Tributes flowed on Tuesday for the passing of Les Carlyon, the wordsmith aged 76, whose life in writing has been remembered for helping a modern generation of Australians understand the sacrifice of Diggers at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.
“Les had a deep love of Australia, and his epic works - Gallipoli and The Great War - are a reflection of that love,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“Without those works, today’s Australians could never fully understand the horrors and lessons of the Great War, and the sacrifice of 60,000 Australians.
“My sympathies to his wife Denise and family. Australia has lost a fine son.”
Former prime minister John Howard said Carlyon set the “gold standard for integrity and professionalism” in journalism.
“Australia has lost not only a journalist and former editor of enormous integrity but one of the finest writers this country has produced,” Mr Howard said.
“His two war histories, one on Gallipoli and one on the entirety of the Great War, are the equal of anything I have ever read on those two tragic and shocking events in our history.
“He was a wonderful raconteur and I will treasure a conversation on the phone only a few weeks ago where we spoke for a very long time and traversed recent and not so recent events in our political history.
“He was balanced and reflective, and as always provided great insight.
“We have lost one of the real greats who has left an enormous legacy.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten said Carlyon was “a man gifted with the deepest sense of the Australian story and the most powerful way of telling it”.
“Les gave his whole heart and mind to illuminating the lives of his fellow Australians. His words and work will stand the test of time,” Mr Shorten said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Carlyon gave voice to Australians from all walks of life, “from prime ministers to punters.”
“It meant that - regardless of whether it was a few column inches or a 600 page history - we knew that if Les wrote it, it mattered,” Mr Andrews said.
“Through his writing, he made us brighter, smarter, more aware and more curious.”
“On behalf of our state, I extend my deepest sympathies to the Carlyon family”.
Les’s son, Patrick Carlyon, also a Walkley Award winner and senior Herald Sun journalist, said his father could not have achieved what he did without wife Denise, his “chief researcher and organiser” and the “second-most knowledgeable person in Australia on Gallipoli”.
“They really were a team in a marriage of more than 50 years, they had a relationship which was based on respect and love and compassion for each other”.
As a mentor to journalists “he taught me and many others it’s all about the story telling, it’s all about getting the words right and even the smallest story can lift off the page”.
Carlyon’s best-selling books Gallipoli and The Great War transported readers directly to the horrors and human tragedy of conflict and are regarded as definitive accounts of the campaigns.
His chronicling of Australia’s sporting history and racing, through works such as The Master: A Personal Portrait of Bart Cummings, his much-loved collection True Grit, stand alongside a wide repertoire of reportage, from moving accounts after the Port Arthur massacre and death of Princess Diana, to a 50th anniversary piece on Hiroshima.
He profiled luminaries from Don Bradman to Muhammad Ali, Bob Santamaria and Kerry Packer to character studies of Cliffy Young to Teddy Whitten.
Carlyon was a former editor-in-chief of the Herald & Weekly Times and editor at The Age and visiting lecturer in journalism at RMIT.
“Les Carlyon was a courageous and inspiring editor and one of the most dazzling writers of his era,” Melbourne Press Club chief executive Mark Baker said.
“He was a friend and mentor who lit the path for countless fine reporters, writers and historians who followed him.
“The Melbourne Press Club mourns the loss of a true champion of independent journalism and a true friend of journalists across Australia and across the media.”
Carlyon was invested as a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 2014 for “eminent service to literature”, won Walkley Awards for feature writing and journalism leadership, the Graham Perkin Journalist of the Year Award in 1993, a Melbourne Press Club Quill Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Prime Minister’s Prize for History in 2007 for The Great War, while Gallipoli was recognised with the Australian Publishers Association Readers’ Choice Award and a premier’s best history prize.
Courtesy of Herald Sun / David Caird (p)