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Portrait of an Editor: John van Tiggelen (English) - Journalist and writer

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Journalist and writer

Now that I knew that I was dealing with an academically trained journalist with broad experience, I asked what journalism actually is. I gave a list of options: Is it writing to sell a newspaper, recording some very recent history without reporting the sources? Is it entertainment etc? John kept it simply to: “Providing people with what they want to read, what they ought to know, and yes entertainment is part of it also”. He pointed to his lighthearted and humoristic article in the Good Weekend that I had cut out, about his experiences as a father of five, the last two born being twins, after which he with encouragement of his wife, underwent a vasectomy. “That was entertainment” he explained.
It appeared from that article that he is not shy in revealing some of his private life. But he is motivated purely by writing so it  will touch the reader, be it with a smile or via the creation of doubt, rather than self-promotion. He stressed, for example, that as far as he is concerned there would not be a Wikipedia entry created about him. But that does not depend on him and there are several such entries about the regular writers for  his monthly.
 John has, as he said, never really considered in-depth the commercial side of the publications he worked for. The royalties from books “do not justify the writing, unless the book is a bestseller.” He knew from experience, “You write for other reasons.”
 He wrote a book with the title Mango Country – a Journey Beyond the Brochures of Tropical Queensland, which was short-listed for the Colin Roderick Award, and some of his work  was also short-listed for for other literary awards, like the Graham Perkins Journalist of the Year Award. He was also published in 2001 in Best Australian Essays and won the Commonwealth Media Award. The prize for this was a semester of study at Cambridge University, which he eagerly took up.
 In 2002  John sailed on the replica ship, the Duyfken, for part of the voyage  from Indonesia to Australia re-enacting the first visit to Australia by a European vessel, by the original Duyfken in 1606.  This brought us to the question of what  current view is held by Indonesians of the Dutch. “I experienced that as a very positive one and many spoke still proudly Dutch” he said, “... the Americans are the ones who are very unpopular”.
“Do you see a solution for how our Indigenous people would get a more pleasant existence?”
Perhaps because I used that formulation did he perceive that I presented them as a problem, “We must not call them a problem and I do not have those solutions” he said. He had had a series of rich experiences with the descendants of our original inhabitants, including  the Aurukun community in Queensland .  He agreed with many of the opinions of the intellectual leader there, Noel Pearson, who emphasized self-reliance rather than government handouts.
As a writer of lengthier articles, which required  in-depth research, John wrote from 1998 for the lift-out magazine Good Weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age. That publication printed  his article in November 2011 on the right-wing media player Andrew Bolt, also from Dutch background, whom he had interviewed at home prior to the Federal Court finding Bolt guilty of racial vilification. John's widely discussed, brilliant, article provided a picture of Bolt that the public had not yet known, the human Bolt, with echoes his Dutch background included.  “Because,” said John to me, "he is a very human being, except that we are in disagreement over a number of matters”.
Ben Naparstek, John's predecessor as Editor of The Monthly, started in February 2012 as Editor of Good Weekend, where John worked. I feel that the Bolt article brought van Tiggelen a great deal of attention,  and  the article showed again that he was a brilliant journalist, that it helped deliver him the job of editor. His experience with the Good Weekend, and his award winning writing as an independent thinker and intellectual, will have helped as well of course in him being given this position.
 People such as John van Tiggelen, who combine talent with hard work, will always succeed. In which country they were born does not matter.