Can one teach the gen­tle art of mak­ing stuff up?

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - BACKCHAT - mike51@ mike o’con­nor

Iwent to univer­sity once and quite en­joyed it. If there had been a stu­dent loan scheme back then, I might have stayed. There wasn’t, how­ever, which meant you paid your own way, so I got a full-time job and went to uni at night. I soon re­alised this left lit­tle time for my other in­ter­ests – these be­ing beer, beach and girls. Against this un­holy trin­ity, study­ing stood lit­tle chance so I de­parted academia never to re­turn. Un­til now.

Forty years on, I’m back as a tu­tor at Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, ladling out the dis­tilled essence of a life­time in news­pa­pers to a small group of jour­nal­ism stu­dents. Once a week, I park my car and walk across the cam­pus, ex­pect­ing at any mo­ment some­one will tap me on the shoul­der and say: “What are you do­ing here? You’re too old. Get out!”

“They all look so young,” I ex­claimed when be­cause they are,” said my wife, still strug­gling with the con­cept of people lis­ten­ing to what I had to say. The pre­vi­ous day I’d told her that hence­forth I would pre­fer if she ad­dressed me as “Pro­fes­sor”. For a mo­ment, she’d be­lieved me and was still un­happy that I’d duped her.

“Do you tell them how you used to start work at 7am, go to the pub at ten, work from 11 un­til one and then go to lunch for the rest of the day?”

“I don’t think they need to know that,” I said de­fen­sively. “Any­way, we all did back then.”

“How about driv­ing home af­ter one mon­u­men­tal lunch and putting your car through the back wall of your garage?” she asked.

“No, I have not felt the need to men­tion that to my ea­ger and at­ten­tive band.”

“How about the time you fell into Wiven­hoe Dam do­ing a story on the drought? I reckon they’d lap that up,” she of­fered. “Or the time you car­ried a cab­i­net min­is­ter through the cor­ri­dors of par­lia­ment be­cause he was so drunk he couldn’t stand up. That’d make a good story.”

“He was very tired. As tired as a newt, you might say,” I replied. “So what do you tell them?” she per­sisted. “It’s funny,” I said, “be­cause no-one ever taught a cadet jour­nal­ist with a high school pass in English and noth­ing else.

“Some­one said to me, ‘use that desk over the toi­lets and that was the ex­tent of my train­ing. You learnt as you went. You ei­ther got it or you didn’t,” I said. “Can you teach some­one to write?” she asked. “I’m not sure,” I replied, for I’d won­dered the same thing when I’d be­gun the tu­to­ri­als. “You can show them the right way and the wrong way. You can show them how to be ad­e­quate, but I think there’s an un­seen el­e­ment to it. Some people have it and some don’t. It’s that magic

“If you mean the abil­ity to bull­shit on de­mand, then you’re a nat­u­ral,” she said.

“Thank you,” I replied mod­estly. “I like to think that while it might be bull­shit, it’s well­writ­ten bull­shit.”

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