Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RIP ANDREW McMILLAN - Writer committed to life in Top End

ANDREW McMILLAN AUSTRALIAN WRITER 29-12-1957 - 28-01-2012. Just realised I hadn't put the obituary I had the honour of writing for author, journo and mate Andrew McMillan up here. So here t'is ... From the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. ANDREW McMillan, lanky, soft-spoken author of five published non-fiction books crucial to Australia's history, has died peacefully at home with friends in Darwin. He was 54. The evening of his death was the first day he hadn't been able to get out of bed to enjoy the tropical breeze on the patio of ''the hacienda'', as he called it, at Darwin's Marrakai apartments. After his terminal cancer diagnosis in February 2011, McMillan adopted a ''party on'' palliative approach as a stream of local and fly-in friends came to visit, sharing drinks and stories. Among them were the musicians Paul Kelly, Ed Kuepper (the Saints), federal Education Minister and former Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett, Rob Hirst (also Midnight Oil) and Don Walker (Cold Chisel). As a RAM (Rock Australia Magazine) reporter from age 17 and a widely published freelancer, McMillan had been instrumental in all these careers. His patient, ironic openness and probing eye had made them lifelong friends. An only child, Andrew McMillan was born in Melbourne with a hare lip and cleft palate. He moved with his parents, John (a public servant ) and Lorna McMillan (a former nursing sister) to Brisbane at three. He attended Oakleigh State School and later Brisbane Grammar, where he was bullied over his appearance. A shy boy speaking in a near whisper with a lisp, he underwent repeated bouts of lip and palate surgery into his early teens. McMillan discovered seminal punk band the Saints in Brisbane, selling two stories about them to Britain's influential Sounds in 1976. Joining the RAM staff in July 1977, he moved to Sydney. There he helped break unashamedly Australian bands like Cold Chisel and Midnight Oil, who sang with political awareness about ordinary Australian lives, in the suburbs, by the shores, in the country towns and outback lands. He hitch-hiked all over the mainland.There were important relationships in Sydney and 'a subsequent roll-call of steamy liaisons in Darwin and beyond', but no children. Influenced by New Journalism and the subjective, gonzo techniques of Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, the young McMillan reported the youth-rally-like reception in the pubs for the Angels, Radio Birdman and others from the late '70s through the '80s. His reportage from the road with Warumpi Band and Midnight Oil reflected his shock at conditions in the interior, leading to his first book, Strict Rules (1988). That year he paddled 300 kilometres of the flooding Darling River in New South Wales and moved to Darwin, ramping up a lifelong engagement with indigenous music and affairs. McMillan's quiet ability to listen, watch and simply report the complex truth from the inside, earned him respect. He became media liaison officer for Yothu Yindi's Garma Festival. In January 1990 he visited East Timor for a holiday gone wrong, finding himself soon testifying at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva about mass killings of pro-independence demonstrators and starting a second book (Death in Dili, 1992). His following books include the beautiful story of our incredible flying boats in World War II, Catalina Dreaming (2002), Tiwi Footy (2008) and An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land (2001), the 2009 reprint of which won the inaugural NT Chief Minister's Book of the Year. An award-winning poet, he earned songwriting royalties from songs co-written with Kitto and Neil Murray. McMillan had been living in Darwin at ''the bunker'', a flood-prone bolt-hole where he sweated over manuscripts now archived with the NT Library. Alas, the place offered poor sanctuary from the wet season for a previously bushie-tough, now frail fellow riddled with liver and bowel cancer. In support, his friends organised a benefit and art auction, raising $20,000 to install him at the more comfortable Marrakai for Christmas 2010. McMillan, meanwhile, worked steadily. He oversaw a theatre adaptation of An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land and followed roads and dirt tracks inland with friends, deep into the Northern Territory country that was so precious to him. There he selected a last resting place beside a remote billabong at Larrimah. McMillan is survived by his mother, Lorna, and his extended family. He outlived his prognosis by four months, completing in that time an EP of music and spoken word for Laughing Outlaw Records, and a sixth book, a compilation of his journalism. Both will be released posthumously. The author's estate and royalties now go to the McMillan Fund, administered by the NT Writers Centre. The author is a Melbourne writer and ex-RAM colleague of McMillan's. Jen Jewel Brown February 07, 2012

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