Two days after Jeffed.com played a small part in the shock defeat of Jeff Kennett on September 18, 1999, the following hotmail lobbed from someone calling themselves Colonel Walter Kurtz.
You’re a little c***, but as someone who’s worked as either a pressie or political advisor for two federal cabinet ministers and a state premier, I’ve got to say that I firmly believe your site was crucial to Saturday’s outcome. You have won the dubious – but significant – honour of being the Matt Drudge of Australian politics.
Fast forward to October 27, 1999, and I met the mysterious correspondent at The Republic Bar in Sydney’s O’Connell St. His name was Christian Kerr and he was an exceedingly well-read Liberal moderate from Adelaide with journalism in the blood and a penchant for stirring that was not being satisfied in his corporate gig with German construction giant Baulderstone Hornibrook.
We stayed in contact and Kerr slipped me a couple of juicy tips for the Bitch gossip column in The Eye – a short-lived magazine published by the current proprietors of Crikey.
It was at a follow-up dinner shortly after the end of the Millennium where Christian declared he would write an anonymous gossip column for the soon-to-be launched Crikey. A culture buff to the core, Christian’s pen name was to be Hillary Bray – based on a character from the Bond classic, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
From the launch on February 14, 2000, until his final contribution today, Christian has led Crikey’s political coverage. The National Archive captures some of the early work and I commend the following to you:
March 9, 2000 – the moderate’s moderate skewers redneck Shane Stone.
March 20, 2000 – here come the nicknames. An early sledge at Natasha, the Impossible Princess, and first mention of The Mad Monk, aka Tony Abbott, complete with rumours of a child born out of sin.
And that was just the first five weeks! Such was Hillary’s impact, within a year The Australian’s Media section had produced this 1,369-word Sandra Lee feature headlined, “Will the real Hillary stand up?”
Christian was always extremely Machiavellian in keeping his cover. Sandra Lee mentioned five suspects but excluded Christian who duly emailed her from multiple addresses after the event, further muddying the waters. People who were getting suspicious would even have their names misspelt to throw them off the scent.
Amongst many hits, his biggest was undoubtedly the series of leaks in 2002 that eventually brought down his old Adelaide mate Natasha Stott Despoja and finished the Democrats as a political force. It was short-listed for a Walkley and deserved to win, but the online category in 2002 went to this long forgotten Four Corners story instead.
After four and a half years masquerading as Hillary Bray, Christian finally came out in this 1,000-word front page story in The Sunday Age written by former Democrat staffer Susan Brown.
Almost four years later, the inevitable has happened. Christian has been poached and is moving to Canberra with The Australian. Joining the News Ltd gulag might cause the odd tense moment given past sprays at the likes of Glenn Milne. He’ll be a big loss for Crikey, although Green voters won’t miss him.
Our new bloke starts Monday and will be instantly pointing out Kerr’s curs. But for now, it’s a very big thank you to a very talented man. And a brave one, too. History won’t point to many Liberals who stood up and were counted in the face of ugly Howardism.
Christian’s election eve lead story last November is well worth another read. It finished as follows: “If John Howard loses tomorrow, it will be because he is not a liberal.”
Keeping the Liberal Party honest is what Christian does best. Long may it continue.