The life and work of Tom Fitzgerald - header


Writing for a living - 'One of the very first Australian Orwellians'

Someone drew my attention to an advertisement in the Bulletin for a financial journalist, preferably an ex-serviceman. I applied and got it. I probably joined them...sometime in 1946. It may have been rather late. I wasn’t in a great hurry. I was helping my brothers a bit again with some of the milkruns but sometime in 1946 I did join the Bulletin. I suppose it might have been in 1947 or ’48 when I was proposing to leave them, they offered me the editorship of their monthly, the Wildcat Monthly. Possibly in 1948. So I stayed on at an increased salary. I was no longer strictly on the Bulletin, whose politics, I began to realise, were really not mine. [1]

Tom had become, during the war in England, 'a very great admirer of George Orwell'. He recalls 'the 'extraordinary experience in '49' of deciding he would have to vote against Chifley and his platform of bank nationalisation, despite his own political background and Labor leanings.


Early in 1950 when I knew that Roger Randerson had resigned as the Financial Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald I wrote to the Herald, offered myself, saw Mr Rupert Henderson [Managing Director of John Fairfax and Sons] and he on the spot offered me a job, but not necessarily the full succession as Financial Editor. But they were obviously short of such people and he offered me a job at a greatly increased salary. It was the then princely salary of a thousand pounds a year.

And I went to the Herald. And I was called first Commercial Editor while there was something of the nature of a stalemate between myself and Jack Horsfall who also, without my knowledge, had been given to understand he might become Financial Editor. He was brought back from the London Economist, a very able man and a very likeable man. We were in a false position and I was rather anxious to get out of it but Henderson eventually persuaded me to stay and I became titular Financial Editor about two years after I joined, that is to say in 1952. And stayed there until 1970.

The Financial Editor was, shall I say, a remote petty chieftain and that was an excellent condition to be in the Herald. You got away with a lot more than you would if you were closer to the throne. You know, I could see all my time at the Herald that I had a much happier existence than people who were very much closer. John Pringle used to face with misery having lunch daily with the Directors. The Editors tended to leave. McClure-Smith of course left...he was very discreet about it but he left because he was finding his relations too difficult. He was worried about his health. And he became a successful diplomat for the Australian government. John Pringle who succeeded him had a very difficult time.

  Tom Fitzgerald and Margaret; at a wedding c.1951

Tom Fitzgerald with his wife Margaret, c 1951

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Fitzgerald family. Tom Fitzgerald and Margaret; at a wedding c.1951. JCPML00720/68



Angus Maude, the next, was eased out and, you know, he sometimes spoke candidly of the problem… towards the end of Angus’ short term as Editor his magnificent old father who had been a senior man on the London Times, a very dignified, handsome old man, tall with white hair, I remember he said to me when I was introduced to him, 'And what is your particular trouble in the Sydney Morning Herald?'

There was a lot of talk, of which I have very little information, about me becoming Editor. There was a suspense period between Pringle going and Angus Maude coming, and, although I’m not privy to what was said upstairs, there was, obviously. The man who pushed me all along was Henderson. Who opposed me I cannot tell but I assume it was mainly Warwick [Fairfax] but it could well have been Angus [McLachlan] too. I think it probably was. I have no correct information one way or the other except that Henderson told others as well as me that he wanted me to be the Editor.

But, though people find this hard to understand I had never envisaged that. I could see enormous difficulties in that, not only from observation of the people who had the chair but, as I’ve said earlier, to be able to produce a paper like Nation was far more satisfying and I gave a hint at one time to Mr Henderson that if he were thinking about me as Editor, that if I were Editor I would have to, ultimately, after a full consultation with everybody, have the editorials expressing my point of view.

Now that I can see was not altogether a simple question. Whose views does an editorial represent? There’s no answer and you could argue that they are bloody nonsense. Because they’re written by a leader writer. More often than not they’re his views. He’s a specialist in the subject, nobody else bothers much to vet what he’s done. But sometimes they’re the Editor’s views, very clearly, and sometimes the Editor’s overruled and somebody else steps in, from management. And there were terrible battles about editorials. Long drawn out battles. Henderson went through agonies of differences with Warwick. A senior executive called Lou Leck used to become very emotional about these problems. Particularly around election time and around budget time. [2]


1 - 2 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


Investigating John Curtin home
War years - 'Conjunction of the highest pleasure with the other job'
Nation - 'Giving it a stir'