28 May, 2023
One of Australia’s finest writers and one of the Guild’s most loyal and influential members, Mac Gudgeon, sadly passed away last week after a long illness.
The President of the Australian Writers' Guild, Shane Brennan, said, ‘Mac was a towering presence in the Guild. He was not just our heart and soul, he was our conscience, that little voice in our head that said ‘we have to fight this’. And fight we did, so many battles with Mac standing, unflinching, on the front line.’
‘Mac didn’t just man the barricades, he built them. His contribution to this Guild, to the place we earned at the table, to the concessions we won over decades, should never be forgotten. And yes, Mac was one helluva writer.’
– Shane Brennan
Mac Gudgeon was born and raised in Wollongong, a union town. In the 60s, when the federal government introduced conscription as a means of raising troops for the Vietnam War, Mac chose to become a draft resister. His father, a pharmacist and veteran of the Second World War, publicly supported him and formed an anti-conscription group.
When some of his customers took offence and boycotted the business, local unionists – wharfies, coalminers, painters & dockers – opposed to the war and conscription, switched their custom to the Gudgeon pharmacy, saving the family business.
From that day on Mac became a dedicated unionist. Whatever job he got, he joined the union. And when he became a full-time writer, he joined the Australian Writers’ Guild.
The story of how Mac became a proud, card-carrying unionist is how he recalled it on receiving Life Membership of the Guild in 2022, four decades after he first joined.
Everyone can point to a moment or events in their life that helped shape who they are. For me, that moment was the first time I met Mac Gudgeon four decades ago (over coffee in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. Where else, knowing Mac). We’d both only just had our first produced screen credit. Mac’s was for the ground-breaking Waterfront, a six hour miniseries – his first script no less – about the 1927 wharfies strike.
Mac knew the importance of solidarity, which is just one thing he taught me. What I also learned from him was the important role of being a writer and the responsibility that goes with it. Meeting him for the first time I felt a little intimidated. Here was a real writer! Looking back, the intimidation I felt also no doubt had something to do with that sparkle in his eyes which, as many who knew Mac will attest, hid lasers which could see right into you.
As well as being a great and authentic storyteller, Mac had this uncanny ability to see bullshit from a mile off. And he was never afraid to call it! It’s what made him such a fierce advocate when it came to fighting for what he believed in, be it writers’ rights or some other injustice. It also made him a terrific script editor and mentor to those whose young careers he championed, some of them now working internationally.
For close to forty years Mac was front and centre of every important campaign the Guild fought – as President, NEC and Management committee rep, Vice President, Chair of the Television committee, on the Finance committee, the Victorian State committee plus endless other committees. His contribution to the AWG is impossible to quantify, but one thing is certain: the Guild stands stronger, and we writers are all the better for it!
When it comes to putting words and actions into fighting for what you believe in, Mac was and always will be an inspiration. A forever great and loyal friend to many.
We’ll miss you, Comrade!
– Jan Sardi
For a pacifist, Mac was a fierce competitor, a warrior with a rugby ball (maybe foolishly into his forties when he busted his leg), a warrior with his pen and a warrior for the Guild. He wrote for six separate series for Simpson Le Mesurier and, such was our respect for his talent, was the only writer we ever commissioned to write a screenplay without first requiring to see the pitch.
Though we became great friends, Mac maintained a healthy wariness of producers and thought ‘hyphenates’ with a foot in both camps had to be closely watched. During those seminal years when Jan Sardi was President – and Mac and I his vice-presidents and consigliere – we fought many long and redefining battles together.
With his penetrating mind, signature grin and without a single hair out of place, Mac was the one who would strike fear into the hearts of producers, funding bodies and collection agencies alike. We shall miss him in the trenches and on the picket lines, but his passion for the Guild shall never be forgotten.
Travel safely my friend.
– Roger Simpson