My coffee with Bob Katter, and how I became a journo and failed as a lobbyist

IT’S A Friday night and I’m tipsy. I’ve returned home from a Catholic school fete but all I did was spend time in the cordoned off section of the school yard reserved for the boozers.

I’m feeling kind of lovely at the moment. Nothing exciting has happened but the vagueness brought on from beer has extrapolated to bliss because I’m not feeling pain. I’m feeling vague. Vague is great. I’m floating and not touching the cursed earth.

Floating is wonderful
Floating is wonderful

It’s been a shitty week. Actually, it’s been a shit day.

I’m working on the toughest news article I’ve ever written. And for now I cannot say any more about it. One day soon, perhaps. It does relate to a social justice issue and so touches on the theme of this blog. Let’s just say a certain government department has hinted threats to take my paper to court if we happen to print a certain story.

Government can be a bastard when the particular one feels threatened by the chains of institution it claims to represent. I came home angry this afternoon and wrote on Facebook; “What good is it being a journalist when you’re being intimidated not to write the stories that count?” then I added “ARGH!”

But let’s not read about my frustration. Let’s instead read about having my first coffee with Bob Katter on Wednesday.

I’m to meet Bob Katter at the Coffee Club at 11.15am. It’s just a meet and greet. He’s in Mount Isa and I’m a new journalist in his area. Our conversation has nothing to do with the toughest story I’ve ever written.

Now, some of you are Americans or Kiwis, so perhaps you’ve never heard of Bob Katter, leader of the Katter’s Australian Party. Every democratic nation surely has an extreme right wing minority party where the leader has celebrity status, enough so that you can identify the fellow through any media cartoon even it looks nothing like the guy.


I first heard of Katter in 2010 (after the Order) when Liberal and Labor parties had a tie of the number of seats in the Federal Parliament House, meaning of course the seats owned by minority parties (such as Katter) gained influence from the main parties desperately needing their votes. But he was one of the first pollies I knew the name of.

I tell him this when we meet. He’s ten minutes late and walks to my table, not wearing his trademark Stetson or Akubra (or whatever hell the brand of hat it is). He’s talking on his phone, doesn’t look at me. But he puts his equipment down at the table so I know he recognises me. After fifteen minutes or so he finishes the phone call (by then his media aide has phoned). So begins our interview, interrupted several times because he has to make phone calls with a reporter from South Australia.

Then, the waitress who fails to serve me the right coffee smiles at Bob and asks him to sign a napkin for her miner husband. He talks to her a while before returning his concentration to me.

“If you were made boss of Australia today, what would you do?” Bob eventually asked.

These are long after the days of the Order. My friend M- from the Order might have lobbied social justice issues and inequality and homelessness, but I was struck dumb.

“Holy beep beep!” I thought. But out loud I said something like “you’ve put me on the spot there, Bob. Maybe consult with people in various communities and learn firsthand what needs to be fixed.”

And after a pause in which to have a mouthful of eggs benedict, Bob said “no, that’s a process. What do you believe?” he taps on the table.

“I want to know what Chris Burns believes in.”

But I didn’t know truly what I believed in. There was my chance to say something that could make a party leader at least consider his own policies. But instead I said nothing of real meaning. Sure, he didn’t let the topic go, but he seemed disappointed in my “education” related answer.

The fireworks of the school fete are going off. The dog is barking. Dumb dog.

I like dogs though cause dogs are smart.

I need another beer cause the lubrication from the last one is running out. I know it’s running out because its more strain to write each additional word and the piss is in my bladder is waiting for a wee!

And I’m starting to feel sad again from the uselessness of the story, the one I mentioned earlier.  Of how useless I feel and how I’m failing to make a difference.

You know, I only became a journalist because of something an elderly lady told me during a Thai themed lunch in the carpark beside St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, 2009.

The carpark is on the right
The carpark is on the right

I was there as an Order member and she asked me what I wanted to be. At the time I was one year in an art’s degree and wasn’t considering returning to university. I said I didn’t know, that I used to want to be a journalist but that I was afraid of working in an industry with so many selfish and absorbed people who cared only for a story.

And she said rather sternly, something roughly like, “don’t let the bad people in a career stop you from joining it, because maybe as a good person you can make a difference.”




2 thoughts on “My coffee with Bob Katter, and how I became a journo and failed as a lobbyist

  1. The “man,” if you will, can be incredibly discouraging especially to young, idealistic journalists. There was a time when I thought I wanted to be an investigative reporter but found I know I don’t have the spine for it. There is such a strong need to be that reporter willing to not let “bullies” force the industry to cave to only telling part of the story. This is why a friend of mine argues that blogging, etc., is a great way to free up journalism again. Perhaps so. I’m not sure how the rules work there but I’d like to think there’s some way to convey to your readers that there’s more to the story but you’re not allowed to let on. That would at least encourage them to seek out more information and at least then as a journalist you can feel like you did your job – provided enough info to get them thinking and get them looking on their own. Truth is…even without the bullies that’s all you can really do anyway. I find it’s hard to do the idealist journalist thing when readers rarely seem to care either. *sigh* I’m sure you’re doing a great job! Keep your head up! Feel free to email me if I can be of any help! – 🙂

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