Michael Davie, editor of The Age
from 1979 to 1981, has died overnight in England. Helen Garner, who
rang with the sad news from Oxford, says she made a spectacle of
herself by sobbing in a public telephone booth when she heard it.
Michael had been ill for months, but the end was sudden.

Michael Davie was persuaded to move to Melbourne when he was deputy editor of the London Observer,
coming to Australia to preside over what he called “a great provincial
newspaper.” He was only here for a short time before returning to the
English life he loved and The Observer, but he managed to infect The Age
and a large number of Melburnians with his enthusiasm for finding out
what, and who, made the place tick. People who were doing interesting
things were winkled out of their burrows by Michael and his author wife
Anne Chisholm and introduced to each other. Late night drinks around
the fire at Michael and Anne’s house in South Yarra might include
writers, artists, business people, visiting luminaries and an eclectic
selection of individuals who were just … interesting.

All this
was not simply about socialising, although Michael loved a party. It
was about a wonderful editor getting to know how his newspaper could
communicate with its readers and inspire them with his own sense of
what mattered. He came to The Age as a celebrated newspaperman and author with a reputation for investigative journalism and effortlessly stylish prose. Age
staffers of that time have told me how much they loved the fact that
Michael talked to them about their writing, as well as the gist of the
stories they worked on.

Although it was only 20-odd years ago, newspapers were different then. And, in Michael Davie’s case, so were their editors.