than there used to be. That’s the main difference between presentation now and presentation in this building.
E Helgeby: From the Parliamentary broadcasting, you were still voices; you weren’t faces as seen on television. But also, did the difference in the fact that this building is so much smaller and, for example, they only had two or three minutes when they called a division and simply it would take much less time to get those procedures in – were you able to say more when you came up there, because you had longer gaps?
T Malcolm: That would be part of it. Now just from memory, in this building, in the last years of this building, they used to ring the bell. Well, it just started off at just two minutes but then they added a third minute. So the sum total for the division here might have been something more like six or seven instead of ten, which it is now.
E Helgeby: But even here you were filling in the space in between, so to speak?
T Malcolm: Towards the end we started to do this. But when I first started doing it… you’ve got to know that I didn’t do this continuously in this building, I started in 1976 and there was a long period there – I think from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties where I didn’t do any Parliamentary coverage at all, my work was concentrated entirely over in Northbourne Avenue. So, it hasn’t been a continuous thing. I came back to Parliamentary broadcast in the late-nineties – ’97 or something like that, on a casual basis. That’s the way I’m still employed.
E Helgeby: So you would have noticed the changes, if there were any changes, during that period of time that you weren’t there.
T Malcolm: I missed the entire period when Keating was Prime Minister, for example. Yes, there were changes when I went back; in fact, it was a bit of a challenge at first. I thought, ‘Thank Goodness, we’ve got to say a lot more than we used to.’ But the rules had changed then, to fill as much as possible, that ten minutes, with information. That was a complete reversal of my instruction when I first started here in ’76.
E Helgeby: So you’d become more like a news reader, reading out the daily news.
T Malcolm: Yes, well, that was part of it. But you’re allowed to talk about more things, but all to do with Parliament, basically. I mean, I had, for example, and they still use them, some little segments records. They were done in Sydney. They were produced with music behind them; they were called Parliamentary Minutes. And they come in quite handy – they’re about things like the role of the Speaker or the role of the Clerk, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That can be quite handy if you’ve had five or six or seven divisions in a row, and you’re tired of just repeating yourself. ‘While we’re waiting for this result, in this division, let’s have another Parliamentary Minute. This one’s about the Clerk of the House of Representatives.’ You know, and you’d play it. So I had those produced; lots of information, I had, at people’s fingertips in the booths about, again, about the building and the Parliamentary procedure. Basically taken out of the bibles, you know, ‘Parliamentary Practice’, but in readable language.
E Helgeby: Did you actually write the news yourself or did you get the…
T Malcolm: No they were simply sent from Sydney. It was faxed initially; now it comes down, it’s on a computer screen. But no, no. We don’t write it. We just read it.
E Helgeby: Now tell me, what did you like most, or do you like most, about the job of Parliamentary Broadcaster?
T Malcolm: I just, I like observing Question Time and the theatre of it. I mean, it can be very boring, if they’re… If it’s the forty-fourth speaker on the’ Apple and Pear Levy Bill’ – I keep on using that for an example – but some of them can be very dull bills, very boring. You get that too. But then the unpredictability of the place and these days of course, there’s hardly a Question Time that’s allowed to go through intact without a motion coming from the Leader of the Opposition. That’s changed in the last few years. Yes. Which, of course, I suppose, is only a reflection of the nature of a hung Parliament, when you think about it. I’m being apolitical now, aren’t I?
E Helgeby: What was the thing you liked least of the things you were doing as Parliamentary Broadcaster?
