Nick Cater is a writer and media commentator on political and cultural affairs. Born and educated in the United Kingdom, he has been a proud Australian citizen for 30 years. He became Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre in 2014 after a long career as a journalist, foreign correspondent and editor. His book The Lucky Culture was published in 2013. He writes regularly for The Australian, hosts the Watercooler podcast and appears frequently on radio and television.

A word from the co-writer

Tony McLellan does not lightly accept the word “no” for an answer, which helps explain how he came to lead such an interesting and varied life. Tenaciousness is a quality that has served Tony well for more than 80 years, turning his journey into a story worth telling. 

His persistence also helps explain my association with this book. I politely declined Tony’s first invitation to help him craft his story, making the point that the good Lord in his infinite wisdom had only put 24 hours in the day. The argument cut no ice with Tony, however, and so I went along for the ride. I’m glad I did.

I found myself captivated with the story of Tony’s childhood growing up on a property in western New South Wales where a can-do spirit is a matter of survival and nothing is handed to you on a plate. I pestered him for more stories from that period and visited Jumble Plains myself where I was shown around Tony’s childhood home, unoccupied and somewhat dilapidated, by the property’s current hospitable owners, Ros and Greg Baker. 

My wife Rebecca and I made a pilgrimage to the Tottenham Hotel where Tony first encountered his wife Rae in the breakfast room. We called on Paula Clegg and her husband Richard, who described young Tony bouncing out of his flash sports car to cross Umang Street in Tottenham exuding confidence beyond his years and not a little charm.

After moving to Sydney and later to Melbourne, Tony rode the commercial property boom of the 1960s. He gained the reputation for leadership that launched his international career working on projects in the Pacific, Egypt, Europe, Canada and the United States.  In crafting a series of fascinating anecdotes into a narrative, I was impressed by Tony’s record-keeping, including a detailed itinerary or hundreds of international flights and a chronological list of the 41 homes the McLellans occupied on four continents over six decades of married life.

This story is much more than the story of a highflying globetrotter who shared flights on Concorde with the rich and famous. It is a story of man who discovered himself through self-reflection and grace. By the time he reached 50, Tony had achieved what counts in worldly terms as success, allowing for the ups and downs in his business fortunes. What was missing, however, was the spiritual dimension, the acknowledgement of a greater force, a guiding hand and a life lived for others directed by God.

Not everyone who reads this story will share Tony’s faith and some may find his Christian interpretation of the world in the second half of the book somewhat challenging. As someone who’s faith has wavered over the years, I sympathise, but would encourage readers to persist. Wrestling with these sections of the book has been enlightening for me, forcing me to draw on the understanding of scripture with which I was blessed in my younger years and thinking deeply about the meaning of discipleship. 

Difficult as some of us may find it to surrender to faith, I share Tony’s conviction that we must not shirk from the gospel’s message or try to soften its edges. The modernisers who try to lower the barriers to entry into God’s kingdom by watering down the more demanding aspects remove the very essence of faith. As Cardinal George Pell once memorably explained to me, offering the trappings of Christianity without acceptance of the Divine is like serving a glass of tonic without the gin.

Working as closely as Tony and I on a project such as this was either going to make or break our friendship. I am delighted to say that our friendship has only deepened as our understanding of one another has grown. My thanks go to Rae and Tony for their warm hospitality, to Rebecca for agreeing to join me on our summer journey to Tullamore, and to the Bakers, the Cleggs and many other solid folk who made us feel so welcome.

My aim was to ensure that Tony’s decency, warmth and selfless devotion is illuminated on the printed page as brightly as it shines in the flesh. I hope you will enjoy taking this journey with him as I have.

Nick Cater - April 2021