He loves to run, and swim and bicycle, and he loves to volunteer, in the bushfire brigade, in the surf life-savers, in Aboriginal communities, in raising money for charity. He has been doing all this for 20 or 30 years. There are things people dislike about Abbot, but he is always the same man. In a decade as a minister and four years as opposition leader, there are no stories of mistreating staff, no stewardesses in tears.
There is one episode in Abbott's life I witnessed but don't often recount because my own role was so utterly unheroic. In 1977, Abbott and I were lying on the sand at a surf beach some distance out of Melbourne. The surf was way too rough for either of us to go in. Suddenly a woman came up to us screaming. Her son had been pulled out by a rip and was in bad trouble.
I was a weak swimmer and had I dived in someone would very soon have had to rescue me. Abbott was a strong swimmer and pretty much without hesitation jumped in, swam out to the kid, took hold of him, dragged him down the coastline a bit to get past the rip, and brought him safely to shore. He was not a bit interested in the mother's thanks, rather a bit disgusted the kid had gone out in such treacherous surf.
That was 36 years ago. I've got no doubt if the incident happened today Abbott's response would be the same.
Publicly and privately, he's the same bloke. His personality may be unreconstructed, but also, it's not a construct.
A contest between constructed man and unreconstructed man - Greg Sheridan