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Senior Correspondent Barry Everingham — RIP cobber

Independent Australia is in mourning as our famous and highly esteemed senior correspondent, Barry Everingham, died this week. Broadcaster, journalist, raconteur and renowned royal watcher with a uniquely republican bent, Barry was with IA from start and losing him is a bitter blow.

This week, a moving editorial tribute to Barry has been written by his former radio colleague and long-time friend, contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence. Barry and Tess were verbal sparring partners on and off radio. They traded barbs and insults as if they were Bitcoin shares. But they were great cobbers and there for each other when needed and worked on several humanitarian campaigns together, including bringing home David Hicks.

Tess was with Barry for some of his final hours and shares a personal and complicated tribute to a complicated man.

THE FINAL DEADLINE came for journalist Barry Everingham on the morning of 4 June 2018.

Overcome by cancer and pneumonia, he had declined further medical treatment.

His son Dougal said he 

'... passed away quietly.... he was ready to go and had made his peace.'

Indeed he had. His was a volatile and adventurous life, flamboyant, noisy and vociferous. But away from the madding crowd he invariably assembled, was a surprisingly quiet and reflective man. In his end days more so because he was physically constrained by illness. It was a blessing that his mind remained agile and noncomformist; his default position.

A blisteringly funny, at times viperish and compelling raconteur, Barry could – and did – speak on any topic, invited or no. He was a born storyteller, a restless buccaneer scribe, an intellectual chameleon with the gift of the gab who easily drifted to and fro the hoi polloi, the royal, the posh and the would-be-if-they-could-be types.

Indisputably, he was a political player and in his public relations endeavours, a skilled manipulator and adviser, a suppressor of news, a spoiler of breaking stories to counteract and protect reputations he was paid to maintain. We clashed at times over such things. For a while, there would be no talkies. I'd be sent to Coventry. Then I'd get a phone call from him at 3am, or so, to apologise.

He was a big personality who instinctively filled a room and here he is now before me barely filling his hospital-type bed, more skin and bone than flesh, long past that fork in the road and taking the track less travelled, beckoning death with courage and serenity, and a grace that just paralyses this coward's heart of mine.

I hold his hand – he has beautiful hands with long fingers – and rub his upper arm, as we talk. It is hard work for him to make even a single utterance. All the while, the phlegm in his throat gurgles, like an engine, idling. 

Luckily, we have a shorthand language, because of shared stories and experiences, so he can just say a word, like "Fraser" or "Imelda" and I will know what particular incident he wants to talk about. Erudite with a mellifluous voice that commanded attention, the irony that now he can barely speak did not escape him.

We talk of cabbages and kings, sealing wax and pulling strings. The day before he died he looked and sounded so much better, his skin pallor was ethereal and line-free, photoshopped by the mysterious rituals of a body readying itself for death, the last dance in a solo waltz.

We joust. I am stirring him, trying to distract him, but he doesn't miss a beat and sees tears drizzling down my cheeks. He squeezes my hand really tight. From where comes such strength.

“Stop that Tessie.”

Then he says something frightful about the Duke of Edinburgh that breaks me up — and then we get onto Tony Abbott and the knighthood the “fuckwit “ bestowed on the Duke – and the madness of reintroducing the royal honours system, and the sneaky way he did so without discussing it with his colleagues... and we're on radio again, and he isn't hours away from dying.

He actually says, “we should do it again.” I ask, do what again? He says, “radio”.  Let's do it, say I.

He adored his time on radio, especially when, with Bill Tuckey, we both did a robust debating program called Upfront'on Radio 3AW.

He was a prolific commentator on British and other monarchies in both electronic and print media.

And a current talkback enthusiast. In latter months, he would often ring radio stations – especially the ABC — to put in his two barry's worth. He was always worth a listen — and invariably laced his comments with humour.

On Tuesday, ABC presenter Jon Faine returned the compliment and acknowledged Barry's contribution to journalism and public debate, indeed the ABC itself. Here's a delightful exchange between Dougal and Jon (which starts at 2:24:23 HERE) that also includes the story of Avril and Barry's adventures in the Middle East, where Avril ate her first – and I daresay her last – sheep's eye, a cultural privilege experienced by my own family.  What isn't mentioned is that the host was none other than Saddam Hussein.

