This tribute was first published on ABC News after Mark Colvin sadly passed away.

 

The idea was naively complicated, stupidly ambitious and approved by ABC management.

I was going to make a sequel to the landmark creative audio adventure, What’s Rangoon to you is Grafton to me.

It would involve cigarettes, a macadamia castle and most importantly, Mark Colvin.

Rangoon has inspired radio producers and musicians since it first aired on Double Jay in 1978.

The late night classic tells the story of a road trip from Brisbane to Sydney, with stopovers in “Rangoon”. What or where Rangoon is, is for you to work out.

It was narrated by the ABC’s nightly TV news reader, James Dibble. The straight man, a surreal script and great sound design — it was a winning formula.

Dibble was chosen because the writer behind Rangoon, Russell Guy, thought he embodied the ABC.

When it came time to decide who would narrate a sequel 37 years later, I knew there was only one voice that could pull it off.

When I wrote to Mark, I said it had to be him. It wasn’t an ultimatum; I wanted to make it clear I believed the project hinged on his participation.

I had first heard his story of adventure, sacrifice, and professionalism while volunteering in the newsroom of my local community radio station.

His was the brightest example of what a successful career in public service media could be.

“Legend” is a cliché he’d hate so I’ll put it this way; when Colvin entered the lift at Ultimo, everyone felt it.

So I was worried when I hit send on an email which asked Mark if he’d put his 40 years of journalistic integrity and credibility on the line to read a tripped-out script that included references to my local chicken shop.

I needn’t have been.

Mark gave his full endorsement and instead of objecting to anything, he encouraged me to push hard to realise the vision.

When the day came for the recording I was even more nervous. The script had been written in bits and pieces over months. It was long — a 53-minute magnum opus.

I was asking Australia’s nightly radio current affairs presenter to say — in his distinct voice — things like:

“I was the dog on the tuckerbox, waiting patiently. But wrong highway and that wave had crashed. It was time to get off the beach, in more ways than one.”

Or this one:

“I’d successfully worn the veil of professionalism for some time now. Some parts more threadbare than others. Occasionally I stuck my head out to breathe.”

And then this:

“My luck was running out faster than a Mighty Duck with no puck, fuck I’d forgotten the sequel is never as good as the original.”

He sat down. I handed him the script, which he hadn’t seen yet. We hit record.

In a calm voice, Mark said into the microphone: “For James Dibble.”

Then he read exactly what was on the page, in exactly the way I’d imagined.

He did 96 per cent of it in one take. There were a few lines I asked him to go back over, but that was insecurity on my part — in almost every instance his first read was better.

There was nothing he questioned. Nothing he baulked at. Maybe he made a few grammatical suggestions.

For a very brief period in time, Mark Colvin, a man trusted by thousands of Australians daily, would have read whatever we wrote. And we were writing some weird shit.

I couldn’t believe he was giving us this gift. It felt like the ABC was a Ferrari and by some miracle we’d been given the keys, with permission to go for a joyride.

Twice, he even laughed.

The line, “Foley joke, don’t get many of those,” was not part of the script — just a comment he made during the read which we decided to keep.

The program ended up being broadcast the night before I got married. In the middle of the reception I felt my pocket vibrating. Strange, I thought, everyone I know is sitting in front of me.

It was Mark.

“I’ve just listened to it on the big speakers. Sounds amazing,” he said.

I thanked him and told him how much it meant to get a call from him. It made an overwhelming day even more special. He wished me all the best and told me to turn my phone off.

Colvin was a mentor to generations of ABC journalists, but he also stood up for creative audio.

I’d like to believe it’s an attitude he carried from those turbulent days starting out at Double Jay, when nobody had anything to lose, naivety fuelled ambition and many great things were achieved.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t hesitate to be part of my hair-brained vision. He knew that if you wanted to innovate, you had to shoot for it.

Whether we actually achieved that doesn’t matter. I was given the opportunity to try, and it will always be a career highlight. For that I have Mark Colvin to thank.

Listen to Mark Colvin narrate A kangaroo has three ears on The Real Thing podcast.