On February 14, 1978, The Bulletin magazine published a cover story by its rising journalistic star Malcolm “Cheech” Turnbull under the headline: “How Wran was outflanked on Upper House reform”.

The article began with an eye-catching flourish:

Neville Wran strove manfully to put a brave face on his compromise with the Opposition over reform of the NSW Legislative Council. But the compromise, which will see both parties supporting direct election for the previously undemocratic Upper House, constitutes not only Wran’s first major political setback but holds the possibility of his losing the next election.

Oh dear, big call. Now let’s roll forward nine months to the state election in October 1978.

History records that Wran did not lose; on the contrary, Labor polled a thumping 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, swamped the parliament with new entrants and reduced the Opposition to a virtual rump.

The blockbuster campaign was organised around the slogan “Wran’s our man”. The victory enthroned Wran in Labor’s iconography and the expression “Wranslide” passed into the bibliography of Australian political history.

He led a second “Wranslide” in 1981, although there is no record of political predictions by Turnbull who, by then, was carving out a legal career.

There is no explanation for his wildly erroneous call in The Bulletin in 1978. Perhaps he’d had a bong too many and it influenced his judgment that day.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey