Friday, July 3

Vale Frank Devine, a conservative with wit

When Grumpy Old Journo was a schoolboy in Perth, his newspaper reading was brightened by the work of a young journalist with a flair for colour stories from the busy Perth Police Court.

Frank Devine (pictured), whose death at 77 after a long illness was reported on The Australian's website today, wasn't the first journalist to trawl the magistrates' courts for Runyonesque yarns, but he may have been one of the best.

Some 55 years later, I can remember his stories were marked by their humanity – by the reporter's empathy with the losers and the spivs and the sad alcoholics in that daily parade before the beak.

Frank Devine went on to a stellar career as a foreign correspondent, a senior editor of Reader's Digest in Australia and the US, of US newspapers, and on returning to Australia, as editor of The Australian.

He was a staunch Catholic and clung to hard-line conservative views. He was a stalwart of Quadrant magazine.

Yet Frank Devine was one the few conservative columnists I could read without becoming angry (well, most of the time, anyway). I could seldom agree with him, but his weekly contribution to The Australian's Wry Side comment space was marked by intellectual verve and a devastating wit.

He mocked the pretentious, the groupthink lefties and the woolly minded greenies with all the intellectual force he could muster.

Unfortunately, I cannot recall his turning that force against his groupthink Quadrant colleagues, or those conservatives who made up their minds fifty years ago and they're not going to change now.

Still, Frank Devine was a great journalist. His contribution to Australian intellectual life will be missed.

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Grumpy Old Journo had planned a post rejoicing at Annabel Crabb's replacing Miranda Devine as a columnist in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday. Miranda is one of Frank Devine's three daughters, so I guess we can understand why she took leave, leaving Annabel to stand in.

I would have remarked that Annabel Crabb's piece, about the proliferation of saucy innuendo in food and beer advertising, was a delightful contrast with Miranda Devine's somewhat prudish, conservative views.

Annabel crammed just about every double entendre possible into her piece. The only one she seems to have missed is the Bondi Blonde beer slogan.

But we'd better not go down that path.


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