An open letter of humble thanks to Martin Flanagan

Dear Martin Flanagan,

 

You have left The Age. Or rather, The Age, as a major player in Australian media, is irretrievably stricken; falling, failing, on the turbulent information-exchange seas of the 2010s, and has lost you.

 

The prospect of waking to a Saturday Age not containing your thoughts and provocations is seriously disconcerting. As if I am adrift on the open ocean. As if north is the new south. Or better, the new west. What then for sunset? Which way is up? For I have lost my compass.

 

(I will be somewhat loose with facts here, for the facts of the matter here are only a scaffold for the story. A knowledge of facts (statistics, records, years) can be most handy for a pub trivia team. Or a journalist. Given that neither applies here to this note of humble thanks, I posit that the vibe will be sufficient.)

 

I was lucky enough to live in a childhood home to which The Age was delivered every day. Thursday was a favourite, for the Green Guide. Friday’s EG became popular as my interest in music expanded. But it was any day carrying a story of yours that stood out.

 

The back pages were typically full of match reports (kicks, marks, handballs), stories of tribunal deliberations, tips (what on earth was The Age Computer?); all grist for the weekly, monthly, annual mill. But every so often (and I forget how often), you would wend your way into the maelstrom, dropping observations like SK Warne dropped leg-spinners, and binding them all with the technicolour fabric of humanity.

 

It was of another league.

 

At once your words brought meaning, invoked purpose and strove for understanding; the very best of any writing, I think. Wonderful. You showed us land and sky. You showed us place.

 

And this went on right through my high school days, right through my uni days of fading interest in top-level sport, right through my days navigating a world again in whose presence I felt a little removed.

 

How well I remember our just-married year of living the stifling humidity of Parap market late on a Saturday morning, the weekly seafood laksa and lime juice ritual, and, early on, wet season in full glorious reign, wandering hopeful, into the Parap newsagent, only to be reminded (again) that that Saturday Age wouldn’t arrive in Darwin until Sunday. And even then it would cost nearly $10. But each week we bought it in order to read your stories.

 

Still this still went on as we moved back down south. As we became parents; as I became a father. Watching, listening, learning. Still it went on. Still it continued as Dean Lusher told me about this thing called The Footy Almanac. And still it carried on, as the Bulldogs crested the wave.

 

Goodness me. Stories of possibility, of human questioning, of generosity. Of navigating a way.

 

So from this reader, thank you, M Flanagan. Thank you. As a long time reader, a long time admirer, I offer humble thanks. Thanks for opening my eyes to perspectives foreign to me; for taking me into the worlds of people far away, or of people so many of us (incorrectly, arrogantly) presume to know. Your story-writing, your observations, have helped to shape my understanding of this life; this place. And for that I give warmest, most sincere thanks. It is a true gift.

 

I bought and read your books The Call (on Tom Wills) and The Short Long Book (on Michael Long). I sent the Michael Long book to my friend DM, who lives in Darwin. On one of those around-Australia drives with his wife, their car broke down in Jabiru. They had started in Adelaide. This was some time in the 1990s. So he and his wife stayed, found work, and later moved to the big smoke; to Darwin, where they still live – now with two daughters in High School. As a man of Darwin life, DM loved the Short Long Book. “The best book I have read.”

I read Russell Jackson’s lovely message about you in the Guardian. I can only agree that it does indeed seem that footy has lost its soul. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jun/14/the-loss-of-martin-flanagans-afl-column-is-a-blow-to-footys-soul

 

But of course, you’re not dead. I wonder what is next?

 

Luckily, for I am nothing if not lucky, I have had the good fortune to meet you a couple of times. Once, you were at the bar of the All Nations in Richmond, talking with David Bridie. The occasion was the 2013 Footy Almanac launch. My colleague, who was new to Australia, watched as I stumbled and staggered and fawned on the other side of the bar. She said: “Who’s that?”

 

I said: “Charlotte, that is none other than Martin Flanagan, the most tremendous writer. I’ve been reading him for more years than I can name…”

 

“Well,” Charlotte said, “come on then. I’ll take your photo.”

