Hodgman gone, but not likely to be forgotten

Michael Hodgman was of that increasingly rare species: a memorably entertaining politician.

He rejoiced in the moniker “Mouth from the South” – he hailed from Tasmania, was a gifted orator as both Queens Counsel and politician and never shrank from his near-obsessive desire to tell a joke, deliver a quip or roar an opinion.

Mungo MacCallum, unrivalled wordsmith of the Federal Press Gallery for many years, once wrote of Mr Hodgman, an enthusiastic monarchist and then Minister for Territories in the Fraser Government, being moved to a fit of outrage concerning a Canberra youth who had painted a swastika on a garage door.

Answering a question in Parliament about the dreadful act, Mr Hodgman, wrote MacCallum, “leapt to his feet screaming adjectives like a maddened thesaurus”.

Mr Hodgman is gone, though unlikely to be forgotten. He died Wednesday morning, aged 74, of the emphysema that had begun closing its strictures upon him 14 years ago.

He had been fond for years of making a black joke about the disease. The day he was diagnosed he told his brother Peter: “I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is I’m going to die. The good news is – not yet.”

Mr Hodgman was among the longest-serving Liberal politicians in Australian history. He was a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council from 1966 to 1974, moved to federal politics as the member for the Tasmanian seat of Denison from 1974 to 1987, and in 1992 returned to his home state’s legislature as member for Denison in Tasmania’s lower house. He held the seat until 1998, regained it in 2001 and continued until his retirement in 2010.

The writer Andrew Rule once described Mr Hodgman in a feature in The Age as having been “born into an officer caste now almost entirely extinct on the mainland” who had “always played the gentleman politician”.

The current leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, might once have taken issue with the gentleman tag. Years ago, when she was pursuing gay rights in Tasmania, Mr Hodgman called her, on ABC Radio, “the mother of teenage sodomy”.

He was something of a dandy, regularly wearing a carnation in the button-hole of his impeccable suits, and once confessed – well before men took to skin lotion – of smearing Brylcreem hair oil on his face to lend it a distinctive sheen.

Yet he championed independence for the East Timorese long before it was popular, defended criminal clients when they couldn’t pay and happily mixed in all circles.

He was also a man who pursued boxing, sailing, punting on the horses and having a beer in his local pub with just about anyone.

His love of horseflesh didn’t stop at the betting ring. A horseman since youth, in the 1950s he sneaked away from home, hitch-hiked from Hobart to Launceston with a saddle secreted in his bag and rode in a jumps race at the Mowbray racecourse.

“The feeling you get when you get over the last jump is the second-best feeling in the world,” the old playboy chuckled to Rule.

He boasted that one of his horses had won 17 races; that he had been undefeated in all his 17 amateur boxing matches and that as a barrister, he had won 17 murder trials. One of his clients, Mark “Chopper” Read, wrote a poem called in which he rhymed Hodgman (who had served as best man at one of his weddings) with “artful dodge man”.

Mr Hodgman is survived by three children, partner Lindy Bell and a clutch of grandchildren.

His son Will is the Tasmanian Liberal Opposition Leader.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.