Supporting a Column

Keith's second book, published in 1966, reflects on the trails of taking on a daily column in the Sun News Pictorial and his efforts in keeping it upright.

Cover of the  book

From the cover

One of Australia's best known journalists tells how his daily column takes shape and is eventually filled — if sometimes at the very last minute. Personalities, entertainers, Royalty, fire, flood and accident are all ready sources for material, but the columnist tells the story 'behind the news' and usually has to discover it or even encourage it personally.

Some of the better known people who have helped Keith Dunstan support his columns in the Brisbane Courier-Mail and the Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial have included Danny Kaye, Peter Ustinov, the Beatles, the 'Shrimp', the Livingston brothers, Sophie Tucker, Dame Mabel Brookes and Barry Humphries. He writes about them (and many, many others), with wit and perception. He also has some illuminating things to say about Royal Tours and the relationship between members of the Royal Family and the Press.

His columns have taken him around Australia and beyond. He has visited nuclear bomber bases in the United States; Buddhist priests in Vietnam; cock fights in Manila and the 'Aus-tralian' waifs at Kure in Japan. Keith Dunstan is frank and amusing — this book makes highly entertaining reading.


There are two questions a newspaper columnist is called on to answer on an average of about 365 times a year: How do you manage to gather the information for all those items you write about in your column? And: Is that all you do each day-just write those little bits and pieces? What else do you do on the paper?

I never know how to answer. I always remember asking Red Smith, famous sports columnist of the New York Herald Tribune, how he dealt with questions of this sort, when he was in Mel­ bourne for the 1956 Olympic Games. Red said he had a stock answer: "I always say that writing a daily column is the simplest thing in the world. All you have to do is saddle up at your type­ writer every day, no matter where you are, or where you've been the night before, and start tap, tap, tapping away-every word a drop of blood. And when you've filled the space, waiting there to be filled every day, as inevitable as death, you say to yourself, 'There goes another chip off your brain, Smith, but you've gotta eat!'"

Then there are those who say to you: "But what a wonderful life you columnists lead, the way you get around, meeting and mixing with 'interesting people' all the time." My reply to them is usually: "Yes, I suppose in some ways a columnist leads an enviable existence-if only you didn't have to lead it every day, day in day out, week in week out, year in year out ..." How a columnist manages to endure it all is the theme of this book by Keith Dunstan.

In Melbourne Keith and I, although our papers are in the same stable, are looked on as rival columnists. We are. We also happen to be close friends, who have been on the journalistic road together since Keith came out of the RAAF at the end of the Second World War.

Hardly a day goes by without somebody sidling up to me at a party, or the races, or the theatre, or in the street, and saying, "Did you read that delightful bit Dunstan had in the Sun this morning?" Sometimes I wince, this to have been the story I had hoped to start tap, tap, tapping away to launch my own column on its way on that particular day. More often, I find myself laughing out loud over something I've read in my 'rival's' column in bed in the mornings.

That's the test. When a columnist can provoke a tired and rather jaded fellow-columnist to laugh out loud in bed in the mornings! And I know of no other writer in Australia who writes so consistently amusingly, so capably and knowledgeably on such a wide variety of subjects, as Keith Dunstan.

To me the wonder of it all is how he has ever found time, between his daily commitments, his regular magazine articles, his broadcasts and television appearances, to assemble this book, which had me laughing out loud again as I read the manuscript.

And when you have read it I think you'll be more inclined to sympathise with us columnists and some of the things we are called on to endure in between our trips and meeting all those "interesting people" - especially on such "horror column" occasions, as Keith calls them, as Royal Tours, "footy" finals, Cup, Show, and Moomba days, the One Day of the Year, and all those other days that all columnists live in mortal fear of, the day that "nothing turns up".

E.W. Tipping, Melbourne, September 1966.