IN a political landscape full of dun suits and drab rhetoric, Michael Sutherland was an entertaining splotch of colour.
The rich turn of phrase, avuncular waistline and self-deprecating wit, all ensconced in that South African drawl, formed an affable and slightly flamboyant whole.
Behind closed doors he didn’t suffer fools gladly — the turnover in his electoral office was so high I once suggested he replace the front door with a revolving one — and some ex-staffers compared his management style to president Mugabe.
But he was gregarious and charming in public, and most importantly knew how to work a room, going from unlikely election winner in 2008 to speaker of the legislative assembly.
His sense of humour and pompous baritone were perfectly suited to that role and he kept the political sprats swimming tightly in their shoals.
Politically, he was more of an independent Liberal, and often flouted the party line on domestic matters.
None of these were life or death, and he seemed content being a backbencher and enjoying the cachet that came with the speaker’s mantle.
His later political life took a lurid turn when an audio recording of ex-staffer Sherry Sufi — at that point the Liberal federal candidate for Fremantle — emerged. Mr Sufi was caught on tape doing a sexually explicit impersonation of Mr Sutherland.
In typical fashion, he brushed it off as a peccadillo and said he had moved on and bore Mr Sufi no ill will.
Perhaps that’s why Sutherland gave off the air of a man who was never particularly stressed — he didn’t hold a grudge and didn’t take himself too seriously.
Lampooned by Labor as an epicurean fat cat (they nicknamed him Sir Lunchalot), he was stereotyped as a bon vivant, but people liked him, sensing a warm and genuine man whose bark was worse than his bite.
What ever you thought of “old Sutho”, one thing’s for sure — the political skies over Mt Lawley became slightly greyer last Saturday.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK