By the time I first met Paddy McGuinness, who died yesterday, his persona was much as I would have expected from the columns I had read in The Australian and then the SMH: rather gruff, given to sweeping pronouncements, but showing a very wide range of interests. This was the mid-1990s; I found our few conversations awkward. His uncommunicative style spilled over into the way he edited Quadrant. You knew your submission had been accepted if it appeared as an article in the magazine, you knew it had been rejected if after a few months there was still no sign of it. Apart from that, total silence.
While I never clicked with Paddy, he did seem to have a talent for friendship cutting across journalism, intellectual life, politics and the arts. This went back to the 1950s when he was part of the Sydney Push. According to Anne Coombs’ book on the Push, Paddy had his first contact with this group aged just twelve, having met some of its members at a science fiction conference. She quotes him as saying that he underwent the ‘usual [sic] adolescent progression from Catholicism to Marxism’ before coming to social democratic views. While at Sydney Uni studying economics he was involved in starting the ALP Club, a split from the Labor Club, which had become a front for the Communist Party. An early swipe at the radical left, the target of much of his subsequent commentary.
From there, Paddy was someone who really did have the many careers of pop sociology: economist at the Moscow Narodny bank in London (described in an article called ‘Working for the Soviets’ in the November 2007 Quadrant), the OECD, university lecturer, Ministerial adviser (to Bill Hayden, in the Whitlam government), film critic, economics writer, editor of the AFR, columnist for various papers, and finally editor of Quadrant. If he’d been born 40 years later, Paddy would have been an ideal blogger, knowing something about a lot.
In his time at the AFR, Paddy played an important part of the early history of the CIS. It is described on the CIS website this way:
A conference on the role of government in 1978 proved to be a turning point for the fledgling think tank. The theme for the weekend meeting was ‘What Price Intervention? Government and the economy’. Participants included economists such as Ross Parish, Michael Porter and Warren Hogan.
A hundred people showed up, including Paddy McGuinness, then Economics Editor of the Australian Financial Review. He wrote a famous article, ‘Where Friedman is a Pinko’, giving the phone number and address of CIS at the end. There were days of messages.
That was the start of a long connection between Paddy and the CIS.
According to various reports, a melanoma caused his final illness. It’s a little hard to imagine enough of Paddy being exposed to the sun to cause skin cancer. In the time I knew him, Paddy was always dressed from head to toe in black. Anne Coombs tells a funny story about Paddy’s caftan phase in the 1960s, when on a visit to Turin he was treated with great respect because they thought from his dress he must be some kind of priest. But even as a young man, it sounds like he was into covering up. If I had to guess how Paddy would go, the consequences of decades of heavy drinking would have been top of my list, not the long-term repercussions of sunburn.
But from whatever cause, Paddy is gone after an eventful and unconventional life. PP McGuinness, RIP.