Trevor Cullen: JERAA Life Member

By Professor Kerry Green


I want to acknowledge the fantastic work Trevor’s done over a distinguished academic career that’s taken him to various countries around the world.

My family’s been fortunate to be able to count Trevor as a friend for many years now, and I remember that we graduated with our PhDs together from the University of Queensland more than two decades ago.

He’s a fantastic teacher and thousands of students have benefited from his work in the classroom.

He’s also a very able administrator, and many of us in JERAA have benefited from his abilities in this area and from his advocacy on behalf of journalism education.

And his research into health issues in third world countries, in particular, has shone a light on distressing situations in Africa, Asia and the Pacific.

His work means he’s known and appreciated around the world, but not everyone realises that Trevor’s an academic and a former priest – a priest who has ministered to people around the world.

I’m reminded of the first time I came across Trevor, and realised just how influential you were within the Catholic Church.

I was in Rome with my wife and kids, gathered with the multitude outside St Peter’s Cathedral, waiting for the Pope to appear and give us all the papal blessing.

The Pope usually appeared on a balcony to bestow his blessing on the pilgrims below, but the crowd was so huge that the balcony was some distance away and it was difficult to see what was happening.

Suddenly, a roar went up from the crowd, and two indistinct figures appeared on the distant balcony and waved to those of us gathered below. I turned to one of the local priests next to me and asked who they were.

He replied: “I don’t know who the person in the white robes and funny hat is, but the bloke standing next to him’s Trevor Cullen.”

Okay, okay – so maybe that didn’t really happen, but there is a “devilish” side and a “wicked” sense of humour to Trevor that hides beneath that unflappable exterior.

And if it didn’t happen, it could’ve happened and probably should have happened.

To give you some sense of that larrikin side of Trevor, I need to first tell you something about myself.

I’ve got a terrible reputation for always being the poor unfortunate who gets chosen from the audience when performers need a fall guy on stage.

I get picked out all the time – “You there, the little fat, balding guy with the white beard; come up here and be humiliated.”

Some of you here think that I joke, that I’m exaggerating – I assure you that I am not.

There are holiday-makers around the world who are still shocked and traumatised by my inability to sing, dance or make sausage dogs out of five blow-up balloons.

I’ve stunned audiences with my strangled attempts to follow professional yodellers at a show in Switzerland, I’ve ruined the reputations of Australian males by failing to down steins of beer in Austria, and there is a vice-chancellor of a university in Thailand who still tells people he almost rescinded the MOU we’d signed earlier when he heard my attempt to sing “I did it my way” at the karaoke restaurant they insisted we go to.

So, when IAMCR held its conference dinner at (I think) the Guinness rooftop function centre in Dublin, it was no surprise when the featured group of (you guessed it) Irish dancers chose me out of the audience to get up and perform a jig along with them.

I think everyone knows how these moments go – no matter how much you protest, your fate is sealed: you must get up and make a fool of yourself, and pretend you enjoyed it.

Part of the enjoyment for audience members is derived from the knowledge that they’ve been spared the embarrassment of being picked out themselves – a case of: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

On this occasion, though, it was a case of “There but for the grace of Trevor”, because the entertainers accepted my protests, spared me, and moved along to the person sitting beside me – Trevor – who accepted the invitation with obvious and unseemly relish.

So up on the stage he went, and followed the steps of the professional dancers without missing a beat.

Indeed, as they got faster and more intricate, Trevor seemed to be more and more at home with the steps until the performers, baffled by their inability to (literally) trip him up, gave up, gave him a round of applause and expressed their genuine admiration.

When he got back to our table, I asked Trevor: “How did you do that?!”

It turns out Trevor, who is from Ireland, is a twin. When they were kids, their Mum sent his twin sister to Irish dance school and (I suppose in the name of gender equity), Trevor was sent too and completed the lessons up to a very high level.

The entertainers, it seems – entirely by accident – had chosen the only bloke in the room who probably could have given them lessons in Irish dancing.

Folks, I tell you this story as a cautionary tale; you’ve got be careful around Trevor, you can never be sure of what he actually knows or what other arcane skills he might have. And they say the quiet ones are the deep ones.

Next time you’re on the dance floor, ask him for a quick demo of an Irish Jig; he’s really very, very good!

All I know is that I’m a little leery of him now, and when he next visits Adelaide, I’m taking him to a strip club – I want to see what kind of pole dancer he is!

Trevor – happy retirement; although with the WJEC to follow, I know it’s really only a pretend retirement.

JERAA conference, Perth, 2022

Main image by T.J. Thomson

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