I don’t want to take the wind out of grumpy former Sydney Opera House press officer Ava Hubble’s sails — or orange segments as the case may be with Jorn Utzon’s masterpiece at Bennelong Point.
But after her peevish rant about me (and Fairfax) yesterday that our 1992 interview with Utzon in Mallorca wasn’t his first with the Australian media since he left the country — because she pre-dated it — I noticed a link to a blurb puffing the book Hubble wrote about the British composer Eugene Goossens.
It says “Hubble was the press officer at the Sydney Opera House for 15 years (1972-1987)”.
Sorry, Ava, but your ‘interviews’ you cite in 1978/80/83 with Utzon while running the SOH publicity office don’t qualify in my journalistic handbook and, I venture, Crikey‘s as well, as “the Australian media.” They qualify as publicity, even when one was telescoped into a space in The Weekend Australian (did Utzon know he was talking to the Oz, or to PR?).
As Utzon said to me in 1992 “it is time to talk, just this once and to nobody else. I have a story and I think now is the right time to say it.”
Hubble also says my 1992 story “perpetuates the still quite widespread belief that for over a quarter of a century Utzon refused to talk to the Australian media and nursed a bitter grudge against Australia.”
Not so. As I wrote in 1992 “far from the embittered and broken visionary portrayed by his critics, Utzon is a contented man who got on with his career without bitterness about the nine turbulent years he spent on the Opera House project. ‘I am not bitter about anything,’ Utzon says. ‘I have had a marvellous career, more than I could have imagined. I have nothing but sincere love and warmth for a fabulous country and marvellous people. I can say this even for politicians, even Mr Davis Hughes.'”
Hubble asserts that the “Fairfax management” of the day ignored her warnings they were making a terrible mistake in puffing the 1992 interview as a first, and had forwarded her material to them to forward to me. This was news to me so yesterday I consulted the two editors who handled the story — Deborah Light and John Huxley — and asked them if they’d heard of an Ava Hubble or engaged with her on this story. An emphatic no, they insisted. I too received nothing from her; communication or files. Like me, far from working alongside her at Fairfax as she suggests, they said they’d barely recognised the name until they’d read her grizzle to Crikey yesterday.
And poor Ava seems to be getting her Mallorcans all muddled by linking my search for Utzon to my search for Christopher Skase. One search was in early 1991, the other in late 1992, and they had nothing to do with each other.
I had tracked Skase to his Mallorcan hideaway the previous year, the first time in May 1991 (the resultant scoop was published on May 27 in the SMH) and again in October 1991 (Oct 7). Photographer Jack Picone and I went to Mallorca in September 1992 with the specific assignment to first find and then interview Utzon, as instructed by Light. Her 1992 commission had nothing at all to do with Skase. It was all about Utzon.
But this fuss really isn’t about some narcissistic competition to be first. Scoops are great if one is a journalist (as distinct, Ava, from a publicist) but Utzon and his remarkable building are what matters, his words and deeds through journalism’s prism, as we tried to reflect in 1992. And it seems Ava and I were both extremely fortunate to meet a great man. If Peter Luck spoke to Utzon in 1973, it evaded our research in 1992. Kudos to him.
But were I Ava, airing her long-simmering stew (16 years!) I’d have a Bex powder, a cup of tea and a nice lie down. On recovery, I’d consider the difference between independent journalism and public relations advertorial, preferably while admiring Utzon’s magnificent vision by Sydney Harbour.