Malcolm Andrews is a journalist, world traveller and a prolific author to boot,
having written 30 books. His latest book, Hardmen, explores some of the famous –
and not quite so famous – men of Rugby League from around the world …
How did you get your start in journalism?
I was born in Sydney, and when I was a toddler we moved to Cooma. I actually thought I was going to be an engineer growing up, as I was good at maths.
When I was 12 years old, I won a trip to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne with 50 other kids from all around Australia, and I had a ball. I saw Betty Cuthbert’s three gold medals, and I have a book full of autographs from people I don’t know (laughs). All I have written in my autograph book is, “Italian basketballer”, or “Japanese rower”. Anyone who had a blazer, I buttonholed – and I think that’s where my love of sports reporting came from.
I did a couple of years at university, and failed (studying engineering). I was pleased years later when I heard my 70-year-old mum saying to one of her friends, “You know … the best thing that ever happened was he failed university, because he then got into his true profession”.
Within three years, I was on Fleet Street. I obviously had a knack, and I was with the Daily Express for a while. I came home for a bit, and then later I worked for the US State Department in Munich and wrote news that was translated and broadcast behind the Iron Curtain.
In 1981 I was back in Australia and helped at the start of the Today show at Channel 9 – I was in the control room as a studio producer. It was fun, but I couldn’t keep getting up at 3am. I did it for two years. After that, I went to the Telegraph as a daily columnist for about seven years or so. I’ve also worked at The Australian. I had four dinner suits, ‘cause I often had to go to a premiere or some swish dinner – sausages and mash on the weekends tasted really good! (Laughs.) I know that sounds awful, but the five star food twice a day got a bit too much.
But I’ve been blessed. I’ve worked, been paid for almost half a century to pursue my hobby, which is writing – and I would write for free, write for my own satisfaction, even if I wasn’t a journalist or an author.
I also love meeting people, and as a result I’ve met some of the most famous people in the world. My first celebrity interview was with Marlene Dietrich; I said that to someone in their 20s the other day, and I was asked, “Who is Marlene Dietrich?” (Hollywood star.) Jimmy Stewart was another interesting person, Dolly Parton was a lot of fun, but my favourite was Professor Julius Sumner Miller. He was a student of Einstein and an absolute genius.
How did you source interesting personalities and stories to tell?
I think the most interesting people are the man and woman in the street. I often used to rent a car, get a photographer and go driving around in the country looking for stories.
On my first visit to Port Macquarie in 1983, just after Christmas, we were driving up the coast going from town to town, and I saw a little paragraph in the local paper about Harry Thompson, who was camping illegally out at Shelly Beach in his caravan. So we went out and had an interview with Harry … no teeth, his funny face, big heart, a fun man … with his wife every now and then peeking out the door of the caravan. I dubbed him the ‘Mayor of Shelly Beach’, and imagine … when I came back all those years later, a quarter of a century later, that name had stuck!
So when did you move to Port Macquarie?
I’ve been here 8 years now … My older brother had retired here, and he suggested I buy a house here – which I did. I’ve never regretted it.
How many books have you written?
Hardmen is the 30th book. One of my books was about the hundred years of the Port Macquarie Golf Club. I’ve written other books on sport, trivia, the history of the cruise ship Fairstar, some biographies – including one called Hubert Who? (about unsung adventurer Sir Hubert Wilkins).
I used to do about 2 books a year; now I do around one per year.
So, speaking about Hardmen … What would you say to someone who isn’t a Rugby League follower, to encourage them to read your book?
It’s a book that non Rugby League people could still enjoy. My editor is not a sports person, and she said she found it thoroughly interesting.
Who are some of the most interesting footballers you’ve written about in the book?
I’ve written about players from all major Rugby League nations, including France. There’s a fellow who came out in 1951 (named Louis ‘Lolo’ Mazon), who knew no fear. The reason for this was he had fought with the resistance in France in World War II, and twice the Gestapo had caught and tortured him – and twice he escaped. Twice!
I finish with an Englishman (Matt King) who played 20 seconds of a game, his first game, severed his spinal cord in a tackle and is now paralysed from the neck down. He’s since put himself through law school, and now he does a lot of charity work for people with sporting injuries. He said, “There are a lot of people worse off than me”. I noticed the other day he received an OBE in the Queen’s Jubilee Honours List. No one in Australia would probably know him, but I think he deserves a place in the book.
There were a lot that I didn’t write about, but I did include some quirky stories. Arthur Beetson broke a leg playing in England for an English club on Christmas Day, when they used to play a match in the morning, so they could go home for Christmas dinner. The broken leg had been picked up, but two other major injuries hadn’t been noticed. His Australian mate knew Artie was badly injured, because he was just picking at his Christmas dinner – and Artie never missed a plate of food!
What traits were you specifically searching for in players for them to make the Hardmen list?
Well, there were three basics: the rough – the old fashioned player who would smash people’s jaws and kick them in the head; the tough – the ones who could take everything thrown at them; and the courageous – some of the little fellows like Benji Marshall. Think about it – he’s had three shoulder reconstructions, but still keeps coming back, time and time again.
Thanks Malcolm – it’s been wonderful to chat with you.
Malcolm’s books, including Hardmen, are available from good book stores nationally.
Interview by Jo Atkins.