1957 - | VIC | Journalist
Rule has proved that fine writing can be combined with investigative reporting, but above all he is one of the most compelling storytellers in Australian journalism. He is the only Victorian to have won the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award twice and to have won the Perkin and Gold Walkley in the same year. While best known for his courageous exposure of crime and corruption, Rule's delight in a good story, his compassion and light touch make him extemely versatile. Over 30 years he has worked for The Age, The Sun News-Pictorial, The Herald, the Sunday Age and the Herald Sun and radio station 3AW.
He’s a handy type of bloke, this Andy Rule. He can sharpen a chainsaw, get rid of your rabbits, grow the best basket of herbs short of some silly TV cooking show, sell fresh eggs from the back of the office car, and pick a fellow scallywag at 100 metres.
He can turn a dollar, craft a scheme, and work more jobs at once than any sane man should manage. He has a face that would be at home in a shearing shed under a sweat-stained hat, but it’s the face of a man who is one of the most grounded and rounded journalists this country has produced.
And he knows how to make words sing.
He won’t tell you, but he’s got more gongs than he has tricky little ideas. Some are outlined in the citation above, but there are also eight Quill awards, and he has been involved in writing and publishing books that have sold more than one million copies.
If there’s a heaven for editors it will have a newsroom full of Andrew Rules. He writes sweetly and he can write about anything: sad, happy, silly, serious, complex, human. He is an editor’s dream because you can send him anywhere and know he will produce readable copy.
His investigative reporting is watertight. And you don’t need to read every sentence twice. Whether it’s the forensic demolition of a string-pulling crook, or a piece from a child’s funeral that makes you taste the tears, his writing unfolds, taking the reader with him. There’s no showing off, no preaching.
He has a sharp eye and uses it to draw sparkling word pictures. He has an uncanny sense of audience and writes for them, not the office whinger.
Country Victoria produced him. That, and a family given to learning and hard work. He was raised in East Gippsland, born in April 1957. His mother taught him to read and write through correspondence at home on the farm before he headed off to school at Nowa Nowa and Lake Tyers Aboriginal Station.
He sorted out secondary school in Sale but his life-forming break came after he twice won the Sale Agricultural Show essay competition, in 1973 and 74, collecting $5 a time. Then, Andrew says, he decided he was too small to be a mounted policeman, too big to be a professional jockey (although he won a race as an amateur, just ask) and too smart and frightened to be a boxer or rodeo rider.
After the heady success of Sale Show and given the described handicaps, he says he decided writing for money might be better than real work and that observing dangerous events was certainly better than participating in them.
So at 17 he joined the Gippsland Times and Maffra Spectator for a year before chasing a tertiary education and more dodgy schemes in the city. He lasted one week into the correspondence course in journalism at RMIT before dropping out after he found the shorthand classes were scheduled for pay night, an absurd conflict.
Next was Monash University and an Arts degree, before collecting a job at The Age after convincing editor Greg Taylor he already had an offer from The Herald. This may not have been strictly true although a few weeks later The Herald did come good. But it was too late. By then he was working at a wheat silo in Bendigo waiting for his cadet intake to begin, which it duly did in January 1979.
His career took him around the usual traps until as chief police reporter he was lured to The Herald as a feature writer and columnist. Then came books, his first in 1986 (Cuckoo), time producing television, but certainly not on camera, a stint as a sub-editor, and two years as a radio producer.
In 1994 he moved to The Sunday Age where two years later he won his first Perkin Award with a portfolio that included the Jennifer Tanner case: reporting that implicated a serving policeman in two suspicious deaths.
In 2001 there was another Perkin and the Gold Walkley for a superb expose that brought down the head of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), Geoff Clark.
This, Andrew believes, was some of the most important work of his career.
It is tribute to his professionalism that through his time he has moved around the available newspapers and is always welcome back. In an era of bitter and at times senseless competition that’s no small tribute.
Over the past 20 years he has covered bushfires, the Port Arthur massacre, a military coup, the Japanese tsunami, the Christchurch earthquake , the war in Afghanistan, the London Olympics and a Royal wedding.
With colleague John Silvester he is responsible for turning the late Mark “Chopper” Read into a questionable folk hero, and producing the Underbelly series of books which turned into prime time, blood, guts and breasts television.
He is, says Silvester, an eccentric but he doesn’t know it. He once tied his dog outside the shops but walked home, obsessed by the lead he was struggling to write for his story, leaving the puzzled animal to fend for itself.
Once, walking In Hyde Park London, he saw a hired horse carrying a screaming Japanese woman stumble and do something horses never do, sit down. The woman continued to scream. She was in strife, and some danger. Nobody knew what to do. Step forward Mr. A. Rule, of Melbourne, Australia. He rushed in, kicked the horse mightily in the rear end, and screamed at it “Get up you mongrel!” Wisely, the horse did. Job done.
“And he has real compassion,” says Silvester “He once stayed at a doss house in St Kilda for a story. He found a drunk unconscious in the stairwell and collected him in a fireman’s carry and took him to bed. He put his back out in the process.”
Like the best reporters he doesn’t enjoy sitting in an office inspecting the paintwork. He loves to be on the road, watching things happen and describing them. He has never forgotten his roots, and never lost sight of the audience he serves. He has never taken himself too seriously and has never been reluctant to step up when needed, whether it is to assault a horse or confront the perversions that can come with privilege.
He owes a little to “Arfur” Daley, and a little to Damon Runyon. If he hadn’t been the superb journalist he is, he’d probably be the bloke in the front bar selling fake Rolexes from inside his coat.
Instead he’s Andrew Rule, the timeless reporter, the man for all seasons, all eras and many good yarns. He comes with no agenda. He cares about every word and comma. He’s the master of the telling anecdote. And he gets it right.
That’s why we should be pleased he gave up jockeying; the horses certainly are.
Neil Mitchell was editor of The Herald, a reporter and news executive on The Age, and has been a leading broadcaster on 3AW since 1987. When Sports Editor on The Age and attempting to guide some of the best sports writers ever gathered in one place in this country, he was assigned Andrew Rule as a cadet. This taught them both a great deal.
Andrew Rule caricature, by John Spooner.
John Silvester and Andrew Rule, courtesy of Fairfax.
Cuckoo: A True Story of Murder and its Detection, Andrew Rule, Floradale Press, 1988.
Rose Against the Odds: The Lionel Rose Story, (adapted from John Dixon’s original screenplay) Andrew Rule, Floradale Productions, 1981.
Underbelly series (various titles). Andrew Rule with John Silvester.