It's getting darker so much earlier, says Barry. Then he says the mornings are beautiful.

He is still wicked and funny. Shirks from nothing. An adulte terrible to the end.

He was not without his demons, but he helped so many of us to acknowledge our own.

He was a shameless recovering alcoholic who had abstained for decades but who used to still attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and publicly sing their praises. He was a mentor and important touchstone to many attending AA during the years. He was always there for fellow travellers, either at the other end of the phone or meeting up for a cuppa and a talk.

On one memorable radio show I presented on Vision Australia Radio (RPH), Barry and the incredibly intelligent, elegant and beautiful Avril, his wife, talked openly with a rawness and honesty about what they had endured as a couple. The response to such transparency by our listeners was overwhelming. They changed lives that day.

He was to become a loving carer to his beloved Avril when her cancer recurred. He floundered after losing her and never seemed to get over such a devastating loss. In fact, he told me so. She had been his anchor. I would joke, even on air, that the women of the world owe Avril for marrying Barry — and that the only good thing about Barry was Avril. It was only half a joke. Barry said he knew that was true.

Invariably when talking about her, he would break out in sobs and, in his final hours, when we talked again about Avril, tears welled up in his eyes, his frail and depleted body now incapable of the physical exertion of crying.

We talk of his adored children Dougal and Nancy and grandchildren. And he says how Dougal and Nancy have been magnificent to him. How Dougal had borne the brunt of things – had to arrange and rearrange so much in later years – how he has taken up so much of all of their lives when they should be concentrating on living their own. He speaks of the importance of love in life — to be able to love and the wonder of being loved in return.

EVERINGHAM FOUNDING MEMBER OF IA'S EDITORIAL BOARD

A founding member of Independent Australia's Editorial Board, as well as our beloved senior correspondent, he was an internationalist commentator with an ascerbic wit that took no prisoners.

He encouraged numerous writers to contribute to IA, including me and former editor Sandi Keane — a longtime friend and confidante to the family.

I knew that Barry had difficulty even reaching for the phone and, whilst visiting him, thought I'd be able to contact some of his cobbers and ask them to call and I would place the phone to his ear, but it became apparent during the two days before he died, this could be a dangerous manoeuvre for him.

Instead, I read out some messages to him, one of them from IA's managing editor, David Donovan, whom Barry had sort of adopted.

'Tell Barry his contribution to both my life and the success of IA has been monumental. Tell him he is the best public speaker, the funniest writer and biggest rascal I have ever known. Tell him I am proud to call him a friend - and a mate. Tell him he is a great and complicated man. A patriot and a democrat, and a giant the like of which this land has never seen. Tell him I miss him. Tell him he is loved.'

This moved Barry so much he asked me to read it to him several times. Modesty was never his strongest suit but this time he initially struggled to be flippant. He overcame his struggles.

"I like that bit about the best public speaker and the biggest rascal – and complicated man description. Very astute that David, if a bit understated."

Later, he adds how sweet it is to be told he is missed and loved.

BARRY A SEETHING MASS OF CONTRADICTIONS

A ferocious republican, he especially enjoyed lampooning his nemesis Professor David Flint of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy notoriety, whom he dubbed  Professor "Flinstone" — because he lived in the "dark ages". Barry was a seething mass of contradictions.

He could recite the lineage of the British and European monarchy backwards. His knowledge of royal progeny was encyclopaedic and I would back his forensic agility against any monarchical fop either in Australia — or, for that matter, Britain.

His 1985 book about the Australian Princess – decades before Tasmania's Princess Mary added to the short list – caused international offence and outrage – much to Barry's amusement.

BARRY'S BOOK ON OZ PRINCESS' DADDY'S NAZI CONNECTIONS

Entitled MC: The Adventures of a Maverick Princess – Life of Princess Michael of Kent, the hardcover version of the book is available on Amazon today for $5.96. Barry's exploration into the woman formerly known as Marie-Christine von Reibnitz revealed her father, Baron Gunther von Reibnitz's Nazi connections. It was also a work much lauded and quoted in various media outlets.