T Malcolm: Liked least? The fact that sometimes, at a moment’s notice, the sitting can be extended and it can completely ruin your plans. This happened a few times, I can remember the worst time – this was about ten years ago – the Senate sat on a Friday night. They hardly ever do. I can’t remember the situation now but the sitting time was extended to Friday night which completely ruined a plan that I had of a dinner party at a restaurant. So they’re the time of things that annoyed me, they didn’t happen very often. Where out of the blue you’d be at the mercy of the Parliament, when they changed their sitting hours. Luckily this doesn’t happen very often. A colleague of mine, I didn’t get it, this is, again, probably fourteen years ago, it was during the Howard years… He was in the booth until a quarter to six in the morning; he got caught with the extension of the Parliament. We knew it was going to be a late sitting night and I think, from memory, I got out of there at ten or eleven o’clock and no other colleague was finished at twelve or one. John got the rest until a quarter to six. That would be his worst memory – John Ringwoods’. But it’s that type of thing that you’ve got absolutely no control over and that’s when you realise that you are completely in their hands.
E Helgeby: What do you think of today’s Parliamentary broadcasts in a general sense? For example, has the conduct of Parliamentarians changed over time?
T Malcolm: Yes. Far too many speeches are read these days and there was a rule once where you couldn’t read speeches in both Houses, but that’s been waived. I suppose that reflects the complexity of Government too. But there’s too much of that. I can’t remember any performers like Jim Killen for example, for years. He was the best that I ever saw. I mean, he could be devastating in some of the things he said, simply by using the Queen’s English, without resorting to any sort of gutter language or anything like that. You don’t see too much of that these days.
E Helgeby: What do you think about the way in which Question Time operates and operated back when you started and how it operates now?
T Malcolm: There’s been a lot of criticism lately about the way it’s been operating. I’m not sure that it’s changed all that much. I guess it’s become… the word that you hear more often than not, is toxic. Again, as a result of a hung Parliament, the atmosphere is not very nice at the moment. I think that’s changed. That’s certainly something in the last couple of years. I really can’t comment too much more than that because I’m still involved in Parliamentary broadcasting and I just know that it has changed, but I don’t know that it’s as bad as people are claiming it to be given the circumstances that we’re facing. I don’t know whether that answers your question.
E Helgeby: Well, then, are there any differences between the two chambers? And were there any differences with how they operate?
T Malcolm: There’s always a difference between the two chambers, I mean, the Senate is the one that’s the frustrating one from a poor broadcaster’s point of view because they go through things in such fine detail but that’s the nature of the Senate. It’s the ‘House of Review’. And, from a broadcasting point of view, it could sound very deadly, dull and boring, I’d imagine – a lot! What else can I say? Just the two chambers operate quite differently, really.
E Helgeby: Do you have any preference? Is there one that you think is more contemplative, perhaps, than the other?
T Malcolm: I prefer the House of Representatives, usually. But then again, it just depends on what’s on at the time. It depends what’s on at the time.
E Helgeby: You’ve been involved with Parliamentary broadcasting for a long period of time now, how do you view the culture of Parliament today? Is it more democratic or less democratic than when you started back in 1976?
T Malcolm: I don’t know, you could probably say it’s more democratic. That’s reflected in the hung Parliament. When you hear people criticising it – we voted that Parliament in! I don’t know whether that answers your question. You can’t say it’s less democratic. If anything it’s more.
E Helgeby: What about the quality of oratory? Has that changed much?
T Malcolm: What of the announcers or the Members and Senators?
E Helgeby: I think we’re talking about the Members.
T Malcolm: Again, I don’t think it’s as good as it used to be. There aren’t too many performers now that would really hold your attention, like Keating and Jim Killen and Peter Costello, more recently. Mick Young, there, was a good one too. Those sorts of characters are not in the place now. Again, I’m getting into dangerous territory because I still do Parliamentary broadcasting.
E Helgeby: You mentioned colleagues that you appreciated very much working with – Kevin Chapman, Errol Silver, Rod Henshaw, Bruce Webster, Peter Leonard…
T Malcolm: Webster, yes.
E Helgeby: Anything you want to talk about any of them as individuals and their special ways of doing things, perhaps? Stories?
