A beer with…Michael Sexton



Michael Sexton with Carlton’s 1968 VFL Premiership Cup.


A beer with … Michael Sexton



Michael Sexton has been on the tools as a journalist/writer for four decades during which time he produced various works for radio, TV and print. He may be one of Australia’s most prolific yet least-read sports writers, having put together half a dozen books over the past few years on increasingly niche topics. One of the greatest compliments he received was during the launch of his book about the 1964 SANFL season when the compere described it as “One of those books you read and say, ‘shit, I had forgotten that’”.


Congrats, you’re about to have your biography of Harry Hopman published in the UK; what fascinated you about Hopman’s life and career?

It began with the sheer success of his career as Davis Cup Captain (16 wins from 21 attempts) and the players who came into his orbit who won more than 100 Grand Slam titles. Hard to think of another Australian figure with that level of sustained success in international sport.

The success also came over such a long period. To research Hopman means you virtually touch the origins of tennis in Australia – he followed pioneers Norman Brookes, Anthony Wilding and Gerald Patterson, then played with Jack Crawford, John Bromwich and Adrian Quist, and was in charge of Frank Sedgman, Ken McGregor, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Ashley Cooper, Neale Fraser, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, John Newcombe and Tony Roche. After his Davis Cup years, he coached in America with Vitas Gerulaitis, Peter Fleming and John McEnroe. Brookes won Wimbledon in 1907 and McEnroe in 1984.

The question is, how did he do it? Part of the answer is that he adapted and changed while remaining true to the methods he developed. Hopman was at various times irascible, kindly, stubborn, forthright, duplicitous, conservative, controversial, obsessive, well-mannered and wildly successful – what more could a biographer wish for?

Where did your love of storytelling come from?

Loved reading as a kid where the stories inspired and intrigued me. Becoming a journalist allowed me to be a professional sticky-beak.

What is the writing process for you?

I try to write something every day. It always ends up somewhere, even if it is a file that will never be opened, but I have found getting words down is more important that waiting for an inspiration. At times, I leave the keyboard and use a notebook and pencil which always seems to make the words more personal.

Apparently, when Johnny Mercer was struggling to write the lyrics for Henry Mancini’s score for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, he lay down on the couch and fell into a half sleep, allowing his sub-conscious to go to work. When he roused, he had the opening ‘Moon River – wider than a mile’. I have actually tried this and sometimes it works.

You worked full-time in the media for several decades; what did you take from those experiences to shape your writing?

Mostly discipline. Journalists don’t survive unless they can process information and strip down stories to their essence on incredibly tight deadlines. Hour after hour, day after day. It tends to hone your skills.

The best journalists also have a good snout to sniff out yarns and so it teaches you to see and hear as much as you can. You never know where the next story is, but you will need it because the clock is always ticking.

How did you first get published?

At the ABC, I produced and wrote a four-part documentary series about salinity in Australia called ‘The Silent Flood’ and ABC books published a companion book of the same name. Every day, we worked on the documentary and then I went home and worked on the book at night. Seeing the first copy was one of the most joyful moments I can recall.

What is the theme of your writing?

Humanity. People are everything in stories for me.

What is the backdrop to your writing (e.g. silence, a particular style of music, the general hubbub of the house, café etc),

Because I will never write a best seller, my reward is increasingly in the process. So, background jazz, coffee and a window view. Walk the dog afterwards and always return with some corrections. Being able to read something back the next day and say ‘not too bad’ is a fine thing.

What is your view on publishing in Australia?

It is a cottage industry.

What could be done to support writers in Australia?

Like all art, it relies on patronage. If someone is putting on a show, go and see them … visit the art exhibition and buy a book.


Footy Budget type questions:



In certain circles I was called ‘Chucker’ after being called for throwing while playing indoor cricket in the 1980s.

Favourite sound?

Rain hitting the galvo roof when I am in bed.

What is the last book you read?

Kiwis and Kangaroos, an account of the Test cricket tours of India in 1969 by Rajan Bala.

What type of pet do you have? (and name)

A border collie whose formal name is Tilly but answers to Colin.

Who is your best writing teammate (the best person to bounce ideas off)

Colin mostly.

But years ago, I wrote a story and sent it to Martin Flanagan when he was in his pomp at The Age and looked like Michael Tuck. He wrote back a generous fraternal note which was thrilling to me. He has been a guidance through example, mostly in having the courage to write what he knows to be true and say when he doesn’t.

One word to describe your life at the moment?


What is your Desert Island book?

Robert Hughes, ‘American Visions’.


Barry Nicholls


Barry Nicholls is a former A-grade district cricketer (for Kensington in Adelaide) who has written about the sport for three decades. He was a broadcaster on ABC Radio for nearly 20 years. Barry has written nine books, including You Only Get One Innings: Family, Mates and the Wisdom of Cricket and For Those Who Wait: The Barry Jarman Story and The Pocket History of the Ashes. He has contributed to Inside SportWisden Cricketers’ Almanac Australia and other publications. Wakefield Press is publishing his latest book on the 1972 Ashes series in September 2024.


Photos courtesy of Barry Nicholls.


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  1. Neil Cordy says

    Great interview Barry
    Michael is one of our finest talents
    His book ‘Playing On’ about Neil Sachse is a beauty. as is the 1964 SANFL season
    Gave me a real appreciation for SA footy

  2. Nicholas White says

    Fantastic Barry, as you know I am a big fan of Michael (and you) and have a lot of his books and yours.

  3. Mike is a national treasure. His ‘1964″ is social history masquerading as a footy book. My dad loved the “Jack Broadstock” book and he hated Jack Broadstock.
    Thanks for sharing a little of the man behind the stories.

  4. John Harms says

    Thanks Barry. Tremendous insights into Mike’s life and writing life. Once a reader discovers Mike, they stick – for very good reason. It has been a pleasure growing closer to him over many years and we continue to be delighted that he publishes on our website.

    I recommend all of his books.

    I also recommend checking out some of his stories from the SA (and national) epiosdes of the ABC’s 7.30 Report.

    There are no secrets to his style – he impresses from the outset with his intelligence, humility, perspective, sensitivity, affection for people. And of course his story-craft across numerous genres.

    It was puzzling that the ABC decided not to keep him on air – in whatever capacity. But the ABC has narrowed its overall intellectual agenda by committing to the dictum ‘How should we think about this?’ rather then ‘What do you think about this?’

  5. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Thanks Barry – love Mikes writing wish I had his ability I reckon we would do more than ok with my selling ability combined- been a pleasure to get to know- Mike over the past few years also

  6. Peter Crossing says

    Some wonderful cameos in his recent book “Stories for Harry and Ray”.

  7. Barry, this was an excellent Q and A piece. I really feel I now so much more about who Mike is and his thought/writing processes.

    I continue to be amazed by how under-appreciated Mike Sexton is. I just loved “Chappell’s Last Stand”.

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