(Image via Amazon)

Bazzie was a dapper dresser, reminding one of the John Steed character from last century's television show, The Avengers.

That he was an agent provocatuer, we know full well. So too, he was a social spy, as his writings for the now defunct MODE magazine and other columns and TV/radio gigs attest.

He looked like the spy he was said to be by Lionel Murphy and others.

LIONEL MURPHY SAID BARRY WAS A SPY

Troy Bramston, writing in The Australian in 2015 revealed that:

The journalist Attorney-General Lionel Murphy told cabinet was a spy in 1973 — reported in The ­Australian yesterday — has been revealed as Barry Everingham, then a correspondent for Sydney radio station 2SM.

Murphy, according to official cabinet notebooks, told Labor minsters he was briefed by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation that Everingham was a paid spy who had been found lurking in Gough Whitlam’s office prior to the 1972 election.

Everingham, expelled from the Canberra press gallery over the indecent, told The Australian the allegations were false and ­motivated by a personal vendetta pursued by Murphy.

“Lionel just hated me,” he said. “He just wanted to get rid of me, and he did. He was a great hater, Lionel...Look, we had a flat in the same building. He was always coming home pissed at night.

“He knew I knew that. So I was in his sights.”

BARRY DIED SLEEPING PEACEFULLY

Although we had talked about this and that and joked and talked with the fabulous team at Central Park, who looked after Bazzie and in whose company I had loudly sung his praises and his countless achievements, making him laugh.

I felt he had made up his mind that now was the time to go. In my silly way, he had been cold the day before, even though the room was cozy and I had taken off my scarf and wrapped in around his neck very loosely, joking and making cheeky remarks.

I stupidly said to him, he was to keep the scarf and that it would keep him safe until he no longer needed it. He nodded and said he would. The next day, when I visited, I noticed the scarf was neatly folded on a table. I said nothing.

Later, he said to me that I mustn't forget to take my scarf. I asked him if he was sure. He said, "Yes. It will keep you safe now until you no longer need it." I kissed him on the forehead.

Tears were welling up in our eyes. I understood what he was saying. He said it kept him safe for the time he needed. No way did I want to leave this way. He had some stabbing pains in his lower stomach and chest. I went to see the nurse. She gave him some tablets to ease the pain.

He had two little bits of homemade sausage for supper and I gave him some orange juice through a straw. The juice had been thickened to make it easier for him to swallow.

He joked about his body and giving it to science. I said I was surprised he could give it away. Quick as a flash he said I have to pay them to come and pick up my body, and what's more they'd have to get one of those freezer type of semi-trailers to pick me up in.

It was so funny. I thought he might die trying to laugh. The painkillers had started to kick in. I asked if the pain had eased. He nodded. I continued to sit beside his bed, holding his hand. I gently pulled up the blankets on his chest. He folded his hands across his chest like a medieval knight statue.

I kissed him again gently on the forehead, cross with myself that a tear dropped on his face. His eyelids flickered. I asked if he wanted to go to sleep now. He said yes. I said I'd be off then. We kissed on the mouth four times, one more for luck. One for him. One for Avril.One for Nancy and one for me. And one for the woman whose General ordered him to dance with her, Imelda Marcos.

He smiled. I picked up the scarf and gathered my bits and bobs and unplugged my laptop with the messages.

I sat down and waited a bit until his breathing became more regular, thinking this might mean he was asleep. I don't know why but I felt it would be better if I departed whilst he was sleeping.

Better for whom, I wondered to myself?

As I watched over him, I thought I had learned so much from this complicated and courageous man.

Finally. I got up and quietly left the room, taking the scarf but leaving my heart behind.

Senior correspondent Barry Everingham is survived by his beloved children Dougal, Nancy, Henry and Kate. A memorial service for Barry Everingham will be held on Monday 11th June at 2:00pm at St George's Anglican Church, 296 Glenferrie Rd, Malvern. Barry will no doubt appreciate the irony that the day the service is to be held is the Queen's Birthday.

Farewell King Barry, you will be missed. Vale.

This editorial was originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. These editorials are usually only available to subscribers. It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a very small sum for quality journalism and many great extras.

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