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
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
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
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.