Vale Gay Davidson, press gallery pioneer



Experienced Press Gallery reporter Alan Thornhill writes:

New Zealand born journalist Gay Davidson, who became the first woman to
head a newspaper bureau in the Canberra press gallery, died early
today, in her mid sixties.

A brilliant and highly respected writer, Ms Davidson had covered
education issues for The Canberra Times, before joining the Gallery, to
report for that paper on the turbulent period of the Whitlam and Fraser
governments.

Thousands of tourists who visit old Parliament House, and who are still
fascinated by the bleak circumstances of the Whitlam dismissal, now
have pictures of Ms Davidson in their homes.

She stood just below Whitlam on the steps of the old Parliament House,
on that fateful day, and was captured in the famous photograph of the
occasion, taking notes as the dismissed PM denounced Malcolm Fraser as
“Kerr’s cur.”

Her image, prominent among those of the clutch of reporters covering
the occasion, was later transferred to the official souvenir teatowel,
which has, since then, remained one of the most popular items sold at
the visitors’ shop in old Parliament House.

The blokey culture of the Canberra Press Gallery never caused Gay
Davidson to pause. Indeed, at one point, she sought and obtained
permission to use a male toilet, near her office in the press gallery,
because the nearest women’s toilet, at that stage, was “too far away.”
Gay explained, as she pressed her case, that there would be “no
embarrassment” as most of the men in there would be “facing the wall.”

It was this practical, uncomplicated manner she brought effectively to
her time spent serving on industry boards, including the AJA and the
National Press Club.

A former daughter-in-law of mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, with whom
she remained on good terms, Gay later married Age economist Ken
Davidson.

One daughter from that marriage, Kiri, died of unexpected complications
from measles. Although that slow and painful death took a death heavy
toll on Gay’s own health, she responded with courage and passion,
becoming, undoubtedly, Australia’s most recognisable advocate for
immunisation, in a series of unforgettable television appearances.

In the later stages of her career Gay worked as a medical writer, a
stringer for the world’s biggest newsagency, The Associated Press, and
a pioneering screen writer on Telstra’s Viatel, a precursor to the
Internet.

Although her passion, and commitment to accuracy, decency and incisive
writing never deserted her, Gay’s health progressively did, and her
final years were not happy.

Hugo Kelly adds: Gay was a thorough professional and also willing
to lend a hand to young journalists. In the late ’80s I was sent
to Canberra as a cadet for a Melbourne paper and given a range of
junior rounds including – improbably – the High Court, which I was
expected to cover alongside such experienced Constitutional experts as
The Australian’s David Solomon.

Gay visited the High Court press room one day to conduct a professional
survey for the AJA. Among the questions was: ‘what are the major legal
areas covered by the Court’. I blustered my way through a range
of imagined fields: family law, criminal law and the like, while Gay
politely took down my words of ignorance.

“I would have thought,” she advised me finally with a smile, “that
Constitutional matters would probably rate pretty highly, too.”
That was Gay’s way: friendly, effective and always keen to get the
facts right.

Vale Chris George, journalist, raconteur

Crikey’s man in the Press Gallery, Hugo Kelly writes:

There have been better journalists in the Victorian Parliamentary Press
Gallery, but few more widely liked than radio reporter Chris George,
who died last week on a driving tour around South Australia.

A long time and often colourful member of the Gallery, George was
instantly recognisable with his shaved head and riding leathers
bestriding Parliament’s corridors, usually with a cigarette in his
mouth.

His funeral is being held in Brighton as you read this edition, and
there will be many stories told about his life and times. One certain
to be retold is the case of Chris George and the possum.

A former gallery member recalls: “Chris was a huntin’, fishin’,
but especially shootin’ kind of guy. Early one morning,
working on the old Melbourne Herald, state rounds reporters Brendan
Donohoe and
Leonie Lamont found a dead possum in the car park which had fallen out of its tree overnight.

“At the time, debate over gun laws were running hot. The pair stuck the
possum in Chris’ waste paper bin, its little paws hanging over the
edge, face peering out and a cigarette in its mouth.

“George came in, discovered the corpse and immediately recognised a
conspiracy by the anti-gun lobby to set him up. Never one to do
things by halves, he rang the Wildlife Department, insisting they came
and took the possum away for an autopsy to determine how it had
died…which they duly did.”

We’ll have a report of Chris’s funeral in tomorrow’s sealed section.

Peter Fray

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