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Horin, Adele Marilyn (1951–2015)

by Debra Jopson

from Sydney Morning Herald

A few days before she died, Adele Horin sat up in bed and raised her voice in protest over her colleagues' plan to honour her lifelong contribution to journalism at the upcoming Walkley Awards ceremony in Melbourne. "I'm not one of the greats," she insisted. "Those are the investigative reporters who expose corruption. Besides, it's activists, not journalists, who change the world."

Many readers, as well as her colleagues, beg to differ. When Fairfax ran her final column for her Coming of Age blog, in which she explained that she had become too ill to write, the deluge of responses from those who loved her clear-eyed humanitarian journalism crashed her website, adelehorin.com.au.

Horin, small in stature, unassuming, with a wry humour which she often turned to self-deprecation, may also have scoffed at the idea that she worked in dangerous areas, given her focus as a journalist on the domestic realm and on social issues. But her trailblazing reporting on the potentially explosive social changes taking place right under our noses helped to transform Australian journalism, and sometimes took the authorities' failing of society's most vulnerable people right to the edge.

She could also take her media bosses to the edge. More than three decades ago, her voyage into the heart of the sexual revolution for the weekly National Times caused company director John B. Fairfax trouble with the board because his august newspaper group was publishing the word "orgasm" for the first time. For this series, which won her a Walkley feature writing award in 1981, ordinary citizens were drawn by her warm inquisitiveness to reveal their innermost thoughts on sex.

Four years ago, her scorching revelations in The Sydney Morning Herald about abuse and neglect of disabled residents of a boarding house in country NSW led to their safe removal and won a Human Rights award. Her persistent campaign led the NSW government to change the law to protect the rights of boarding house residents.

Her regular columns for the Herald and Sunday Age also documented the concerns of her generation of babyboomers in print, on air during a stint as foundation member of Radio National's Life Matters team and in her final years, online in her own blog.

For one of the beneficiaries of the 1970s feminist wave who, at 31, was made deputy editor of the National Times, the personal was political, but it was also a damn good subject for intellectual inquiry, conversation – and jokes.

Horin wrote about 10 years ago on the indignity of buying a swimming costume in middle age: "I tried on a cream crinkled one that made me look like a lump of masking tape and a floral two-piece which gave the appearance of an oversized napkin in a serviette ring … I tried on a black number with a midriff and looked like a jellyfish in mourning."

Adele Horin was born on January 25, 1951 and grew up in an ordinary home in the then modest Perth suburb of Applecross, the only daughter of Maurie Horin and his wife, Sara (nee Shilony). She and her two brothers were sometimes made to feel different, being part of a close-knit Jewish family in a suburb which was then far from cosmopolitan.

She attended the local public primary and high schools and gained an arts degree from the University of Western Australia.

She began learning her craft on the West Australian's women's pages in Perth, instilled with orthodox journalistic ethics and standards requiring fairness and accuracy above all. Her first job was to type out the weather page. She recalled: "I once got the timing of the sunrise wrong and incurred the wrath of every Western Australian farmer, fisherman and Country Party MP who rang into the paper to complain. I'd never seen a sunrise myself and had no idea how important this small detail was to the lives of so many and to the WA economy."

Her shorthand speed and accuracy made her the envy of many colleagues. In the Herald's Sydney newsroom, where she worked for 18 years, her slim figure was wedged between precariously balanced piles of notebooks and files which looked set to swallow her one day.

But Adele, almost always on the phone, filling another notebook, gently probing with most interviewees, ruthlessly steely with those dodging her questions, was oblivious.

She had known true danger. In 1974, she reported on the plight of the families of the "disappeared ones" under Chile's repressive Pinochet regime. She felt deeply for the mothers. Aged just 23, she was banned from returning. In Afghanistan, she donned a disguise to spend time with the Mujahideen for a National Times story in 1985.

Despite her gentle manner, her fierce intellect could be intimidating. She could be very forthright. She was also very knowledgeable. She spent at least one working day reading and, as an insomniac, listened to radio in the late night and early morning. And she was rigorous, often filled with angst while working on a story; consulting, honing.

Horin's gift was to express her love for people, from her family, through to her very wide circle of friends, to her readers and beyond that, to humanity itself. Illustrator Michael Fitzjames remembers when Adele, who drank little alcohol, was writing a sociological feature on pub culture: "So off she went to sit in some ochreous yellow-tiled rubbity​ nearby. 'Just a shandy, please.' Hours later, she came into the office ever so lightly flushed and enthused as only she could, about the experience. 'It was really nice,' she cried."

Even following brain surgery just weeks ago, when cancer had spread perilously through her body, Horin spent her night in a public hospital ward listening to the conversations around her. "The courage of ordinary, sick people is awe-inspiring," she wrote in one of her last blog posts.

She loved dancing, poetry, reading and discussing novels with her closeknit book group. She enjoyed talking for days on end with her mother on trips back to Perth.

A dedicated urbanite, she had a thoroughly Australian love of the outdoors, spending many holidays camping or in bayside holiday huts with her family.

She met her husband, Paul Ireland, in April 1985, at a party, where she asked him to dance. He thinks it amazing that their relationship flourished, given that her dancing ability far outstripped his, but they remained deeply in love.

Horin never stopped writing, never stopped talking. Her column graced Fairfax pages for 27 years. After she took voluntary redundancy three years ago, she was delighted to find that her blog brought her closer to her readers. A reader wrote: "You give me the sense that I'm connected to you and everyone else who reads your questioning and/or wise words or writes a comment back. In a world of increasing social isolation, I really value that sense of connection."

Her restless mind sought out what each issue she faced meant to herself, her friends, her generation, Australia, even the world – workplace equality, childcare access, where to send the kids to school, or the wonder and worry of ageing parents.

Adele Horin is survived by Paul, sons Sam and Jeremy, mother Sara, brothers Andrew and Laurie and their families.

Original publication

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Citation details

Debra Jopson, 'Horin, Adele Marilyn (1951–2015)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/horin-adele-marilyn-23100/text32369, accessed 8 August 2022.

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