A personal salute to the late Malcolm McCosker, by Beef Central publisher James Nason
As a journalist Mal McCosker was an editor’s dream. He could turn the most mundane of subjects into a ripping read with his colourful turn of phrase and seemingly limitless supply of anecdotes and historical perspective.
He thrived under pressure. When a story fell over within minutes of deadline, Mal was the man many a desperate editor turned to to get them out of trouble.
“Mal, can you knock out 500 words on the Federal Government’s new tax plan for agriculture? An editorial on what this new policy means to farmers?” And he never failed to deliver. No ceremony, no complaints, just a “righto” followed by a 10 minute burst of seamless finger-tapping on a keyboard.
“There you go,” he’d say with an easy smile, having once again somehow managed to produce a sumptuously crafted, finely layered piece of writing in an impossibly short amount of time.
Indeed his output was prodigious. He was machine-like in his ability to convert information into a news or feature story, and then to turn the next task with barely a moment to clear his head.
I often wondered if Mal ever suffered from the curse of writer’s block, but I sincerely doubt that he did. He was so reliable that he tended to attract a mountain of work, because he was the first person any section editor thought of to handle a job that had to be done quickly and well.
I’m not aware of any occasion in which Mal ever said “no” to a request. His story count in an average week would surely be without peer.
He was a gifted communicator. His natural flair for story-telling transcended the written word. He often shared his thoughts on rural matters and his own long-range weather-predictions with listeners of ABC Country Hour, and regularly MC’d major rural events including the annual Queensland Country Women’s Association and Miss Queensland Showgirl annual dinners.
At the Brisbane Show last year RNA president Allan Warby invited Mal to say a few words as the final of the dairy judging was underway. Without a moment’s hesitation he took the microphone and presented an enlightening speech on the number of people around the world who rely upon dairy products as a vital source of protein. Even those involved in the judging stopped to listen as he spoke.
He loved telling stories, and was at his most passionate when talking about rural Queensland.
When visiting bush schools would tour the printing facilities at Queensland Country Life, it was Mal who took time out to show them around, delighting in the opportunity to share his stories and knowledge with the young faces.
And he always kept ‘em laughing. One favoured memory is of watching a year-three student ask Mal how many people worked in the building. “About half of them,” he answered with a customary grin. His jokes were many and legendary. He was the type of colleague that made an office a happy place to be, and often filled with good humour and laughter.
He was justifiably proud of his incredible record of longevity in covering the famous Brisbane Exhibition. Queensland’s biggest annual show was seemingly tailor-made for his talents.
Covering the dozens of cattle judging events and other rural functions that are crammed into a furious few days at the Ekka each year requires a demanding mix of attention to detail, a nose for news, an ability to write quickly and accurately, a calm demeanour and the skill to add flair and colour to what could otherwise become a dry blow-by-blow match report.
Some journalists don’t handle the pressure and resign after their first Ekka. Mal covered 49, and lived for covering the event and catching up with his hordes of old mates. That cancer denied him the chance to cover his 50th Ekka this year seems nothing short of a tragedy.
Equally he was as well-known on the grounds at the Sydney Royal, and every rural show and major event. But more than being a good journalist, Mal was a good man.
He was extraordinarily generous with his time, and willingly mentored generations of young rural journalists. His advice was always straight to the point and constructive, never critical or unkind, and was drawn from years of practical experience, not text books.
On my first day working for Queensland Country Life in 1994 Mal called me aside to offer a few words of advice. “If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to admit it,” he said. “Never be afraid to ask a question, even if it appears stupid. It’s better to look stupid for a few seconds and than to pretend you know something and print information that is wrong.”
It was probably the single most useful piece of advice I have ever received and remains as relevant today as it was the day I started.
Many rural journalists working today owe Mal a debt of gratitude for the training and guidance he provided during their formative years. Importantly he also went out of his way to offer congratulations when he believed young journalists had done something well. To be told by Mal McCosker that you were on the right track truly meant something.
He cared deeply for rural people, and forged strong and enduring friendships with many of the farmers and livestock producers and industry and political leaders he encountered during his epic rural reporting career.
His knowledge of rural Queensland was extraordinary. Mention any town, no matter how small, and Mal could tell you a dozen stories about it. He was a living rural encyclopaedia always ready to help fellow journalists fill the gaps in their historical knowledge about an issue.
While he worked hard, Mal always made the most of time away from the office. He was a loving husband to wife Christina and glowed with pride when talking about family and grandkids.
He regularly brought fresh crab meat into the office with tales of his early morning adventures in the mangroves off the Redland Bay coast. And the stories from his annual fishing trips to Fraser Island when the Tailor were running, often in the company of colleagues Rodney Green and Peter Lowe, kept many an office gathering entertained as he held court.
He was such a giant of the industry, it is hard to believe the energy and sparkle that defined his work and that the familiar byline “By Malcolm McCosker” will no longer appear. Rural Queensland is the truly the worse for his passing.
Farewell Malcolm McCosker, you were a truly good man.
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