 

And we did. And she did. (Thanks for the encouragement Charlotte. And for the photo. And a belated apology to David Bridie for interrupting your conversation.)

 

The second time was at a Sportswriters Festival gig down in the arse-end of Docklands; at a building that I think is called the Docklands library. That night you gave an oration called “Sport and politics: the Adam Goodes case reconsidered one year on.”

 

I link to it here, as it stands as a testament to perspective and understanding, from within a time of consternation. http://www.theage.com.au/comment/sport-and-politics-the-adam-goodes-case-reconsidered-one-year-on-20161014-gs2b5e.html

 

 

Thank you M. Flanagan, for helping, for sharing. At the Sir Doug Nicholls Round match this year, I took my daughters to see the Scarred Tree. I would not have done that if not for your sharing of stories. Now these two girls know the story; they go into the world knowing the tree; the place. http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/round-10-collingwood-v-brisbane-from-little-things-big-things-grow/

 

Thank you, M. Flanagan, for teaching me. In a way, I expect that you have taught a very many people. I did wonder whether to link any other single piece of writing here. For no single piece can ever represent a decades-long canon. But I choose now to link this one written in 2008 and called “In Defence of Quality Journalism:” http://blogs.theage.com.au/flanagan/archives/2008/09/in_defence_of_quality_journalism.html

 

We should all read this; now nine years later.

 

As a contributor to this marvellous Footy Almanac, as a father of two young girls, as a human, being – as one now suddenly bereft; without a compass, I say thanks. From here, I remain cautiously optimistic to navigate by these stars; stars that you have shown to us all.

 

Go well.

Sláinte,  David Wilson

 

M Flanagan, D Wilson, 2013 Footy Almanac launch, All Nations Hotel, Richmond.

 

—-

Please add links to your favourite articles by Martin Flanagan and to pen a few words as a comment.

Read more of David Wilson (E. Regnans) HERE.

About David Wilson

Hit for a towering 6 by Mike Gatting at the Banyule Cricket Club, December 2002, theatrically attempting to reproduce the SK Warne delivery. The ball is yet to land. @e_regnans

Comments

  1. G’day David,

    It’s a great read and you said so well. It’s a big loss for us. Flanagan is a great journalist and has high standards on journalism. His blog published nine years ago tells it. He seems to encourage me to be a professional writer as I have a lot of curiousness.

    My university course was engineering that is science and is opposed to the concept of media. But I have advantages and disadvantages from both science and art. I hope I can do a paid writing job in the future even if it’s a part time job.

    I hope Flanagan reads your thoughts and replies to you.

    All the best mate.

    Yoshi

  2. ER – indeed the world is turning and quality is flying off at all angles. The Age is a sad case of self (and completely predictable) destruction.

    I’ve also noticed that the ABC news no longer regards it as necessary to have any AFL news in its sports reports. It must offend the prevailing sensibilities.

  3. G’day Dips,

    Do you mean ABC doesn’t care not delivering AFL news? Do they focus on delivering other news that can be instant, or do they give up in the sake of other types of media including AFL has own media on their website and SNS?

    Stuffs about ABC are unbelievable…

    Cheers

    Yoshi

  4. How good has Martin Flanagan been over the years? An erudite supporter of all good things Australian.

    I purchased the Age daily for over 40 years, now i buy it sporadically. When you can no longer read a skilled wordsmith like Martin Flanagan, but Wayne Carey gets a regular column, it’s sad. How long does print media survive?

    Thanks Martin Flanagan, for may years of sustained brilliance.

    Glen!

  5. Yoshi – I could write a PhD in answer to your question. But the short answer is that the ABC is pushing its own agenda. What constitutes news is irrelevant.

  6. Dips,
    Martin’s book about Matthew Richardson was as much about the man as about the place – Tasmania – and the club – Richmond.
    I loved it.
    Great story Dips. Martin will be missed. But hopefully he will keep entertaining us.

