The life and work of Tom Fitzgerald - header


The joy of study and 'the Murdoch years - the most ignominious of my life'

There was a new course in the history and philosophy of science [at Sydney University], established by a Dr Hugh Lacey, in 1967, with a subject I’d longed to learn more about – I wish in a way I had had a chance to have had a training, just for my own interest, an academic training in physics. And I’d heard well of Dr Lacey. I asked him by post or telegram could I, a mature fellow, sit in on his classes in the Faculty of Science. He sent me a telegram back, 'By all means.' And that was the beginning, the beginning of the first term of 1967.

It was a very good course, I enjoyed it, it was an immensely interesting course, and I supplemented it with a bit of private coaching by two young mathematics graduates on the North Shore in the more abstruse parts of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Unfortunately the young graduates, bright as they were, weren’t able to give me full satisfaction and admitted so.

So, that all ended in one year. Lacey covered a large amount of territory in that history and philosophy of science, both historical and contemporary. Some excellent textbooks that he set. Such things as the debate on the nature of space and time between Isaac Newton’s close friend, Clarke, and Leibniz. The Leibniz-Clarke correspondence, fascinating discussion, and things like that. When that one year was up I felt, 'Oh, it’s a pity I can’t keep this up.'

I sat and got a High Distinction. It was only one year but it was in the Faculty of Science and it was a dead end. So then at a bit of a loss I thought I’d do a little bit of philosophy. I’d never done that in my undergraduate days. So I did one year of philosophy in which the main teacher was David Armstrong, whom I knew. And at the end of that year I was again at a bit of a loss.

Now this is 1967, 1968, we’re going into 1969 now. Having over the vacation read a fair bit about the early Greek philosophers, the pre-Socratic philosophers, I thought the next thing for me was to study some Greek. So I did Elementary Greek in 1969 and Greek 1 in 1970. And that was the end…But the Greek was, oh, it was most rewarding, immensely rewarding. And it’s enabled me in a very amateurish way to keep up a little bit with reading in those areas ever since.

In philosophy I think all you could get was a Credit. I’ve ...the large number of Credits and I was down on the list somewhere, perhaps at number twenty. In Greek I either equalled first place or was second place with a very bright girl whose name was Dowd. I’d love to know what happened to her.

We read through some great Greek literature, passages of great Greek literature and only one or two teachers, of all they had, ever adverted to the power of the literature as distinct from the grammatical side of it. It was quite weird sometimes to have this lecturer or professor quoting slabs of speeches from a Greek drama then giving a translation and going on and never making any reference to the quality of what you’d been reading. But it was extraordinarily rewarding, it was dreadfully good.

Then I for various reasons decided to leave Fairfax and go to Murdoch and that in itself would have made a continuation of the university lectures impossible, almost...well impossible. And I thought I had more or less run out of strongly desirable things to do there anyway.


  Tom Fitzgerald, 1970s

Tom Fitzgerald in a relaxed moment at home, 1970s.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Fitzgerald family. Tom Fitzgerald and cat Penny, c.1976. JCPML00720/48



After a while I gradually began to think the Herald was reaching rock bottom in terms of the whole character of the paper, quite the worst I have ever known in my lifetime. And when, almost as an aside, I recall one editorial said, 'Of course we should sell arms...' or 'Arms should be sold to South Africa', I began to ask myself whether I should be giving my effort to a paper that was becoming so unsatisfactory. That was, I think, the main consideration. I had been doing the same job at the Herald for twenty years. The same old cycle, annual cycle of budgets, company reports, BHP’s annual balance sheet. And I really felt that anyway one should change. Nation had been in a sense an impediment to my breaking free. I needed to earn money and keep my family, in the late sixties the financial situation was getting very, very bad. [1]

Despite misgivings, Fitzgerald left the Herald and became Editorial Director of the Australian newspaper in 1970. He recalls his reasons for taking up Rupert Murdoch's offer, his early dealings with Murdoch, and his growing realisation that these years with Murdoch were to be the 'most ignominious of my life'.


So from the beginning I was in a most...well I suppose impossible position. There were genuine issues as between the management and the Editor of the paper. Some of Murdoch’s later criticisms of the paper were arguable and there was a case for considering them and attempting to work out a modus vivendi. But that brutality of what he had done at the airport destroyed my ability to take...or to behave in an objective way. I found myself very much on the side of Adrian Deamer and the journalists.

And very soon I began to realise how much Murdoch hated that paper. The climax came June or July 1971. I’d been there perhaps seven months or so. When he sacked Adrian Deamer. Again very sudden. There was a certain Hitler-like Panzer division type of operation with Murdoch.

Now this was the most ignominious moment in my life. My instincts were to resign also. Margaret said I should. George [Munster] said I shouldn’t. And George put the question of Nation again, which was of course in financial difficulties. I didn’t and that’s something I regret really. On balance. [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
Nation - 'Giving it a stir'
Advisor to government - 'Fascinating intellectual cut and thrust'