Des Power AM is a man who loves words and chooses them carefully. Rarely is he lost for them.
However, this particular day threatens to provide one of those rare moments and the reason rests firmly, albeit happily, with Griffith University.
As part of the graduation ceremony for the Arts, Education and Law group at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on Tuesday (December 17), Mr Power will be made a Doctor of the University. He will also address the graduates.
Days beforehand, serving coffee on the patio at his Brisbane home, Mr Power chides himself as he continues to seek the words to adequately express his gratitude.
“Gobsmacked. That’s about all I’ve been able to come up with,” he says. “I’m chuffed, of course, and surprised. But really, I’m just a journo.”
While much of Mr Power’s extensive CV indeed fits within the broad spectrum of journalism, the effect of the sum is far greater when studied via its numerous parts.
For instance, during the past 50 years Mr Power has enjoyed stints as a writer, publisher, film and television producer, foreign correspondent and corporate director/chairman. In 2006, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to broadcasting, film, major events and tourism.
Clearly, “just a journo” doesn’t come close to conveying the contribution he has made, one that also includes six years as Adjunct Professor with Griffith University where his portfolio focused on Gold Coast tourism, events, sport, real estate and property.
From Tasmania to the UK
Mr Power’s childhood was spent in the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria, Wagga Wagga in NSW and Mildura in Victoria, before his family relocated to Hobart.
“Journalism started for me in Tasmania,” he recalls. “I launched a motoring magazine when I was 19, a monthly publication with a colour cover. I used to love seeing it displayed at the newsstand, the only 100 per cent Tasmanian-produced magazine.”
By the mid-1960s, Mr Power was in London and working as assistant to the formidable Raymond Baxter OBE, who presented programs including the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and who was also renowned as a commentator for motor sport and special events.
“Raymond was a great journo and broadcaster and I cut my teeth in broadcasting with him,” says Mr Power.
Baxter was also head of public affairs for BMC before it merged to become British Leyland. Mr Power was recruited to the new company’s central executive staff to handle business and financial media for the chairman, Lord Stokes.
Returning to Australia in 1969, Mr Power worked as a freelance journalist before joining ABC Radio on the AM and PM programs in Sydney. In 1970, he became a reporter for This Day Tonight, the ABC’s pioneering television current affairs program. He then transferred to Brisbane as a senior reporter and producer.
In 1974, Mr Power was a foreign correspondent for the ABC covering Western Europe and the Middle East. By 1980, he was again in Australia, this time producing programs such as the original Today Tonight for Channel Nine.
He has written and produced more than 30 documentaries and TV specials, won Logies and other industry awards, co-produced the 1998 Australian feature film Dear Claudia, co-written a ballet based on the life of the great Dame Margot Fonteyn and is currently writing another biographical ballet.
As well as being the writer and executive producer of Celebration of a Nation, the official multi-screen film for Australia’s bicentennial in 1988, Mr Power was a producer and creative director for the Reflective Program that precedes the Dawn Service at Gallipoli each Anzac Day. He is also engaged in the creation of a major symphony about the events of 1915.
A former chairman of Film Queensland and the Brisbane International Film Festival, in 2007 Mr Power founded the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, a major international cultural initiative based in Brisbane and operating in partnership with UNESCO, the International Federation of Film Producers, the European Film Awards and the Asian arm of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Experience and insight
Meanwhile, as chairman of Queensland Events for 11 years, he broadened its gaze beyond sport by lifting its profile in the arts and cultural environment. Major exhibitions of works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol were two of the most notable outcomes, along with the famous Paris Opera Ballet.
So, still just a journo?
“I’ve always enjoyed the written word, the creative process. It drives me. I suppose I see journalism as the craft that equipped me for everything else I pursued,” says Mr Power, whose message to graduates will draw from a deep well of experience and insight.
“I’ll talk about the value of education, the way it informs and inspires and is ongoing. I’ll talk about the role it can play in the making of better people and a better world.
“I’ve seen some things in my time. Some have been amazing, thrilling, while others have been so disturbing their impact never leaves you.
“But I’m not really one to look back. I’ve always looked forward to what’s possible, to what can be achieved, and I think that’s my connection with the graduates. They are looking forward too, ready to forge their own lives, create their own stories and make their own contributions.
“I like that, because they’re the sort of people who never retire. Everything lies ahead.”