Award-winning former Herald Sun journalist and author John Hamilton has died after a long illness. MARK DUNN remembers the writer whose stories set the country’s agenda for 50 years.
Hamilton, a dual Walkley Award winner, was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2015 for significant service to the print media as a leading journalist and editor, as an author and educator, and to the veteran community. He has been remembered for his gifts in chronicling some of the most notable people and events that shaped the nation during his long career covering some of the biggest headline stories on the international stage.
Former Prime Minister John Howard, who launched one of Hamilton’s three meticulously researched books on World War 1 described him as “an elegant writer, with superb journalistic skills … a wonderful feature writer,” and a gentleman.
Hamilton covered the Port Arthur massacre, the Bali bombings, the 2004 tsunami disaster, the Sydney Olympics, the 85th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, and accompanied Mr Howard on visits to Turkey, France, Israel and East Timor.
“He displayed great integrity in his dealings with politicians,” Mr Howard said.
“John was an enjoyable luncheon companion. I recall with affection several occasions at Donovans in St Kilda with John and other journalists and writers.
“He had a warm personality which continued to be displayed, even in his last years, as he grappled with a serious illness. He will be greatly missed by many.”
Herald Sun executive Peter Blunden, who was John’s editor for more than 10 years, paid tribute to the doyen of journalism.
“John was a master of his craft, deeply admired and respected by his peers over a remarkable 50-year career,” Mr Blunden said.
“He was always first pick to cover the big stories, anywhere in the world. He could always be trusted to produce work of the highest quality.
“John was a beautiful writer, but an even better human being. Urbane, intelligent, engaging … but so, so humble.
“I recall sending him to London after Princess Diana’s death. He was on Norfolk Island at the time, on duty, further than any point on the planet from the tragic events.
“But within a couple of days he filed, on time, and his words were magnificent.
“He will be sadly missed by the profession which held him in the highest esteem”.
Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston described John as a “fine journalist and a fine gentleman”.
“John possessed an artistry with words few could match,” he said.
“Whether weaved through hundreds of pages in one of his magnificent books about the Great War or a colour piece for the news pages of the Herald Sun, John brought the same professionalism, skill and work ethic to entertain and inform generations of readers.
“Generous of spirit, tenacious yet gracious; he displayed all of these attributes on a daily basis through a storied career. John will be sadly missed.”
Friend and former Herald Sun journalist Russell Robinson recalled starting as a cadet at The Herald and said Hamilton, as a leading reporter, inspired new generations of journalists.
“John was admired for his generosity with the younger journalists, always on hand to share his knowledge and provide assistance when needed,” Robinson said.
“When the big stories broke John led the way. Later in life he embarked on a second career as a successful author.
“John was a gentleman by definition, dignified in personality and appearance, and sartorial in style. I’ll miss him, as will many others who worked with him over the years.”
Senior Herald Sun reporter Keith Moor said Hamilton was a remarkable wordsmith.
“He was an editor’s delight in that he could turn his hand to whatever was thrown at him, churning out perfect copy well within deadline,” Moor said.
“One of his tasks over the years was to address each intake of new journalism cadets, with a view to him inspiring them to great things.
“His tip to all of them was ‘get mud on your boots and dust on your shoes — you won’t find stories sitting in the office’.
“That was advice John successfully followed during his 52-year career as one of Australia’s finest and most distinguished journalists.”
In his three best-selling books, Hamilton brought back to life the sacrifice and drama of the Anzacs at Gallipoli, in Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You; Gallipoli Sniper and The Price of Valour.
Prior to his roving duties as an associate editor in Victoria, Hamilton was Washington correspondent for the Herald & Weekly Times in the 1970s, chief correspondent and European editor, and won Walkley awards for best reporting in 1967 and 1968.
Hamilton, aged 76, also served as an Australia Day Ambassador. He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Charlotte Kay, his son James and daughter-in-law Marnie, grandchildren Kimberley and Jack, and son Matthew and daughter-in-law Dr Jade Lozano.
This article first appeared in the Herald Sun has been republished with the permission of News Corp Australia.