The life and work of Tom Fitzgerald - header


Nation - 'Giving it a stir'

Tom Fitzgerald was publisher and, with George Munster, founder-editor of the influential fortnightly 'independent journal of opinion' Nation from 1958 to 1972. Tom remembers his first meeting with George and how they came to work together on Nation.

It was with a touch of awe that Barry Humphries, who was then playing in the Phillip Street Theatre, introduced me to George early in 1958. He said: ‘Stay on a few minutes. I’d like you to meet a friend of mine who is a genius. He has been living in the Middle East, and is going to tell me about it.’ That was in Lorenzini’s wine and coffee shop in Elizabeth Street, where discussions were held each Friday on the project of a new fortnightly journal to be called Nation. To Barry, whose name appears these days [1984] on the editorial board of Quadrant, everyone who was connected with Nation owes an incalculable obligation. [1]

George came along on subsequent Fridays. And it may have been several weeks after our first meeting he said, 'Oh I hear you work on the Sydney Morning Herald, Tom, I’d like to do the occasional book review.' I said, 'Well it's not my area, George, but I’ll certainly pass on your wishes to the Literary Editor and by the way you might like to know that I’m working on a programme to produce a fortnightly independent paper.' And we talked about that and he said, 'Forget about the Herald, I’ll join you.' And of course that made an enormous difference not only to the ultimate character of Nation but the vigour with which it was brought into being. He almost immediately took it on himself almost as a full-time job to do the various chores that needed to be done to get the thing a physical fact.

There’s a funny anecdote. Alec Sheppard, by the way, was one of the strong members of our group at that time. And when Alec, about the same time as I, was introduced to George Munster, in Lorenzini’s, he said, 'Oh, you’re the person whom Shaggy...', that’s HV Evatt, '...pointed out to me in Lorenzini’s once and said, ‘That man is watching me, he’s an ASIO operator.’ [2]

George Munster was Tom's closest friend for over 26 years and his funeral tribute to George in 1984 he speaks of the man himself as well as his contribution to Nation.

Nation provided an invaluable and unique outlet for many Australian writers. Some saw their writing in print for the first time in Nation; for others Nation was a means of developing their writing in a way not possible in other publications; others were able to publish articles the mainstream press would not print. In Nation’s final editorial (22 July 1972), Tom Fitzgerald describes the reasons for Nation’s inception, and its political stance.

  Tom Fitzgerald, 1950s

Tom Fitzgerald, 1950s

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Fitzgerald family. Tom Fitzgerald, 1950s. JCPML00720/67



Tom recalls his involvement in Nation‘s beginnings and his reasons for starting the paper. 'It’s very difficult for a young person today to realise how stodgy and conservative, for the most part, the metropolitan press was. Very dull.'


In establishing Nation, Fitzgerald resisted offers of financial support, prefering to run the paper his way, keeping Nation as his personal property despite the risks involved.


Tom valued Nation's independence and rejected any attempts to interfere in his editorial freedom - 'having the freedom to produce your own paper, however small, is infinitely more rewarding than to be the nominal editor of any bloody metropolitan paper.'


Peter Ryan, an early Nation contributor, has written that he ‘got a warm and comforted feeling from a reminder that Nation‘s story has been well and truthfully preserved for all time by Ken Inglis’s admirable history of the journal’ in his book Nation: The Life of an Independent Journal of Opinion, 1958 – 1972. Ryan writes:

Nation did not merely enlighten and excite its readers, but was also a nursery for young writers….Robert Hughes, Brian Johns, Bob Ellis, among many others, found their literary feet there….Nation’s content was so meaty and cogent, its writing so clear and strong (especially Tom Fitzgerald’s own editorials) and its independence of view so transparent, that any writer, famous or unknown, was honoured by an invitation to write for it. [3]

Brian Johns has described Tom Fitzgerald as ‘that mighty journalist of our generation who, from the slender pages of the fortnightly Nation, helped shape a generation of journalists’. He notes the force of ideas once they have an outlet such as Nation and ‘the momentum they have in and of themselves to bring about great, great change’. Nation’s ‘pitiful’ circulation belied its influence:

Yet it was not simply a journalistic pathbreaker. It gave vital momentum to our reach for national identity. It did journalistic break-and-enter jobs on the boardrooms of our financial institutions and it provided actual standards for our collective imaginations through the arts. [4]

Johns saw Nation as ‘a testament to the force of ideas and the force of independence’:

George [Munster] was passionate but not partisan. That was one of the interesting things about Nation…it celebrated itself very proudly as an independent journal of opinion. Tom Fitzgerald…wrote once in an editorial what I thought at the time was a very tough thing to say. He said 'In Australia, the liberal (and of course, it was a small-l liberal) has no party and should never forget that.' That was a lesson, when I thought about it, that I carried away with me and I'm sure was for many others who contributed and were influenced by Nation. That independence was precious. Belonging is a natural human desire, to want to have a sense of belonging. I suspect that, for journalists, that's as true as for most other people. But that's a luxury that many of us believe you can't afford because the real criterion, the real test, is independence…. Just as George Munster and Tom Fitzgerald and the host of people who contributed and developed as a result of their association with Nation, either as writers or readers, the preciousness of independence stands. [5]

In his book Nation:The life of an independent journal of opinion, 1958 – 1972 Ken Inglis writes that ‘When he sought contributors, Fitzgerald was modest about the unborn paper’s personality. Sometimes he employed a homely simile which came to mind years later as he mourned Alf Conlon, disinterested intellectual and patriot (and in those respects an Australian Orwell)’:

The greatest achievement arising from the kind of influence that Conlon exercised is the standard he set of disinterestedness in pursuing the right, without show or fuss, as a man opens the windows in a stuffy room. [6]

Ken further writes that 'One way and another, by cross-pollenation and example, Nation helped to make the 1960s a time of hope in newspaper offices.' [7]

Tom Fitzgerald was captured speaking on video at the book launch for Nation: The life of an independent journal of opinion, 1958 - 1972 on 22 November 1989.



1. Tom Fitzgerald's funeral tribute for George Munster. National Library of Australia: MS 7995. Records of the magazine 'Nation'.

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.

3. Ryan, P. 2002, Quadrant, June 2002 --need complete citation here

4. Transcript of speech by Brian Johns at the launch of Reviving the Fourth Estate by Julianne Shultz, at Gleebooks, Sydney, Monday 21 September 1998.

5. George Munster Journalism Forums, 1998.

6. Fitzgerald, T, 1963, Nation, 7 September 1963

7. Inglis, K, 1989, Nation: The Life of an Independent Journal of Opinion, 1958 – 1972, Melbourne University Press, page 125

Investigating John Curtin home
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