By Warren Nunn

Me: Goodbye my friend.

John: Goodbye Warren. Hooroo.

Me: I love you John.

John: I love you too Warren. Bye.

These are the last statements of my final conversation with John Watson, my friend of 47-plus years.

He passed from this life on Thursday, 15 December 2023.

How can anyone know that when they meet someone that a friendship will develop and last for decades?

We can’t of course. But when I look back, I think on that first meeting and how it impacted my life.

For me, it was clearly providential when I met John Watson in 1976.

He was a “big shot” journalist who’d come from Sydney and had experience way beyond his years.

I was 22, newly married to Lorelle, and so immature in nature and in my journalism. I was enthusiastic but hopelessly ill-equipped for the role I’d been placed in.

John was nine years my senior but he never made me feel inferior and also encouraged me by example.

John and Suzy Watson

John and Suzy Watson at our home in Arana Hills about 2015.

That was the way he taught without knowing he was teaching. He didn’t criticise or condemn. He would have had ample opportunity to do so based on some of my decisions both professionally and personally.

Our time working together at the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin was more than character-building. There was a mix of good and bad; as can be expected.

The worst was the industrial disputes that brought uncertainty but they also were great times as we had to work even harder to produce a daily paper.

Our friendship strengthened and blossomed in a busy newsroom at a time when technological advancements began to radically change how newspapers were produced.

We talked through the night on many occasions.

We walked along Kinka Beach for hours chatting and we tackled the hills and beaches of Great Keppel Island, mostly on foot, but sometimes on a quad bike and once flying a kite from the back of a ute.

All things newspapers and journalism in general were at the forefront of our conversations. Yet family and life was where we shared deepest.

Somewhat embarrassingly we had the shared experience of missing out on reporting arguably the biggest-ever event in Central Queensland; the bombing of the Iwasaki Resort in November 1980.

We’d finished putting out that Saturday’s paper about 2am, and drove down to Kinka Beach where we drank tea and talked to daylight before heading off to the Yeppoon Golf Club for an early morning game.

We had no idea of the events unfolding nearby. Our colleagues Jack Tadman and Philip Cass got to report the drama for Monday’s paper.

Family times with the Watsons

John took us into his family without us even realising it. It’s a blur looking back but it seemed that immediately our lives revolved around time spent with John and Suzy Watson at Kinka Beach.

Their sons Rhodes and Rhett were little boys who later became “big brothers” to our daughters Rebecca and Haylee.

In the joy of being together as families, we laughed lots and thoroughly enjoyed spending time together.

Time in the house mostly consisted of robust discussions, raucous laughter and pots of tea followed by more pots of tea.

As Rebecca grew she followed Rhett around and called him “Rat” because she couldn’t properly pronounce his name.

But times change and the shades came down on that gloriously wonderful 10-year window after we moved to Brisbane in 1986 when I joined The Courier-Mail as a sub-editor.

But the friendship was never dulled and regular visits to Rockhampton included a trip to the Coast and time spent with the Watsons.

We sometimes went over to their beach house on Great Keppel Island as well.

Regular telephone calls were a highlight as John shared with his unquenchable enthusiasm on various situations he had encountered; especially in his dealings with the Livingstone Shire Council.

There was always something happening for John and Suzy.

I began to talk more with Suzy over those years as well because John would sometimes be away from home when I telephoned.

At each call, we simply picked up from where we left off.

It was a close family dynamic despite the distance.

Before we left Rockhampton, the Watsons made weekly breakfast visits after they started publishing the Capricorn Coast Mirror.

We helped wrap and deliver the very first edition.

The police stopped us that night while I was driving the Watsons’ mini-moke on and off footpaths as we delivered papers. They quickly recognised “Mrs Watson” in the passenger seat and we were allowed to continue.

We returned to our task as the mad rush continued to have the paper on every Capricorn Coast lawn for the first time.

We loved the hands-on stuff. It was all about getting things done.

We didn’t think about eating or sleeping.

Up all night, drinking tea

It was “normal” to stay up all night talking and drinking tea. And eating lots of cakes and other sugary treats.

Even though both John and Suzy became diabetics, they didn’t let that slow them down.

Lorelle said more recently that John and Suzy really lived their lives. They could have had a better diet, but they chose to live life with gusto.

We didn’t think of it back then, but all those long nights, questionable diets and exhausting schedules of writing and producing their publications was always going to have some health consequences in the long term.

Add to that their legendary efforts of driving to and from Gympie to have their paper printed. It was a 1000km round trip!

They’d sleep in the car and bring the papers back to the Coast and then deliver them.

To others John and Suzy Watson were eccentrics.

John and Suzy Watson and their son Rhett

Arana Hills about 1988: John and Suzy Watson and son Rhett. I still use that teapot which was a gift from John and Suzy.

To us they were/are beautiful, faithful friends who treated us with love and kindness and made us feel good about ourselves.

