Coulter releases new book
FORMER deputy chief minister Barry Coulter was standing at a gravesite when his 77year-old mother told him the man buried beneath their feet was his real father.
His mother had not lived with her husband for many years before his death and admitted to her 44-year-old son that he was born during a love affair.
It was the greatest shock of Barry’s life. And he admits he sobbed.
“What did my father look like,” he asked. And his mother replied: “Look in the mirror.”
The revelation sent Coulter on a 27-year mission – an exhausting, gruelling, expensive and confronting mission – to learn his family history and reappraise his own life.
A Dreadful Mistake, the words uttered by his mother whenever he did something wrong, is the result.
The three-part autobiography covers his early life, his 15 years in Northern Territory politics and life after retiring from parliament.
Those who know the Territory’s longest-serving deputy chief minister will not be surprised the autobiography is more honest – and far more humorous than most self-written life stories.
Coulter, the descendant of Irish immigrants, still has a reputation as a larrikin and straight-talker.
But above all he has a reputation as a bloke who gets things done – and he is admired for that even by his fiercest critics.
He worked ferociously hard for 13 years to have the Alice Springs to Darwin railway built.
Yes, Labor was in power when the first train clicketyclacked into Darwin in 2003, but it was the CLP warhorse Coulter who had laid the groundwork for the nationbuilding project.
The NT News at the time suggested, only half jokingly, that one of the engines hauling the freight trains should be named Bazza’s Bullet.
Coulter’s other achievements include helping to develop the horse racing industry, East Arm Wharf and mining.
Of course, his life in politics was not all triumphs – he admits: “I made mistakes and fell into deep holes.”
For instance, Coulter was a staunch supporter of a Chinese company setting up in Darwin’s Trade Development Zone and was embarrassed when it was discovered that workers were being paid a pittance.
But there were far more successes than failures.
To this day, those silly enough to be obsessed with politics cannot understand why he never became chief minister.
He was described as the “engine of government” – but
when his chance came after Marshall Perron resigned and named Coulter as his preferred successor, Barry stepped aside at the last minute and allowed Shane Stone to be elected unopposed by the CLP’s parliamentary wing.
It seems little love was lost between the two men.
Coulter says Stone achieved “amazing results”, but describes him as “extremely ambitious” and writes he knew he would be a one-term chief minister.
He says Stone becoming
chief minister was “just another feather in his cap in a career path he had mapped out for himself”.
One of the many fascinating aspects of A Dreadful Mistake is the state of the Territory’s finances – mounting debt, a “financial muddle”, the NT government simply not having the tax-raising powers to pay for muchneeded development.
Coulter enjoyed a successful career in private enterprise after retiring from politics in 1999, including sitting on the
boards of Air North and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, and is now a highly respected 73-yearold Territory retiree.
Not a bad life for a man brought up in a house in a cemetery in Victoria.
“At least we always had fresh flowers at home,” he says.
A Dreadful Mistake, by Barry Coulter, published by Freestyle Publications.
RRP $60 for the bundle. Available from barrycoulter.com.au