T Malcolm: There’s one person there who I didn’t mention – Brian Minards – who I still talk to. He’s retired now; he’ll be eighty in a couple of weeks. He’s down at Batehaven. Bruce Webster’s retired also; he’s on the central coast, Kincumber, around Gosford. Errol Silver has passed on, so has Kevin Chapman. So has Peter Leonard. Sadly, a lot of these people are not around anymore. Rod Henshaw I used to work with at 2CA as well; I’ve lost contact with him in recent years. He’s somewhere up north.
E Helgeby: Have you got any sort of anecdotes, special memories, you know, events?
T Malcolm: There’s one that I always liked to mention in terms of Parliamentary broadcasting and that was the day when Billy Snedden, when he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, severely admonished the Member for Hunter, Bert James. He said, and I’m going to have to use a rather naughty word here, he said to Bert James, ‘The Member for Hunter will resume his seat; the Member for Hunter will resume his seat!’ Just like that. And as Bert James sat down, he said to his colleague, sitting next to him, under his breath, ‘He’s a bit fucking tough, isn’t he?’ Well, we heard it in the booth…
[part 2 ends]
Interview with Terry Malcolm 3
T Malcolm: …broadcast day. Billy Snedden at that stage didn’t because there was a lot of noise going on in the chamber, you see. But by the end of the day he’d heard about it, because there had been complaints that had come through on the broadcast. And so, he came down and was listening to the tapes, and of course they were tapes in those days, he thought it was very funny actually. Anyway the following morning, he got up – I’ll never forget this – after prayers, Billy Snedden, Speaker, wanted to remind the Members to maintain the decorum of the chamber at all times and particularly during Parliamentary broadcasting days and to particularly aware that your microphone may not be turned off as swiftly as you think, as you sit down. That’s all he said. I would imagine that he’s probably summoned Burt to the office and they probably had a bit of a laugh over it but yes. It’s funny the things you remember, that’s the thing that stands out the most to me. Yes.
E Helgeby: You mentioned also the great Parliamentary performers. You mentioned Jim Killen, you’ve spoken about him…
T Malcolm: I didn’t say Fred Daily because he finished a year before in Parliament, went out with Whitlam of course.
E Helgeby: You’ve also mentioned others: Gough Whitlam, Fred Chaney, Paul Keating and John Button. Anything you can say about any of these?
T Malcolm: I just thought they were very good Parliamentarians. I remember Button was a very good… I remember the Button car plan made a lot of sense in those days. Mick Young was another one of the great characters in Parliament. I don’t really know, I can’t really expand except that they were very good Parliamentary performers; they always seemed to be on top of their brief.
E Helgeby: Who was the best orator of that group?
T Malcolm: I’d still have to say Jim Killen, out of the lot. I remember he was Minister for Foreign Affairs for a while. He never got to be Deputy Prime Minister or anything like that, but he was a great orator.
E Helgeby: What about Fred Chaney, Senator?
T Malcolm: I’m just correcting myself: he was the Minister for Defence, Killen. Sorry.
E Helgeby: Fred Chaney, I think, was the only Senator in this list that I mentioned. In what way did he stand out?
T Malcolm: Again, as I say, he finished the year before – and I just know from what I’ve read – that he was, he and Killen, were a sort of stand-up act in the chamber. They used to bait each other, but it was all in good fun, because obviously the opposite sides of Parliament – Fred Daly was very much a Labor man and Killen was a Liberal man – but they were very good friends. As I say, I didn’t see that interaction first hand because that finished the year before I started the Parliamentary broadcast. But I’ve since read a fair amount about it and that type of thing.
E Helgeby: I was thinking more of Fred Chaney.
T Malcolm: Oh, Fred Chaney.
E Helgeby: Yes, you had him jotted down…
T Malcolm: There’s nothing stands out. I remember him leading the Senate, of course. He just impressed me as a straight-up-and-down Politician, really.
E Helgeby: Now, while these were obviously good performers and high performers, did you sort of see any poor performers or those who might stand out in the other way?