It was almost impossible to “have a win” over John, particularly in a debate, but I did get to prank him on one occasion.

At Maccas one night I seized an opportunity to shock John as he excused himself to use the facilities. He didn’t know I was right behind him. I grabbed a mop and gave him enough time to “get started” before booming out “cleaner coming in” as I pushed the mop towards the urinal.

I can’t remember John’s exact words but we both dissolved into laughter. John was genuinely shocked. It was a mixture of surprise and embarrassment. I don’t think he soiled his trousers though.

John loved to expose absurdities

As I look back, it wasn’t John’s “wisdom” that necessarily encouraged me. It was his unbridled enthusiasm for telling a story and for ensuring it was accurate and balanced.

He didn’t need to embellish anything because he would draw out every ounce of information from a situation and add an appropriate (and sometimes inappropriate) level of humour; whether it was needed or not.

He quickly identified absurdities and exposed them.

Conversations were never dull. I learnt so much from John because I was “forced” to listen.

But that’s not to suggest that he did not listen and appreciate my input. He did. And we have shared much more meaningfully than ever before in the past several months.

Even though this is meant to be a tribute to John, it has to include Suzy even though she left us early in 2022.

I had the wonderful privilege of going to Great Keppel Island with John, Rhodes and Rhett to spread some of Suzy’s ashes.

We stood in the water, embraced, and all of us cried for that wonderful woman; wife, mother and friend.

I fleetingly felt like an outsider, but realised that I was part of something much bigger in that moment; and indeed in all the moments that we had shared over four-plus decades.

John was unwell before we went to the island and we got him to the hospital just in time. I really thought he wouldn’t make it that day but, providentially, he was granted more life.

It is now time for me to die

John Watson obituary

A journalist to the end, John Watson decided to publish his obituary before he died.

John always did things his own way. He said he was born to be a journalist. And he chose to die as a journalist.

That was why his decision to publish his own obituary was no surprise to those who knew him.

Much of my final conversation with him focused on those early days working together, particularly his first reporting role at the Duaringa Shire Council.

Bear in mind that this was a man who had several months beforehand been the managing editor of a weekly newspaper group!

He loved reporting so much and embraced the difference of “working in the bush”  and dealing with people without pretensions and agendas.

Of that day at Duaringa, John said: “I changed personality up there. From the moment I met Kerry Park (Duaringa Shire Council chairman at the time) I enjoyed the man’s company. The whole day, it just stayed with me. I can see that day vividly.”

So his more recent quip that he didn’t want to be scooped is so very John Watson. John Watson the man and the professional journalist. A storyteller. A chronicler of events.

To get an idea of how that light burnt bright in his life right up to the end, this excerpt from his obituary – written by his son Rhett – tells you so much about the man

Seventy-eight-year old John Watson was born in 1968 – 55 years ago – and is expected to die before the end of 2023.

No, the maths aren’t wrong.

He considered that his life started when he met and fell in love with Suzy Watson – a beautiful, smart and caring blonde bombshell who would become the centre of his universe.

The copy above that you just read was a rough idea that dad mulled over as a possible way to start his obituary.

Talking about Eternity

Over the course of my life, I’d come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ and often talked of that with John.

John even joined me at church in Brisbane one Sunday and was clearly challenged by the sermon.

After the service, he spoke with Pastor Mark Redman who gave John the text of that evening’s message and prayed for him ahead of his pacemaker surgery.

I continued to share with John my conviction that he needed to make a decision now about where he wanted to spend Eternity.

As John’s time neared, Rev. Rob Stanley from Emu Park ministered and shared the Gospel message with John who wholeheartedly accepted it. Rob said it was a glorious night.

When I heard of this I cried tears of joy.

I love John Watson as a friend. I love the wonderful conversations we had. I love the walks. I love having someone to rely on. I love that I was always accepted.

I love John Watson because he is a gift from God.

And I’d love to speak again with him again in Eternity.

And there’s more … some photos


John Watson spa

When John and Suzy Watson had a spa installed at Kinka Beach about 1990, John thought it would be a good idea to enhance the experience with some liquid soap.


John Watson suds

John was soon covered in soap suds … to put it mildly.


Warren Nunn and John Watson

Always willing to be part of the fun, I joined John in the tub.


Kinka Beach house about 1993

Kinka Beach house about in the early 1990s. That’s our Daihatsu Applause that we bought around that time.


John Watson at golf

John Watson at golf probably around 1993. The T-shirt implies that John has a low handicap of three. However, if you zoom in, the message actually reads: I HAVE A bent THREE iron and a 27 HANDICAP.


Suzy Watson and Rebecca Nunn 1987

Suzy Watson and Rebecca Nunn at Kinka Beach in 1987.


Suzy and John at Arana Hills about 1995

Suzy and John Watson at Arana Hills about 1995. This was the time they came to Brisbane to see a production at South Bank.