The huge heart of horrible Hannay

HANNAY'S WAY David Hannay and Mary Moody.
HANNAY’S WAY David Hannay and Mary Moody.

A Writer remembers a great man.

The Hannay-Moodys first came into my family’s life because of human caring.

Our mum was an old-school nurse who ‘specialed’ Mary Moody and David Hannay’s youngest son Ethan at Katoomba Hospital when he was a very sick baby one night.

Soon after, mum was invited to their rambling home in Victoria Street, Leura, for a party, which she enthused about later as a wild thrill.

Mary was dressed as Dame Edna and there had been a cake in the shape of a funnel-web spider!

We were a family in the wake of divorce, which had left us a bit shamed in a country town, and the multi-generational, blended Hannay-Moody clan was a throng of fun and acceptance. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Blue Mountains was replete with such families, and usually one or both parents was a practising artist.

David was often away working, but in the mid-1980s he brought his filmmaking juggernaut to the Blue Mountains, which served as a backdrop for two period films.

I recall one afternoon when word got around about a film crew in an old house down the road in Wentworth Falls, and there was a film star in town.

We all got on our bikes and raced around to see what we could see. The crew was not remote or high-and-mighty. They let a bunch of enthusiastic local kids glimpse a bit of magic on our doorstep.

The film was one of Hannay’s rarely seen classics, Emma’s War, and the star was about as Hollywood as it gets – Lee Remick – who our generation had all seen in the first Omen movie, rented from the brand new video shop in town.

040718050006_lWe didn’t get to see her, but we saw Hannay on the set, and we were sure that if we were standing in the wrong place he’d just start booming at us. Then, he waved. That was Hannay.

I went off to NIDA and trained in production design, and at the end of my third year I needed to find myself an internship. There were two films being shot in Sydney in late 1991. Strictly Ballroom already had a whole costume rack of design department interns, so I wrote to Hannay and asked if I could help on the crew of Shotgun Wedding.

It was no easy gig for me to land. I needed to apply for an interview with the production designer, state my case for inclusion, and wait for the call.

I didn’t see Hannay until we were on location in Warriewood in Sydney’s north, and he came by the production design office on the afternoon I was tasked with bottling and labelling crates of 1970s beer bottles for the shoot.

Seeing me hard at work on solid production detail, Hannay nodded, got on with his job, and left me to mine.

At the end of my first week, I was surprised to receive a pay cheque, which happened at the end of every week I was on the film. Payment wasn’t part of the deal, but I felt very valued by that gesture. That was Hannay.

Barely more than a month later our mum died at home in her own bed, as Hannay did this week. The Hannay-Moodys made good on their promise to her that they would bring a slab of beer to her wake.

I was sitting on the sidelines, in a state of shock, but the ripple of warmth and reality that arrived with that gesture was truly life enlarging.

They didn’t stop at that. I was booked on a flight to England to take up a scholarship at film school, but I had a burning secret: having taken two months to care for mum at home, I didn’t have quite enough money to go.

Mary and David went into action with a bunch of other locals and produced a fundraiser at Katoomba’s Clarendon Theatre, which served two purposes. Firstly, it raised me enough funds to complete the course, but it also provided a focus for a grieving community.

Hannay oversaw the night’s auction, the most memorable moment of which came when he held up a pair of white y-fronts and shook them around like an old-time music hall emcee, announcing they had been worn by Aden Young, “The New Mel Gibson!”.

Many of the guests choked on their dessert. That was Hannay.

By the time I got back to Australia, years later, I got to know Hannay as an adult.

Who can ever forget a conversation with the greatest raconteur who ever walked amongst us? All who survived one of his name-dropping, Hemingway-styled rants came away with new ideas walloped like capsules of truth into our consciousness.

He was a rabid conversationalist, David Hannay, and he knew his stuff.

A few weeks ago I spoke to him for what was to be the last time, and I was amazed at the robustness of his voice after months of chemotherapy, and told him so.

This, of course, led to all manner of topics, from his enduring bitter hatred of Whitlam over the Balibo Five (how on earth did we get onto that… that was Hannay!) to the state of the nation under Abbott. Then came a Hannayesque moment like no other.

He paused, and thanked me, open-heartedly, for speaking with him on the phone for so long. “You have made my day,” he said. I scoffed. “No, you really have. Here I was, feeling like shit, and you’ve come along and helped me forget my troubles.”

In the light of his very public, courage-redefining attempt to beat back death, this floored me, and I told him how glad I was to find a way to repay his emotional presence in my life.

When I was a kid, everyone seemed frightened of dads who boomed and railed, but, having escaped a sullen and remote father of my own, ‘horrible Hannay’ and his thundering presence was an education in how conversations are give and take. Despite all his bravado, he wanted us to answer back.

Injustice got Hannay’s attention, every time. It’s the thread which runs through his work. Years after one of your life’s unfair turns, Hannay would remind you he was still feeling the rage with you.

When I think about how much his heart was put to use on others’ behalf, it’s amazing that it kept him going for so long.


The silence, now, is going to be profound.

Thanks to Mary, Miriam, Tony, Aaron, Ethan, and all Hannay’s family for sharing him with the rest of us.

He will be impossible to forget. We’re just going to have to keep the conversation going regardless.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved. 

6 thoughts on “The huge heart of horrible Hannay”

  1. I’ve got goose bumps! Love to you all – to all the people who are hurting and to all the people with personal memories. I am just an outsider but wish you all well – may your memories of this fine man be happy ones. So happy to have been part of some of the young people’s lives.

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