T Malcolm: I’d rather not answer that, still. There’s a few at the moment I could talk about, but I can’t.
E Helgeby: That’s fair enough. There was a funny event that you did mention, it was the chicken man – tell me what…
T Malcolm: Now bear in mind that back in those days we weren’t allowed to say anything about what was going on apart from what was happening with the legislation, basically. And this happened after a dinner break; I think they used to start at eight after finishing at six for a couple of hours, back in those days, in this building. Very shortly after the dinner break resumed – I don’t think it was Snedden in the Chair, it might have been the Deputy Speaker – but into the chamber came somebody dressed as a chicken, as a chook. I’m led to believe that it was the Member for Franklin, Bruce Goodluck that sort of came out later. Although I don’t think he’s ever really admitted it, as far as I know. From memory, I think he was trying to make some point about the industry as it was in Tasmania. So he came in, as you would, dressed as a chook. The Deputy Speaker didn’t think very highly of it at all and ordered him out of the chamber. I didn’t really make any reference to this during the broadcast because of constrictions that we had.
E Helgeby: What was your reaction though?
T Malcolm: Disbelief! I looked to my colleague, next to me, I can’t remember who was next to me, but my operator, we just shook our heads and it gave us a good laugh.
E Helgeby: I suppose the laugh did not come out on air?
T Malcolm: There was another time that I can remember, and it was in this building, where somebody – again, I can’t remember – it was a backbencher in the Coalition’s side that very much took umbrage at what was said on the other side by somebody in the Labor Party. It wasn’t a Minister… he had to be restrained. He wanted to go down and thump this fellow. I do remember that. His colleagues were restraining him, he didn’t get down there. But he wanted to.
E Helgeby: Do you remember who it was?
T Malcolm: No, I don’t. As I say, I really can’t remember. It was a back bencher.
E Helgeby: Were there any disturbing events taking place in the years you were at Parliament House, particularly in Old Parliament House?
T Malcolm: They’re the only ones I can remember and they’re more like humorous events. I know things happened but I didn’t witness them. A woman chaining herself to the Public Gallery and they had to saw her off or something, I don’t know. But I didn’t see that, I just heard about it. No, I didn’t see anything like that. In recent years, I did see somebody – this is in the current Parliament House – jump from the Public Gallery onto the floor to make some sort of point. He was crash tackled by a couple of security people.
E Helgeby: This happened recently?
T Malcolm: Yes, this was only seven or eight years ago. That was fairly dramatic.
E Helgeby: And you were in the Chamber at the time?
T Malcolm: Yes. I was doing the broadcast and he landed right in front of me, almost.
E Helgeby: How did you deal with that?
T Malcolm: I think I made a comment then, that there’d been a disturbance and somebody had jumped from the Public Gallery because yes, that stopped proceedings for a few minutes as you can imagine. Only last year we had the pensioner group – again, nothing to do with this building – disrupt question time for several minutes, probably seven or eight minutes. Group by group they got up and chanted something about the death of democracy or something like that. But they were pensioner groups and first, they were in the left hand gallery, in front of where I was broadcasting. Then it came from the other side and then from the middle. There were three different disturbances and on each occasion an the whole row of people had to be removed. So, yes, that was fairly dramatic, but that’s in the newer building.
E Helgeby: And you were allowed to make some mention of that?
T Malcolm: Well, it was pretty obvious that something was going on. We had to say there was a disturbance in the Public Gallery and that people had to be removed. I’m not sure whether we would have been able to say that here, but as I say it was beside the point because I can’t remember it happening here.
E Helgeby: Now I’m thinking that the difference in time, something had changed, because the chicken man you weren’t allowed to say anything?
T Malcolm: I wasn’t game to – put it that way.
