Friday, January 20, 2012

Get teary again. Celebrate Peter Veness

In today's Canberra Times:

Press Gallery journalist 'much loved'


Most journalists are aware that theirs is a privileged role. To witness first-hand events of importance and to be entrusted with accurately reporting them to the wider community is a position both envious and accountable.

Political journalists in particular are cognisant of the fact that their audiences rely on them to impart true accounts about those who would lead the nation.

No reporter was more aware of that responsibility than was Peter Veness, a highly respected and much-loved member of the Canberra Press Gallery, who died on Sunday night after battling a rare form of brain cancer, diagnosed in 2009.

He didn't quite reach his 28th birthday, yet he was vastly wise beyond his years.

Veness - Pete - was a good friend of mine and I can only write this obituary from that perspective.

This cannot be a dispassionate piece of writing, because Veness was not a dispassionate person.

A larrikins' larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin.

And a sensitivity that could make you weep.

He loved to sledge his mates, but he would do anything for them. He taught all his blokey friends that it was okay to say ''I love you brother'' and really mean it.

Veness arrived at the national capital in 2006 after having earned his stripes as so many young journalists do, in regional Australia.

Proud of his innings at Bathurst's Western Advocate newspaper, the young Veness subsequently joined wire service Australian Associated Press and was assigned to the Canberra bureau in Parliament House.

''You know what a big deal it is for me to be in the gallery?'' he would often confide. ''I'd better not stuff it up.'' Far from stuffing things up, Veness filled his role with professionalism and enthusiasm.

Possessing a keen news sense, he could always be relied on to dig up the quirky and uncover the newsworthy in almost any situation.

During the 2007 election campaign, while covering the John Howard trail, he was one morning the only reporter to rise before 4am to join the then prime minister on one of his famous walks.

The journalists were housed for the night at a resort in the Adelaide hills because there were no rooms left in the city's CBD hotels.

Howard was in the city more than an hour's drive away and if any reporter wanted to join him on the optional early constitutional, it would mean a very early rise.

Most decided to pass, but not Veness.

As it turned out, he got to spend half an hour trying to keep up with Howard while enjoying a one-on-one conversation with him.

''I don't agree with everything he does politically,'' Veness said later in the day. ''But, you know, I kinda like the guy.''

The next week we were on the Kevin Rudd trail and after following him around for a few days, Veness sidled up to me one afternoon and whispered with a smile, ''I don't agree with everything he does politically. But, you know, I kinda like the guy.'' Always the even-handed reporter.

Everyone more than ''kinda'' liked Veness, which is why it hit the Press Gallery hard with the news of his diagnosis. His courageous battle was an inspiration to watch, not least because he insisted he was not the inspiring type.

Combining his loves of music and literature, Veness sometimes wrote album reviews and artist interviews using the pen name Sal Caulfield - mixing his favourite fictional characters Sal Paradise from On the Road and Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.

Born in Canberra before moving to Batemans Bay, Veness had a close family.

After his high school days at Gilgandra, Veness and his family settled in Bathurst, where Veness studied journalism at Charles Sturt University. It was from where he sought out again the sweetheart he first met at Gilgandra, Bec Bignell.

Long-time partners, they married after his diagnosis.

He loved his work, he loved his sport, loved his books and his music. But what Veness loved the most was his wife, his family and his friends.

And yep, ''love you too brother''.

Chris Johnson is chief political correspondent for The Canberra Times

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