In his memoir Making Headlines, one of Chris Mitchell’s most damaging anecdotes relates to Tony Abbott — while opposition leader, Mitchell wrote, Abott “mocked prime minister Gillard’s figure in front of fellow dinner guests, journalists Greg Sheridan and Ross Fitzgerald”.

“Tony even stood up in the middle of dessert to ape Julia Gillard’s walk for us all in the middle of a discussion about Germaine Greer’s Q&A critique of the Gillard derriere.”

It’s a rather unflattering portrayal of Abbott behind closed doors, that the former prime minister hasn’t explicitly denied (though he has said he is “disappointed” in the betrayal of confidences in the book).

But in a review of the book for the Sydney Institute, Fitzgerald, an author and academic who was at the dinner with his wife, Lyndal Moor, says he can’t recall that happening. “But perhaps I’d briefly left the dinner table,” he writes. “However, Lyndal has no memory of this either.”

That’s in a largely sympathetic review, we should add, which makes the different recount of the evening all the more interesting. Fitzgerald writes that in his long time writing for the Oz, Mitchell never sought to censor his columns, which frequently took a different position to the in-house line on issues. “My experience is that Mitchell genuinely believes in freedom of speech and in the free play of ideas.”

Fitzgerald isn’t the first to cast doubt on some of the anecdotes in the book. The Fin Review’s Rear Window column has been undertaking some haphazard investigations into some of the more salacious gatherings, such as the one where Mitchell met Kevin Rudd for dinner in a hotel sauna. You’d think that sort of detail would stick in people’s minds, so Bryce Corbett called up a Rudd adviser who told them him the meeting took palce in a private room at the Intercontinental Hotel. Its only saunas are in the men and women’s change rooms, and a “hotel source” told the Fin they wouldn’t serve food in there. Calls to other hotels yielded no more luck. — Myriam Robin

Peter Fray

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