E Helgeby: So you don’t think there was a rule that would have precluded you from making comments about…
T Malcolm: I don’t know, I just erred on the side of caution I think. I’ve thought about that a few times since. I’ve thought, ‘Well, that’s something that is still written about today and I wish I had said something.’ But I didn’t, because I felt I was… Yes, you’re holding up something? Everyone still talks about the chicken man. It was fairly minor but just humorous. Yes.
E Helgeby: But you could obviously talk about what was happening in this demonstration…?
T Malcolm: Yes, yes.
E Helgeby: Because the rules have obviously loosened…
T Malcolm: Yes, they have been broadened since then. Yes.
E Helgeby: When did you retire – and why did you retire – from full-time radio and broadcasting work?
T Malcolm: I took an early retirement really, in 19… the end of ’94. And at that stage I was the Musical Director, if you like, at the ABC. I was responsible for the programming of the music on the station. That responsibility was virtually… I became redundant because it was going to be done from Queensland. Doing it for all of Australia and so I was offered other things, or a package. I took the package. Although I wasn’t retired for long, I think it lasted about four months and then I did voice-over work, I got some work at 2CC, in their news room. Then the ABC, I had to wait after the package – you can’t work at the same organisation, you know the rules – so when that time had elapsed, I did some more news, casual news reading for the ABC again. Then I got back into the Parliamentary broadcasting again, I was working for the guide service too, here, for a decade in Parliament House. I only recently finished doing that. So that was quite separate from what I was doing before.
E Helgeby: What would you say would be your fondest memories of working at Old Parliament House and at the Australian Parliament House?
T Malcolm: The fondest memories… There’s no particular one that jumps out at me, really. I don’t know. This building again, as I say, the atmosphere was much more congenial I thought. You could go to the non-members bar and have a couple of drinks. There isn’t even a non-members bar in Parliament. There was for a few years but they closed it. But those sorts of things, I miss. Not that I hung out in the non-members bar all the time, I can tell you. But it was somewhere you could go. That’s all gone. And they’re all the things I missed between this building and the new one.
E Helgeby: So the atmosphere of the place, or I suppose, in today’s language, the ‘vibes’ of this building were…
T Malcolm: Far preferred here. I know the reasons for moving and yes, they’re well documented. On public tours, doing that other job that I mentioned, for the Department of Parliamentary Services as a guide, one of the most common questions is, ‘Why…’ – and people still occasionally get angry – ‘Why did you move from the Old Parliament House?’ And I used to say to them, ‘Have you been down there? Have you actually seen the cramped conditions under which they worked in their offices?’ It’s not so much the chambers but the lack of office space. But some people you’ll still never convince. You know and I know the reason they had to move from here. You pay a penalty for that. It’s a much bigger building and it’s far more impersonal.
E Helgeby: What would you say would be your worst memories, if any, during your time here, working at Parliament?
T Malcolm: No single one again. Again, having broadcasts and being there much longer than you thought you’d be. I’ve never liked that very much. But they’re the sort of things that don’t happen very often. There’s not too many, really. It’s been very good for me, very good in one way or another. As I say, I’ve learnt a lot more about politics than I used to know. From next to nothing, I wouldn’t say I know everything, but I know a lot more than I did when I started out in ’76, that’s for sure. I live and breathe it in many ways now. My favourite programs on TV are always the political ones, ‘The Insiders’ and all that sort of thing on the ABC.
E Helgeby: Did you ever join a political party?
T Malcolm: No. People used to ask me that on tours. No, I was never tempted to.
E Helgeby: Anything you’d like to add before we close the interview?
T Malcolm: No, I think you’ve just about covered everything. I mean, I just hope it’s been of help to you. I can’t think of anything else that I want to add.
E Helgeby: Well then, on behalf of the Director of the museum, I’d like to thank you for your willingness to participate in this interview. Of course, if there are things that, after you get the recording, a copy of the recording for yourself, that you would have liked to add or said, just contact us and we can arrange for a supplementary session at any time.
T Malcolm: Sure, okay.
E Helgeby: Thank you.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3
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