Extract from oral history of Tom Fitzgerald by Ken Inglis

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the National Library of Australia. Interview of Tom Fitzgerald, 01/02/1988 - 3/09/1988. JCPML00658/1. Original held by National Library of Australia TRC 2247

Tom Fitzgerald: Peter Abeles was then a relatively unknown businessman with a smallish trucking business in Chippendale quite near Francis James’ printery. By some process Peter Abeles and I became quite friendly. And he, quite early in the piece, no later, I think, than 1960, strongly urged me to make Nation into a self-supporting business. He would give financial support to setting up Nation with a view to becoming a weekly. He said, 'You must become a weekly because otherwise somebody else will.' And he disclaimed any concern about the editorial policy, no wish to interfere with that. He thought that I should, I think, break away from the Herald and become, myself, dependent on the income from the business. This was a very difficult decision to take and I still occasionally wonder whether I made the right decision. I had no reason to doubt his goodwill. None at all.

There were many, many strands of almost irreconcilable consideration, pro and con. George strictly refused to offer an opinion, left it to me. I sensed, however, that he on balance probably would prefer to go on as we were. That was in a way, you might say, a soft option. The alternative was death or glory. You’d either make it or you wouldn’t and it would be over fairly quickly I think.

We had a very informal way of running the place. The keeping of records was minimal. The tax people were quite happy to treat the net difference between outgoings and incomings of money as your income. And possibly already by the time Peter Abeles made this suggestion, on that cash in and out basis, Nation was showing a loss. Which I was able to offset against my taxable income. For that reason I decided not to incorporate Nation, make it my personal property so that I could use its losses as an offset against my salary. And that over the life of Nation must have contributed quite a lot to our finances.

Maurice Isaacs, as our solicitor, honorary solicitor was very worried about that. The risks to my person in libel cases. But the alternative would have been that, had Nation been sued and bankrupted, well the thing was over anyway and on the whole I think that was alright.....

Ken Inglis: The Australian started in 1964, after you’d been going since 1958, and I think it was generally observed that the Australian picked up a lot and carried on a lot that Nation had started?

Tom Fitzgerald: I would not have made much of that, that the paper picked up things we had started, but certainly some of our valued contributors, people who had come to us, unknown to us, and given us very good material, did join the Australian, in its early idealistic phase, or when people thought it was going to be a great... a great new vehicle for enlightened journalism. Among those people who having first written for us and went over to the Australian were Brian Johns, Ken Gott, and I dare say there were others. [Other Nation contributors who went to the Australian were Robin Boyd, Robert Hughes, Maxwell Newton (the Australian’s first editor), Max Harris.] Now I think it would be a bit exaggerated to say that Murdoch really is correct in thinking that they made their paper into a kind of Nation. I think they were trying to create a great national daily that was a bit more thoughtful than than the going newspaper.

Ken Inglis: Murdoch had said as a matter of complaint that the Australian was too much like a daily Nation, is that right?

Tom Fitzgerald: Yes. Yes, apparently he had said that. I heard that, and you may have heard it too, and it seemed to me to be one of Murdoch’s... as I’ve said before, there are areas in which Murdoch is blind.