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ABC bureau chief's moving tribute to her dad, Clarrie Millar

PROUD DAD: Lisa, Dorothy and Clarrie Millar.
PROUD DAD: Lisa, Dorothy and Clarrie Millar.

ABC Europe Bureau Chief and once Gympie Times journalist Lisa Millar recalls in her own words the the man she called Dad, Clarrie Millar, the former Federal Member for Wide Bay who died last week, aged 92.

THERE'S a full moon shining on our British Airways jet as it tracks across the sky from Vienna to London.

It feels right to be sharing this personal story about my father, Clarrie Millar, while I'm 30,000 feet in the air.

READ MORE: How Clarrie Millar changed my way of looking at people

Flying was a such a passion of Dad's, that having to hand in his pilot's licence due to a health issue in the '80s, was a such a monumental premature event (in his view) that he talked about the distress it caused him until the end of his life.

He simply loved to fly. As a pilot or as a passenger.

And when he wasn't flying he'd rush out to the verandah if he heard a plane, and quickly rattle off what make and model and where it was likely going.

So you can imagine how he felt when his daughter - the then aspiring globetrotting foreign correspondent - admitted to a debilitating fear of flying.

I was 24 when a stalled engine on a light plane during a storm in North Queensland set off a fear that I wasn't able to tackle until a decade later.

"Oh lassie, flying is safer than being out on the road with those bloody maniacs,” Dad would tell me, as he patiently explained flight dynamics for the umpteenth time.

Clarrie Millar - a distinguished career and a proud father.
Clarrie Millar - a distinguished career and a proud father.

Clarrie Millar has been praised for his service to the country and his upstanding approach to public life as the Federal Member for Wide Bay since his death.

I'd like to share with you the more personal side of Dad - and why he, and my mother Dorothy, deserve the credit for the journalist I am today.

Dad was the unelected, self-appointed president of the Lisa Millar cheer squad.

Did he laugh that my first byline in The Gympie Times in 1988 was about a head lice infestation in schools?

No Sirree. He was so proud.

I never had to ring Dad to give him a heads up about a piece in the paper or a story on the tv news.

He'd have been watching or reading, cutting it out or recording it on VHS, sitting there with his finger on the record button and always 'just' missing the start of it while blaming the ridiculous 'hurdygurdy' technology he was forced to deal with.

I'd always had a recollection of wanting to be a journalist from an early age.

There was a tape of me singing the ABC news theme and interviewing my younger sister.

Dad found it remarkable that at the tender age of seven, I'd already learned the technique of butting in and cutting someone off if I felt they weren't answering the question.

I'm not sure my sister Trudi has ever recovered.

Clarrie and Dorothy Millar, with children Robert, David and Wendy (baby) circa 1956.
Clarrie and Dorothy Millar, with children Robert, David and Wendy (baby) circa 1956. Contributed

As teenagers Trudi and I would go to Canberra on school holidays to spend time with dad while parliament was sitting.

On one occasion after a particularly rowdy session in Question Time Dad asked for my opinion.

But I hadn't been watching the House of Representatives chamber.

I'd had my 16-year-old eyes glued on Richard Carleton - who was then the host of the ABC's current affairs program The Carleton-Walsh Report.

I really admired him in that role although his later reputation on 60 Minutes didn't do him justice.

But this was before then.

This was just after the 1983 "have you got blood on your hands?” interview with Bob Hawke.

This was when the Carwash Report, as it was nicknamed, was must-watch television.

"Dad, Dad,” I excitedly said. "I can't believe Richard Carleton was in the press gallery the whole time, I'm so excited.”

Dad remembered that excitement and spoke with Richard about his ambitious young daughter who was desperate to follow her journalism dream.

The next time I was in Canberra Richard Carleton invited me to the ABC at Northbourne, spent a couple of hours at the studio and as the end credits on the show started rolling he motioned for me to come and sit at the presenters' desk.

ABC London Bureau Chief Lisa Millar with her beloved father, former Wide Bay MP Clarrie Millar
ABC London Bureau Chief Lisa Millar with her beloved father, former Wide Bay MP Clarrie Millar

There I was, making my first appearance on the ABC. The thrill!

Richard delivered advice that night that I've tried to live by - that if I was going to be a journalist he said "for God's sake, don't be a mediocre one. There are already plenty of them out there”.

It was summer and daylight saving meant Dad could ring the family in Queensland and get them to record it.

That was the first VHS tape of me on television and Dad kept adding to them. And then adding more.

He'd refuse to be anywhere at 7pm except in front of the television "just in case Lisa has a story on”.

While I was at The Gympie Times, he was the Federal Member for Wide Bay and he was adamant that there be no special privileges granted to his daughter.

There were no leaks or scoops or interviews with Dad. In fact, I think my colleagues got more stories from him than I ever did!

He'd left politics by the time I joined the ABC and he loved visiting each of the offices I worked in - Townsville, Canberra, Brisbane, Sydney and Washington.

He didn't make it to the ABC in London.

His flying days were past him by the time I started my posting as Bureau Chief there in September 2015, but he loved to talk about my job.

Even after he moved into a higher care facility.

When I'd visit, the staff would come in to deliver medicine or say hello and there was the inevitable "oh YOU'RE the daughter who's on TV and lives in London”.

I'd say "awwwww Dad, stop it, you're embarrassing me”. 

But the truth is, I didn't want him to stop. Not ever. To have that kind of support and encouragement was something special that I never took for granted.

Woe betide any boss at the ABC who was ever going to consider taking me off air. They would have had Clarrie Millar to deal with!

He fretted if he saw new reporters on air that he didn't recognise, fearing a never-ending stream of younger ambitious journalists manoeuvring to take my job.

I will miss that unconditional love and protection so much.

But I will take all of his advice with me on my path through life.

"Don't let somebody else determine what kind of person you're going to be,” he would say.

"It's not just doing the right thing, it's being seen to do the right thing. Perception is important.”

We cremated Dad this week (Tuesday, December 5) and I joined the family via Skype.

They sat under a gazebo at the crematorium in Brisbane at 9am and I sat in a hotel room in Vienna at midnight.

Dad would have been amazed that we'd made the "hurdy-gurdy” technology work so well I felt like I was actually there with them - Mum, and my brothers Robert and David, and sisters Wendy and Trudi and their partners.

We laughed and we cried.

And then we stopped, silent, thinking, feeling the loss and appreciating the great gifts he gave us all.

The sound of the crows on a mild Brisbane morning broke the silence, their squawks heard on the other side of the globe.

And I could hear a jet - its engines at full throttle as it climbed above Brisbane.

And I imagined Dad on board - ordering a drink and reclining his seat - on his way.

Topics:  abc tv clarrie millar gympie people humans of gympie wide bay mp

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