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Panpa Bulletin : September 2006
September 2006 PANPA BULLETIN | 43 HISTORY Some dynasties end with a bang, some with a whimper. Some tear themselves apart from within; others succumb to external forces. The Fairfax newspaper dynasty ended with a self-generated bang. And the day the banks placed the Fairfax group in receivership -- December 10, 1990 -- became a primary focus of five books. A family split destroyed the Fairfax proprietorship of the Sydney Morning Herald only two months short of 150 years. It was the world's oldest con- tinuously owned newspaper pro- prietorship, stretching over five generations. Vic Carroll summed up the situation: "It has taken Warwick Geoffrey Oswald Fairfax three years and three days to blow a family inheritance worth $500 million. Warwick took control of the family company, John Fairfax Ltd, at 11am on December 7, 1987, five days after his 27th birthday. He had never owned, controlled or even been responsible for any sort of business." Six Queensland newspaper dy- nasties ended with a whimper, succumbing to external forces. The day the Irish, in the form of Haswell Pty Ltd, took over Provincial Newspapers (Qld) Ltd, or PNQ -- July 26, 1988 -- has gener- ated no books (only my PhD the- sis), although it marked the end of these dynasties, each boasting at least three generations of control, dating back as far as 1861. They had worked together har- moniously and profitably for nigh on a generation, something to be wondered at when the fragility of one dynasty in its third generation is considered, let alone six. The principal family in the PNQ Group was the Dunn fam- ily, as outlined in the first two parts of this three-part article on the birth and death of PNQ (see PANPA Bulletin, July and August 2006). The families involved -- the Dunns, of Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Maryborough and Nambour -- had owned newspa- pers since 1891; the Mannings, of Mackay, had owned news- papers since 1910; the Irwins, of Warwick, since 1867; and the three Ipswich families, the Parkinsons, the Stephensons and the Kippens, had ownership dat- ing back to 1861. The PNQ interests grew from six dailies and a weekly in 1968 to nine dailies in Queensland and four in NSW, as well as a string of smaller publications, in 1988. PNQ, along with its six families, was one of the victims of the Rupert Murdoch takeo- ver of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd (HWT) in February 1987. HWT owned 48.3 per cent of Queensland Press Ltd, which, through Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd, owned 42.033 per cent of PNQ. Murdoch himself held anoth- er six per cent of PNQ through his control of North Queensland Newspapers Ltd. The Trade Practices Commission told Murdoch he could not control Queensland's capital-city daily, the Courier-Mail, as well as the majority of the state's regional dailies. Given time to sell, Murdoch arranged a buyer, an Irish group which was able to satisfy Australia's foreign-investment rules by establishing a family trust in which the beneficiaries were the six Australian-born chil- dren of Dr Anthony Kevin Francis O'Reilly (since knighted), the prin- cipal shareholder of Independent Newspapers Plc, of Ireland. This trust, called Ligon Pty Ltd, held an 85.05 per cent interest in Haswell Pty Ltd, the purchasing vehicle. The remaining interest (which had to be fewer than 15 per cent) was held by Independent Newspapers Plc of Ireland. As the Fairfaxes and Dunns demonstrated about 20 years ago, and as the Harris family of Burnie, Tasmania, the Barnets, of Gawler, South Australia, the Motts, of Albury-Wodonga, and the Johnstons, of Hay, NSW, have demonstrated in the past decade, dynasties, unlike deities, do not go on forever. Dynasties dysfunction, disin- tegrate, dissipate, degenerate, diffuse, or simply disappear be- cause there is no family member talented enough or interested enough to continue the busi- ness. Newspaper dynasties are often fragile institutions caught in a web of family intrigue. They have to survive in a fierce- ly competitive and predatory en- vironment and so they face enor- mous pressures from within and without. Their destruction can be plotted through circulation batt- les which are really battles for a bigger share of advertising rev- enue; in sharemarket jousts if their companies are publicly listed; or in takeover deals wrung out, or merely announced, over long lunches, as the Dunn, Manning and Irwin dynasties, the core of PNQ, were to discover. Dynasties end with a whimper, not a bang In the last of his three part series on newspaper dynasties Rod Kirkpatrick writes that the end was far less impressive than the beginning Clarence Morcom Manning, second chairman of Provincial Newspapers (Qld) Ltd. continued page 44
November December 2006