The Godfather: Peter Corris on brushes with fame Part 1
I’ve written about meeting (and almost meeting) Australian prime ministers, and it occurred to me to make a list of notable people I’ve met in other walks of life. This isn’t to big-note myself but just an exercise of Socrates’s axiom that the unexamined life is not worth living. And it may encourage others to tally up the major and minor characters who have appeared on their life’s stage. Certainly my list of the famous (and one notorious) includes inconsequential contact and moments which would be completely forgotten by people on the other end of the handshake or the remark.
The Journalist – Australian journalist Phillip Knightley worked for The Times in London and was the author of a book about spy Kim Philby, among notable others. He visited Australia frequently and I met him when I was working at the National Times. We had a few conversations and got on well. Years later I bought his biographical study of Philby, Philby: KGB Master Spy (1988), and Phillip signed it. We shook hands and joked that I was shaking the hand that had shaken the hand of one of the world’s most famous spies.
The Musician – I met Don Walker, keyboard man and song writer for the rock band Cold Chisel, at some time in the 1990s when he invited me to write a story for the cover of his solo album Catfish. Don was a Cliff Hardy reader and I was a fan of the band, which I’d seen live. I liked Don; he was friendly and articulate and the writer of great songs such ‘Cheap Wine’, ‘Flame Trees’ and ‘Khe Sanh’. I wrote a story that covered most of the back of the vinyl album but I can’t remember what it was about.
The Doctor – I’ve written too much about Fred Hollows to need repeating. Suffice it say that he had a considerable influence on my life and I revere his memory.
The Author – I’ve written at length about Patrick White in these columns. We met three times: at Elizabeth Riddell’s house, his house, and ours and, belying his grumpy reputation, he was amiability itself on each occasion.
The Actor – Around 1990 my daughter Sofya shared a low-rent house in Zetland with Cate Blanchett and another NIDA student. Sofya recalls that Cate occupied an attic room. I must have exchanged pleasantries with Cate when we visited but I have no memory of them. What I do remember is that when we saw her in NIDA productions, she glowed.
The Scientist – the most famous scientist I met, albeit briefly, was Richard Laurence Millington Synge, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1952. He was the father of Elizabeth Smith, nee Synge, a fellow doctoral student at the ANU, and she and one of her brothers were friends. I visited the Synge family in Norfolk in 1970 and met the Nobel winner. I remember nothing that passed between us, only that he was quiet and his achievement sat lightly on him.
The Lawyer – With my then partner I went to a trivia night at Sydney Girls High School, which she had attended. The MC was well-known solicitor Val Bellamy, who had a daughter at the school. He wore a school dress over his shirt and trousers and was a ball of fun. He knew who I was and we talked afterwards, with him offering to give me material for my books – an offer I never took up. For some reason we must have arrived by taxi and Bellamy drove us home to Leichhardt – a far cry from his eastern suburbs turf – in his Rolls Royce. He later became notorious and was struck off the professional roll for various malfeasances. But he was in great form that night.
(To be continued …)