  7. The Wrap says:

    Quality journalism is still around fellas, you just have to search for it. The Black Inc stable is one place you’ll find it – The Saturday Paper, the Monthly and The Quarterly are all on the news stands – and have some terrific journalism – particularly The Monthly. On-line, The Conversation covers a wide range of topics.

    Although not totally devoid of good journalism, another good test is to read the murdoch press and believe the opposite.

    But this thread is about one of the most heartfelt commentators of the contemporary scene. I’m sure Martin will find another masthead under which to raise his banner. As a matter of interest, he does quite a bit of public speaking. I’ve been invited to a couple of his talks by friends, but I’m sure you’d be able to find out where & when he’s on through the web. Too early for “Thanks for the Memories”.just yet.

    And that’s interesting Glen. There was a footballer named Wayne Carey. He played for North in their Glory Years. Is there a journo by the same name. Gee, that’s a coincidence.

  8. The Wrap says:

    While I think of it, they put Rohan Connolly out to pasture at the same draft. I used to buy the Monday Age just to read his summary of the round. That’s some pretty rich bathwater they’re flushing down the drain around there at Fairfax.

  9. A fine tribute to a wonderful writer, e.r.
    It says much about Flanagan that his leaving The Age has saddened so many.
    Up until relatively recently, I purchased the Age every single day of the week. I now subscribe on-line and to the weekend editions for $30 per month, but I suspect that Flanagan leaving might be the final straw.

    A comment I made elsewhere on this site: In the last couple of years or so, from the Sports section alone The Age has lost Richard Hinds, Peter Hanlon, Rohan Connolly, Jake Niall, Martin Blake, Emma Quayle, Samantha Lane, and of course the great Martin Flanagan. That is a huge loss of talent right there.

  10. The Wrap says:

    Good point Smokie. Considering that Football is the tribal glue that binds this City together, the Fairfax decision reeks of senility. And senility only has one outcome. Sadly.

  11. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    One of the great pleasures of my wordly life was hearing Martin read his ‘On Listening’ Penguin slimline at the Sydney Writer’s Festival last year. A lovely, roundabout mind willing not to settle too quickly on things.

    But I agree that there are people to take the baton Mountain Ash. The baton, Mountain Ash.,

  12. Cheers ER, geez we’ve got a few parallel tales to tell. And speaking of feeling written for, thanks for putting these words together. Well may we say, there’s no saving The Age, but here’s to plenty more from the writer. Viva Martin!

  13. You showed us the land and sky. You showed us place.

    Martin would love that, I’m sure.

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Thanks Martin and David. I suspect that this flame won’t be quenched.

  15. Peter_B says:

    Terrific stuff ER. Thanks for saying so eloquently what many of us feel. Particularly liked your “technicolour fabric of humanity”. We all need compass(es).
    My debt to Martin is simply that he mentioned “the Footy Almanac” in one of his Age columns 6 years ago. So he was the initial conduit of an enormous amount of connection and sharing that has subsequently flowed. I haven’t delved as deeply into his writing beyond the Age columns, but they were always lyrical, generous and broad in their perspective. Grateful.
    On the broader issue of “public interest” journalism – I endorse everything that the sagacious Mr Wrap said. Its a tough environment for information providers – but who says any of us deserve to be rich? Still – digital media provides rich pickings for consumers who can think and dig.
    No matter how rich or stupid our society becomes, we are all sitting at some sort of camp fire and yarning about what the stars mean. That much is timeless.

  16. Chris Daley says:

    And so say all of us

  17. Cat from the Country says:

    Great celebration of Martin Flanagan. Many will miss his column
    I had not caught up with the demise of all all those journos. Two excellent women, are there any left to support Caro

  18. The Wrap says:

    I may have quoted this before Mr B, but please indulge an old man, one who is still likely to live long enough to cheer The Tigers on to their next Pennant. (And Golden Era – Ed) Your mention of campfires & stars brought it to mind.

    And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
    In the murmur of the breezes and river on it’s bars,
    And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
    And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

  19. Alistair Watson says:

    A less well known book of Martin Flanagan is ‘The Line’ written with his now late father Arch Flanagan. I finished the book thinking that Martin Flanagan and his brother Richard had entered writing with a genetic advantage, such was the clarity, depth of feeling and sparseness of their father’s writing.

