One of Australia’s most recognised journalists, Mike Willesee, has died at the age of 76 after a battle with throat cancer, the ABC has reported.
For many years the foremost voice of current affairs, Willesee hosted the ABC’s Four Corners for two years from 1969 to 1971, after which he started his own nightly programme, A Current Affair, on the Nine Network.
During his time as host he discovered a young comedian called Paul Hogan and famously turned the tide of the 1993 federal election campaign when he asked then Liberal leader John Hewson: “If I buy a birthday cake from a cake shop, and GST is in place, do I pay more or less for that birthday cake?”
Hewson’s fumbling response was poorly received by the Australian public, and many believe it led to his subsequent loss to Labor’s Paul Keating.
Two years ago, the journalist with a reputation for toughness told Catholic Weekly his faith in God had sustained him after the shock diagnosis of throat cancer in late 2016.
“It was one of those moments where it doesn’t seem real,” Willesee said.
“I think having God in my life made it easy to accept. This is what’s happening. If that’s what God wants, that’s ok. It really doesn’t matter because so often Jesus told us to be ready … You don’t know what time the Master will come home in the night.”
Brought up a Catholic, Willesee stopped practising his faith as a young man in response to an attack by two priests on his father – ALP senator Don Willesee — who had refused to join the Catholic dominated DLP.
His views began to change in 1998 in Nairobi, Kenya, after he had a premonition that a plane he was about to board was going to crash. He got on the plane anyway and it did crash. As the plane dived towards the ground, Willesee prayed to the God he wasn’t sure he believed in. He walked away from the crash unscathed.
He then began investigating supernatural phenomena after travelling to Bolivia to investigate claims that a woman there, Katya Rivas, was receiving messages from Jesus.
“I went to actually prove it wasn’t true. Because everything else in that area I’d investigated had always been false — fraud or cult,” he said in 2017.
He changed his mind when he witnessed her suffering the stigmata — the physical wounds of Christ’s passion in her body.
“I believed that what I was seeing was true,” he said. The day after filming he returned to Katya’s house to discover that the wounds on her body had completely healed.
The subsequent documentary, Signs from God, was reportedly viewed by a 28 million people in the US in 1999. But Willesee still did not return to the Catholic faith when he made his first confession to a priest in his offices above a restaurant in Sydney.
He says the experience made him feel that he had “no weight.”
“It was like being excessively overweight and then coming out slim and fit. I thought, wow, this is good.”