The Outsider

By Barry, Tony | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The Outsider


Barry, Tony, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


If Andrew Bolt is an outsider, then who is on the inside? Tony Barry on Australia's most controversial columnist.

He seems like the ultimate political insider. Influential and prolific; with a regular syndicated column in the nation's largest selling daily newspapers, television and radio segments, and a blog that receives two million hits a month. But in Andrew Bolt's mind he's an outsider, and he always has been.

The first thing to notice about Andrew Bolt is that he is intensely shy, almost apologetic, when talking about himself. His own assessment is that he has coasted through life, much to wife Sally's frustration.

And Bolt is probably right. In many ways he is an accidental columnist. If the influence and reach Bolt has today is the culmination of a well thought out career plan, then he's disguised it very well.

His path to being one of Australia's most influential commentators includes time working at the Flower Auction Hall in Aalsmeer, in the Netherlands, an ill-fated attempt as a freelance journalist in India, a stint as the minder for a belly-dancer, two short terms of service as a Labor staffer, a spell as the publicity director of State Opera of South Australia, and a period as Asian correspondent for the Herald Sun . By comparison, Bolt's tenure as a journalist at The Age , the notoriously left-wing Melbourne broadsheet, looks almost an orthodox route to being Australia's most prominent conservative writer.

His unconventional path notwithstanding, journalism was always likely to play some part in Andrew Bolt's life.

The teenage Andrew Bolt, shy and unsure of himself, may have been a small thinker, but his mother had big dreams for him. After Bolt finished school, his mother, convinced he had an aptitude for writing, encouraged him to apply for a cadetship at the Murray Bridge Standard, in regional South Australia. Bolt managed to get his foot in the door for a chat with the editor, but there was no job offer forthcoming.

Bolt's mother also put his name down for a job interview at a children's television show. ?The interview was just dreadful', recalls Bolt. ?I had no idea of popular culture and in Darwin for example, we didn't have television while we were there for the six years. There were two radio stations and my interests weren't really there. So I was hopeless. I was mortifyingly shy and extremely badly dressed. So there I was on the edge of the couch, so shy.'

What his mother would make of Bolt's media career today we will never know, she died of cancer at the age of 52. But there's no doubt she saw something in Andrew's early writing, even if she did have to look hard.

At the age of 13, Bolt wrote a poem entitled Fear , his first ever published work. Bolt keeps the publication today on his bookshelf near his desk at home and happily shares his early literary offering; ?You've heard of "adolescent poetry", mine was "very bad adolescent poetry", so it's a genre all in itself ', he notes. Deadpan humour is Bolt's preferred form of comic expression. ?I never dared tell a joke in public and I still wouldn't do it today', he says. ?I can do dry wit because then if you keep a straight face and people laugh then its dry wit. But if your joke doesn't work, you can just keep sailing through without an invitation to laugh that's not accepted.'

Bolt's assessment of Fear is probably right. It certainly isn't Les Murray, but it is a fascinating insight into the young Bolt's mindset. He says the poem isn't self-referential, but it is unmistakably written as an outlier railing against racism and the mob mentality.

Bolt's fear and loathing of the mob is driven in some part because he believes people lose their identities when they become part of the collective. But it's also because he sees himself as not really belonging. ?I always felt a little bit the outsider through shyness, through my kind of upbringing, through not knowing the codes or the films or the sport,' he says. …

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