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

So that when Murdoch again hailed me in the street one day in August 1970 and said, 'I want to see you', and he’d done this umpteen times, I was in a mind, well I had decided virtually...I remember going to the bus stop from this house one day, saying, 'Look, I’ll have to leave the Herald whatever it is. I’m fifty-two. I can stay as a faithful retainer for another fifteen years or so. And then what will I have said? I was a Fairfax faithful for all my working life. And is that what I really wanted to be?' I really wanted to get out. So when Murdoch hailed me the next time I was very receptive.

George Munster and Margaret urged me not to go. Urged me not to go. And I could see their arguments. His unreliability, his untrustworthiness. I suppose to some extent I vainly, egotistically thought I might be an exception. I put it to Murdoch, 'Now you’ve broken, you’ve destroyed your relationships with so many people, is it going to be the same with me?' And he dropped his eyes and mumbled something. I don’t remember what. I didn’t realise how much he hated Adrian Deamer. Didn’t...couldn’t conceive it. I knew there was some tension. And it was Adrian, really, who persuaded me finally after George and Margaret being strongly opposite. It was Adrian who urged me to come.

And of course there was no use. The years with Murdoch were the most ignominious of my life. He betrayed his hatred of that paper [the Australian]. Largely, I think, because of his own intellectual limitations, which he acknowledges. When somebody used the word ‘lowbrow’ in his presence once he said, 'Lowbrow, I’m the lowest of all lowbrows'. And he said it with a bitterness. He couldn’t understand the back part of the Weekend Australian and why it was such an attraction to young people. Never understood that.

Retracing a bit, a few days before Murdoch flew out to go back to England in late August, 1970, I had a telephone call here at home, from Ken May, his Chief Executive. A very worried Ken May. 'Rupert is getting at Adrian. He’s talking about Adrian in a way that means he might sack Adrian.' I was still at the Herald working out my time. I said, 'Well tell Rupert, Ken, that he knew as well as I do that I’m coming over largely because of Adrian. And that’s a condition of my going.' I heard no more about that but a few days later when Murdoch was flying out of Sydney without consulting me he gave Ken May an edict on the tarmac out at Mascot Airport. Directed at journalists who irritated him, largely, I think, because he didn’t understand them. The edict was that Phillip Adams and Ray Taylor should cease to have columns in the Weekend Australian or any Australian at all, any issue of the paper. That Bruce Petty should cease to draw cartoons to deal with the Israel-Arab conflict. That Mungo McCallum, junior, should be brought back from Canberra.

I was supposed to be entering the paper as Editorial Director, and this was done, without my knowledge. And I only learned about it indirectly. Adrian was shattered. I went over to see him. He was absolutely baffled by the suddenness and brutality of it. I wrote to Murdoch in London. It was a...too mild a letter, I think. I haven’t looked it up ever since. But I put three propositions to him. This was totally unacceptable. Well this...this was something that was not in the terms of our agreement. Our oral agreement of course. Either I did not go to him at all or I would go as a journalist, as a financial journalist. Or, if I went as Editorial Director, I would have power over such things. I did not demand a retraction of what he had done.

He did not write to me in reply, he rang me up. 'Calm down, calm down,' that was his opening words, 'calm down, calm down.' And he talked a bit. I said, 'Well what about the terms in my letter?' 'Oh,' he said and he listed...he read out what I had asked for. And after each sentence he said, 'You’ve got it. You’ve got it. You’ve got it.' All orally.

Of course I hadn’t got any of it...When he came back next time he again sheepishly...he had a habit of dropping his eyes I thought, said, 'I didn’t reply to you in writing.' And I began to feel that things were not going to work out at all.

There are areas in which Murdoch is blind. He’s a very able...I needn’t say how very able a man he is, but in intellectual and aesthetic areas he is extremely limited. He couldn’t understand why the Weekend Australian was so much a bigger seller than the weekday issues of the paper. And there’s a possibly mythical story that he once wondered out loud whether it was the racing tips in the Weekend Australian that gave it extra sales. I can’t vouch for the truth of that, but it was said.

He was very uncomfortable with those columns of Phillip Adams and Ray Taylor. Because they were of a tone, of an atmosphere, that he simply did not appreciate, even understand. He was quite baffled, I think, by them. He was puzzled by Henry Mayer’s contributions. He asked me several times whether Mayer was worth continuing, and by the frequency of his questions it was obvious he didn’t think so.