Matthew Newton has revealed his final conversation with his father as he joined his sister Lauren in paying emotional tributes the TV legend’s state funeral in Melbourne.
Matthew Newton is in the US, where he has lived for a decade. He did not attend the moving ceremony at St Patrick’s Cathedral on Friday.
But in a letter, read out at the service by Bert Newton’s long-time friend and colleague Pete Smith, Mr Newton noted that while his dad was well known as a great entertainer, he “wouldn’t just be around for the laughs”.
“Those close to him experienced how he’d show up in the tough times too. No one more than me,” he said.
He told the 500 mourners gathered in the cathedral that had looked forward to catching up with his father over Zoom and FaceTime, often playing songs.
Mr Newton said he last spoke to his father days before he died on October 30, and it was “different from the usual”.
“The change was never directly stated, but we eschewed the stories and the laughs and just said how much we loved each other,” he said.
“During that wonderful chat, my mother was pottering around in the background, adding her two cents every now and again, and doing lovely things for dad, as usual.
“At one point, she took something into another room, and the second she left, dad leaned into the phone camera and whispered, ‘I think she’s poisoning my food, Matthew’.
“Well, we both laughed and laughed until we cried.”
Ms Newton’s tribute was also emotional, with Smith choking up as he read it out on Friday. She said she did not know if she could convey in words how much she loved her father.
“From the love I felt as a child, to watching him laugh and play games with my own children, he made us feel so special, and always brought laughter and fun to everything we did,” Smith said on her behalf.
“When I was a little girl, I always felt I was so lucky. I had two dads, one on TV, and one at home.
“He was the same funny, warm, wonderful person everyone watched on TV, but at home, he was even better.”
Ms Newton said saying goodbye to her father was heartbreaking, especially for her mother Patti.
“They loved one another so much, and I know how he waited until she left the room to take his last breath because while she was with him, he couldn’t have gone,” she said.
Dozens of TV and radio personalities, as well as Prime Minister Scott Morrison packed into the cathedral for Friday’s service. Molly Meldrum and Daryl Somers were among many from the entertainment industry at the service, along with Glenn Robbins, Andy Lee, Peter Hitchener, Sam Newman and Denis Walter.
Outside, a crowd gathered in the rain to pay tribute to the man affectionately known as “Moonface”, who died aged 83.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews spoke ahead of the Catholic requiem mass, telling the mourners Newton was someone Australians all felt they knew.
“Like a fireplace on a cold night, families would gather around their TV sets, drawn in by Bert’s warmth and sustained by his inviting ease,” he said.
“While he was first beamed into our homes in black and white, Bert was colour TV long before the technology arrived.”
Mr Andrews said everyone could be certain the entertainer’s credits would “roll on and on and on”.
Eddie McGuire gave the eulogy, describing the entertainer’s upbringing in a rough part of Melbourne in the 1950s, having lost his father at 11.
“Seventy years ago, could that young boy have dreamt of what was in front of him?” he said.
Melbourne-born Newton started in radio aged 12 and scaled the heights of the Australian entertainment industry on stage and on screen.
Alongside Graham Kennedy and Don Lane, he was part of a trio known as The Kings of Australian Television.
Newton is survived by Patti, his wife of more than 46 years, his children and grandchildren.