  20. Peter_B says:

    Just read the farewell to political editor Michael Gordon on the Age website. Obituary porn seems to be their new found raison d’etre.
    Are their enough corpses to keep the fires burning?

  21. Rod Oaten says:

    I have just read one of the great tributes to a great Australian writer and person, by another great Australian.
    Congrats ER and thank you.

  22. E.regnans says:

    Thanks all.
    This is a fine thread of comments you have set up.

    From that 2008 piece on journalism, linked above: “My view is that there is only a thin sub-soil of quality journalism in this country. If that erodes, we will be left with a country run by tabloid newspaper columnists and talk-back radio at a time when the nature and magnitude of the problems confronting us require applied public intelligence.”

    Interesting.
    I wonder what will be next for M Flanagan.
    For all of us.

  23. Trevor Blainey says:

    they’re folding the tent at The Age. as someone noted above the departure of Flanagan might just be that bridge too far for me. plenty of good writers out the door there not least one closely associated with this forum. on the morning walk you see the hard copy in a few driveways still, tightly bound into something smaller than the Progress Press, half of it ads, not much of it actually news if a look at the iPad preceded the walk. a sad chronicle of not much really. again like others here i’ll look out for Martin elsewhere; a weekly dose (at least) is still required at our place if for no other reason than as a reminder that there are better angels amongst us. thanks Martin and to David for kicking this off.

  24. Malby Dangles says:

    The Saturday Age won’t be the same without Martin Flanagan’s brilliant insights into footy and everyday life. I gobbled up his 2 articles on Saturdays much like vegemite toast. Soul food for the mind, body, and soul.

  25. ER- a fine tribute. In a broader context, I imagine my boys will witness the deaths of TV and radio as we know these, and most certainly newspapers.

    Having said this it is a sad time. I listened to the Age podcast in which he declared that he’s writing a book on the 2016 Dogs, so there’s something to sustain us. Of course, this podcast is worth a listen as MF reflects on his career and the experiences he’s had.

    Great thread here too.

  26. Keiran Croker says:

    Beautifully said Dave. I shed a tear last Saturday when I read Martin’s final columns. He has indeed been a compass for us, educating and showing a way with no condescension. He will be missed in The Age, Hopefully we will hear his words and voice through other media. Surely an Almanac Lunch beckons?

  27. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Excellent tribute, ER.
    I have no doubt that Martin’s writing has influenced many almanackers to open a vein. His volume of work is remarkable in many contexts. Could he be seen as the first footy fan writer?

  28. The Wrap says:

    I used to save some of the The Saturday Age columns to read on Sunday night, to wrap up the weekend. Three great journalists were the contributors that I savoured . Peter Ryan pithy and pitiless; he suffered not fools, gladly or otherwise. A coast watcher in Timor during WWII,he was part of our human radar network against invasion from SE Asia. He lives with us now only in our memories. Les Carlyon, a peerless researcher and analyst. A journo of life and author of renown. And of course, Martin Flanagan. A much younger MF, but no less engaging for it. Insight and compassion his hallmark.

    But while we’re lamenting the loss of his two columns in Saturday’s Age, how about a minute’s silence for an institution that has been part of what Melbourne is since before the Eureka Uprising and the rampaged of the Kelly Gang. That helped us wave off Burke & Wills, and return their bones to their families. That saw us through two Depressions and two World Wars. Not to mention n numerous credit squeezes & ressessions we had to have. Reported honestly and with candour on the Korean War, Vietnam War and the hanging of another Ryan, Robert. Not to mention keeping our pollies, if not honest, at least exposed for the liberties they take with gay abandon. Our Great Game is changing, and so is our town. Bleak City – RIP.

  29. Luke Reynolds says:

    Fantastic tribute Dave. Look forward to seeing what M.Flanagan does next.
    First started reading The Age in High School at the school library. MF grabbed my attention straight away.
    So many great writers there over the years.
    Now I’m down to just buying on Friday (largely for the EG liftout) and Saturday. The Sunday Age, long a favourite, is dead to me now in it’s rake thin state. Saturday’s may not last much longer. It’s a shame.

  30. Dips – it would be very interesting to read your PhD thesis as the media is the field I have interests. It’s so sad ABC seems to chase viewing rates rather than delivering accurate news. The state broadcaster should provide accurate news, I think. Cheers – Yoshi

  31. Phil – your comment is so meaningful. That’s why Flanagan was the guest speaker at Sports Writer Festival. His column published nine years ago is a good text book for us Almanackers, isn’t it?

  32. Citrus Bob says:

    What magnificent tributes to Martin Flanagan surely the finest of sports writers that this country has produced. Thank you ER for your thoughtful words and too everyone else who has contributed. Was away and missed last Saturday’s articles and it came as a shock that MF would be read no longer in The Age.
    Like all the other fine writers who have departed from The Age I have know doubts that he will be heard and read in other forums.
    If only I was 10% as good as a writer I would be happy.
    Looking forward to MF,s book on Footscray.
    Citrus

  33. E.regnans says:

    Hi Citrus Bob – thanks for leaving your comment.
    The two articles you missed last Saturday are here:
    1. The power of the game and its people make me forget about everything else in the world
    http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/the-power-of-the-game-and-its-people-make-me-forget-about-everything-else-in-the-world-20170609-gwnxdt.html

    and
    2. I learnt the meaning of the word brother from Tim
    http://www.theage.com.au/comment/i-learnt-the-meaning-of-the-word-brother-from-tim-20170609-gwnus7.html

    Thanks all – go well.

  34. Les Currie says:

    I’m in shock E.R. I didn’t know this, as being a Sydney-sider for the past 30 years I have missed out on reading Martin’s columns in The Age apart from a few friends have sent me.. However, I recently read The Game In Time of War, re-read Southern Skies, Western Oval and have had The Call on my bookshelf and ‘to read’ list for some time. I will give it a go now as I love his writing . I look forward to his book on The Dogs and will watch out for where he pops up next.

  35. John Butler says:

    Late to the party again.

    E Reg, thanks for expressing what so many of us are feeling about these developments. And thanks for a thread of comments that are a work in themselves, Knackers.

    Like all the best sportswriter’s, Mr Flanagan understood play in its proper perspective. As we are more and more saturated with ‘content’, it’s the perspective that seems increasingly absent.

    If the Footy Almanac has any spiritual fathers beyond John Harms, Mr Flanagan would be one of them. He remains an influence and inspiration to many of us. I look forward to his further work.

  36. Neil Anderson says:

    Even later to the party again. I will miss Martin’s articles as well especially with his connection to the Almanac. I read his book Southern Sky, Western Oval about the 1993 Bulldog’s season featuring fathers of present day players Steve (Mitch Wallis) and Mark (Lachie Hunter). I am really looking forward to his next book about the Dog’s 2016 season.
    We have been blessed to be able to read the writings of the two Flanagan brothers from Tasmania.
    Re-reading Martin’s article about the publication of Long Bombs To Snake and referring to the title as ‘exquisite” made me feel proud that I came up with that title in conjunction with John Harms.

  37. Rick Kane says:

    Beautiful DW, you are spot on in your tip of the hat to MF for his writing and contribution to Australia. He is both Everyman and yet much more than that. He deserved this letter because it comes from all of us. Thank you for speaking so eloquently on our behalf.

    Cheers

  38. This is truly beautifully written, ER. Thank you for putting together such a thoughtful and touching piece about one of the great writers of our time. You have captured how many of us feel about Martin Flanagan and his powerful words. I will definitely miss reading Flanagan in The Age. But I am sure he will pop up with pieces here and there in the future.

  39. Thanks ER. And to all the commenters. So much in this discussion – set alight by your fine words ER. Yes, thanks again.

  40. Can we soon see a humble letter (article) of thanks to Ned Wilson who has pulled up stumps from the Knacker playground ???

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