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Mungo MacCallum, veteran journalist and commentator, dies aged 78

The political journalist and commentator became known for his wit, intellect and fierce criticism of governments, with friends and fellow journalists describing his death as a loss to the nation.

Tributes are flowing for veteran political journalist and commentator Mungo MacCallum who has died aged 78.

Key points:
  • The veteran political journalist and commentator died at home on Wednesday
  • The 78-year-old spent decades covering politics for Australia's major media groups
  • Friend and fellow journalist Kerry O'Brien says his death is a loss to the nation

MacCallum spent decades covering politics for mastheads including The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald and for the ABC.

He penned numerous books and essays and became known for his wit, intellect and fierce criticism of governments.

He moved to the Northern Rivers region of NSW in the 1980s and was well known locally for his column for the Byron Shire Echo.

MacCallum's later years were marked by ill health; he suffered a heart attack as well as from throat and prostate cancer.

Man with a beard, Mungo MacCallumMan with a beard, Mungo MacCallum
MacCallum continued to write up until a week before his death.(Source: ABC News)

Despite his health he continued writing for The Echo, publishing last week on Australia's precarious situation with China.

Friend and fellow journalist Kerry O'Brien said MacCallum's death was a loss to the nation.

"He certainly didn't hold back on what he saw as the sins of life and the tragedies of life, but he was almost always eternally cheerful," O'Brien said.

"This guy has given so much to Australia, really, and to humanity."

Tributes have flowed in this morning on the ABC and social media:

"My memories are maybe from his Nation Review days, or that era at least. I was and still am grateful for he was a man and a writer and a journalist of great substance.

"Thanks Mungo, you are irreplaceable. I will now begin an odyssey of reading all 11 of your books and ensuring our libraries stock them.

"We sometimes don't realise our national treasures until they're gone. Your writings remain as one of your legacies." — an ABC listener

"Thank you for your contributions Mungo. Our branch will sorely miss you." — Byron Bay Labor

"One of a kind. His wry humour and keen intelligent observation was an example of what journalism should be. Will miss his presence among us." — Nirando Griffin

"Mungo was a brilliant and funny writer. He wrote what needed to be written and was an unfailing advocate for equality and equity.

"I saw him with his doggie at the vets not so long ago and the love for both the dog and his wife Jenny was evident.

"He was a lovely man and a heavy hitter in our community. RIP Mungo." — Adrienne Dewdney

A man with a beard looks at a large cardboard cut-out.A man with a beard looks at a large cardboard cut-out.
Gough Whitlam once described MacCallum as a "bearded descendant of lunatic aristocrats".(AAP: Alan Porritt)

Richard Walsh, a former colleague and lifelong friend, said he met MacCallum when they debated against each other as school boys.

Mr Walsh said MacCallum was able to achieve what he did courtesy of his independent mind.

"He didn't suffer fools gladly, he never bent his opinion to meet other people's demands, and he could only do that because he was comfortable in his skin."

Mr Walsh said MacCallum's confidence came in part from his family — his father was a journalist and pioneer of Australian television, his grandfather was a professor at Sydney University, and his mother was a descendant of politician and explorer William Charles Wentworth.

Former prime minister Gough Whitlam once described MacCallum as a "tall, bearded descendant of lunatic aristocrats".

Find more local newsA last goodbye

MacCallum signed off on his career just last week, writing:

"I never thought I'd say it but I can no longer go on working.

"I am sorry to cut and run — it has sometimes been a hairy career, but I hope a productive one and always fun.

"My gratitude for all your participation."

"Thank you and good night."

He died at home on Wednesday surrounded by family and his beloved dogs.

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