Chips Mackinolty has released the following statement on the loss of one of the Territory’s great writers:
Respected Northern Territory writer Andrew McMillan, 54, died this evening at his home in Darwin. He was with friends.
“Andrew was one of the Territory’s great eccentrics—but also one of its best contemporary writers,” said Mr Mackinolty.
“He came to the Territory chasing music as a journalist, which led to the influential book Strict Rules which covered the Warumpi Band/Midnight Oil tour of the Territory and never looked back as a writer.
“He was also the leader of the band, Darwin’s Fourth Estate, a notorious collection of journalists and real musicians. The band’s last performance was held nearly a year ago, to celebrate a Living Wake for Andrew.
“He was working till the end, writing, performing and producing a CD with his latest band, The Rattling Mudguards, as well as finalising an anthology of his writings. Both will be released posthumously.
“At his wish, Andrew will be buried near Larrimah, followed by a wake at the Railway Clubon dates to be announced.
“Andrew made it known that he is deeply grateful for support over the last year given to him by the Palliative Care staff at RDH.”
I’ve sung McMillan’s praises many times since I began writing this blog. My first encounter with his work came in the days after I discovered the Warumpi Band for the first time: while searching for the scarce video of the Blackfella/Whitefella tour, I stumbled across a reference to Strict Rules, which, happily, was easy to purchase a copy of. McMillan’s style of reportage puzzled me at first. It was idiosyncratic, personal, mystifying and then suddenly rewarding.
An Intruder’s Guide to East Arnhem Land remains, for me, the best book about the history of the region I’ve read, and it was a delight when I heard that Niblock Publishing was reprinting it, along with Strict Rules, a couple of years ago. After finishing it, I was a confirmed member of the Andrew McMillan fan club, and sought out Catalina Dreaming, his history of the Australian flying boats of the Second World War. It’s the only book of military history I think I’ve ever read, and it was gripping, illuminating, and fun, all at the same time.
My last encounter with McMillan’s prose was the text he prepared for Tiwi Footy: Yiloga in 2008, an essay that I suspect is one of the few works apart from the Bible that’s been translated into the Tiwi language.
I’ve returned to McMillan’s books time and time again, for pleasure and for reference to the wealth of information they contain. In this moment of sadness at our loss of a brilliant man, I find comfort in knowing that his words will remain close to me, quite literally within reach as I type now, for the rest of my days.