Splash headline: The day I introduced a whole new wave of journalism to Queensland

Making your mark on journalism is not as easy as you might imagine, writes Phil Brown

Apr 29, 2024, updated Apr 29, 2024
Sometimes the newspaper headlines become a bit more vivid with age. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Sometimes the newspaper headlines become a bit more vivid with age. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

I’m writing something at the moment that caused me to reflect on the highlights of my career in journalism. I was thinking back about what was the biggest story of that career.

Maybe I peaked too early because it was in my second year in the business that I had a ripper of a front-page story for The Morning Bulletin in Rockhampton.

I happened to be on the afternoon shift when, during my rounds, I came across breaking news of a mass food poisoning at a seniors lunch. Around 100 people were affected and I was dispatched to the Rockhampton Base Hospital to interview them as they were carried in on stretchers. Nobody died, thank God.

It was a big story for Rocky and I won the only award I have ever won in journalism for it, The Morning Bulletin’s story of the year.

But was that my biggest splash? I thought so until I remembered one that I have generally tried to forget. It was also a front-page story in the short-lived Sunday Bulletin on the Gold Coast.

It was a story about the possibility of a tidal wave wiping out the Gold Coast which sounds like the basis of a pretty good disaster movie.

This was, I think, in 1982 although I can’t confirm the date. I have searched my scrapbooks for the story but it is not in them which suggests I may have tried to erase it from memory.

It started quite innocently. I had an eye for unusual fare and I had met a bloke who lived on Mount Tamborine who was writing a novel about the Goldie being wiped out by a tidal wave. I thought this was interesting so I went up and met him and his wife who were quite safe up on the mountain.

I wrote a story about this as a bit of fun somewhere deep in the paper. Having filed it I didn’t think of it again until a few days later when the news editor asked me to beef it up a bit. Make it more of a news story.

I protested that it was not a news story but it was a slow week and the editor, a well-known Gold Coast journalist named Roy Chapman, must have been desperate. So, I beefed it up a bit but not as much as they wanted. I think they maye have tweaked it a bit more after I left the office.

Anyway, the next morning my mum woke me up with a copy of the newspaper in her hand. “You better have a look at this,” she said.

And there on the front page was the headline “Tidal Wave!” with my byline beneath it.

That was a bit embarrassing. I was actually meeting some colleagues for a drink that afternoon and when I got to the pub where we were gathering one of them had an umbrella open at the bar. “I’m just getting ready for the tidal wave,” he said.

I was mortified but these are the things that happen in the world of tabloid newspapers.

There was quite a bit of fallout and I was denounced by local tourism and real estate spokesmen and was a laughing stock for a week or two. That paper folded not that long after my story. Funny that.


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