We watched the clock intently on the day of Mark Colvin’s kidney transplant. Not to keep to our newsroom deadlines, but wondering, just wondering if he was alright. Had they finished? Was it a success? Would it change his life?
Early in the day a Twitter account cheekily named @Colvin’sKidney made its debut. Given Mark’s prolific Twitter presence, it was only appropriate that his new kidney was getting in some practice. ‘It’s got his sense of humour,’ we said, as if it were his offspring.
There were some tears that day. We were half worried, half hopeful. Most of us knew nothing of the donor or her story. It was a mystery. We didn’t really want to know – it didn’t matter. The main thing was that Mark had a lifesaving chance, a chance to improve the quality of his life.
Mark kept most of his medical battles to himself, but we had seen his condition worsening over many months. He lumbered to his desk with his walking stick, sometimes exhausted.
‘You’re a one man teaching hospital,’ I said to Mark one afternoon. He laughed. He had endured more medication, surgery, complications and chronic pain than most could manage in a lifetime. His career as a foreign correspondent had been cut short by the chronic illness he contracted in Africa. But, he found other ways to engage with the world.
Mark was one of the first journalists in the country to fully harness the potential of Twitter. It was a way for him to communicate and collate. And he was bloody good at it. He was tweeting long before hipster blokes half his age had even sprouted their first chin hair.
Radio too, was a perfect medium for Mark. He could speak with people around the world in places his tired body would not allow him to visit.
At 5pm, when the theme sounded for ABC Radio’s PM program, there was his voice. Audio honey. That’s how I would describe it – rich and smooth. He could read aloud all the instructions to my white goods and I would listen intently.
His voice gave some clues to his background – the English accent, the fierce general knowledge and giant intellect. But, his most powerful sound of all, has always been silence. The uncomfortable silence of waiting on a politician who is avoiding a question or the generous silence when someone is struggling to explain a trauma or a truth.
Mark listens. Intently. On air and off. That listening brings trust and connection. He listened carefully, the first time Mary-Ellen Field spoke with him about her experience as a victim of the phone hacking scandal in the UK. It was the beginning of an unexpected friendship that would change both their lives – the product of the changing relationship between journalists and those we interview.
Years ago, journalists researched interviewees, not the other way around. But, now thanks to social media and search engines, we also leave our own detailed digital footprint. Our stories, our controversies and some of our personal details are only a few clicks away. Interviewees can check us out, before we check them out.
I remember working on an investigative story in India, in 2009. A sought after contact finally called me. At the end of the conversation, she casually said, ‘By the way, happy birthday.’ She was right, it was my birthday. She had Googled me from head to toe.
So too, Mary-Ellen Field was able to piece together parts of Mark Colvin’s story. Her decision to donate her kidney, saved his life. It’s a life we treasure. Mark is a trusted, respected and much loved colleague. His place in radio current affairs is unrivalled. I say Mark, but in our circles he is known by just one word, Colvin. There’s no other.
Mark Colvin’s Kidney is playing at Belvoir from 25 February to 2 April. For more information and to purchase tickets, head here.