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Panpa Bulletin : May 2007
32 PANPA Bulletin May 2007 My first civilian job after leaving the Royal Australian Air Force in 1945 was on The Argus, at that time one of the three Melbourne morning newspapers. The others were The Age and Sun News-pictorial. It was a fairly lowly job that my mother Caroline (or Lynka as she was more commonly known to her friends), obtained for me by virtue of her friend- ship with the managing director Errol Knox (soon to be Sir Errol), with whom she had worked in Army public relations during the just ended war. At that time, The Argus and its weekly stablemate, Australasian Post were run by a coterie of former high-ranking army officers. A director was Lieutenant Colonel 'Jiggy' Spowers; the managing director, Errol Knox, had been a Brigadier as Director of Army Public Relations, his offsider (no one knew exactly what he did) was retired Major General 'Gaffer' Lloyd. The assistant gen- eral manager was former ordnance chief, Brigadier Howard Kingham and the chief of staff was Colonel John Rassmussen. There were enough generals to lose a war, and this is what eventually happened. In 1957 the paper was closed by its own- ers, the Daily Mirror group of London who bought it in 1949. It was David Syme, one of The Age proprietors who spurred me to newspa- per ownership. Pre-war, as a 16-year-old messenger boy I was working on the front counter of The Age one Saturday afternoon when a call came through. "David Syme here", said the cultured voice over the telephone. "Isaacson, go up to His Majesty's Theatre and get me two tickets for 'White Horse Inn' and I will come in and collect them". "Yes sir, and where shall I get the money"? "Take it out of the till of course,"said Mr Syme. That little exchange made me resolve to one day own a newspaper and be in a position to ask, nay, demand as Syme did, someone to raid the till and trundle up a hill to collect some theatre tickets. Eventually that ambition brought me sufficient reward so I can spend time in my dotage penning odd pieces for the PANPA Bulletin and reading such tomes as The Argus - life and death of a newspaper. This newly published edition, compiled by Jim Usher and published by Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty. Ltd.,is of particular interest to me because of the years my mother and I spent on the staff of The Argus, the friends we made there, plus the journalistic and the business training I received. In his foreword, consummate journal- ist Keith Dunstan, captures the spirit of the paper and identifies some of the writers that made The Argus such a great newspaper. There are probably not too many readers of the PANPA Bulletin who remember Clive Turnbull, Ian Aird, John Hetherington, Peter Russo, Geoffrey Hutton, George Johnson, Peter Golding, Freda Irving and the 50 plus others who either contributed to the book or are mentioned in the narrative. The book makes it clear that it was not the journalists, the quality of their writing or the editorial content that led to the demise of the paper. That many still retain their skills is acknowledged by Usher in thanking those of the 30 journalists still around from the 50's era whos memories are included. Former columnist Peter Golding contributes one of the lengthier articles with a historical survey of the times from his entry into journalism as a cadet to his retirement as one of Australia's lead- ing public relations practicioners. Peter Golding joined Laurie Kerr, also an Argus journalist (and a Carlton league footballer), in building Eric White and Associates into the world's fourth largest public relations consultancy. The rest of the content, writ- ten by those who wrote for The Argus is an invaluable record of life in Australia, particularly Melbourne, in the immediate post World War years. Great names crowd the pages -- the state and federal politicans, the jockeys and foot- ballers, the soldiers, sailors and airmen, the thieves, con men and murderers, the bar- risters that defended them and the judges that convicted them -- all have a place in the reminicences of the gifted men and women journaliists who have contributed to Jim Usher's splendid book. Despatches from the war correspond- ents are given their due with a full page facsimile of George Johnson's despatch from New Guinea (disguised as 'somewhere in Australia'), reporting on the fierce fighting between the Australian 39th militia batal- lion and the Japanese at Milne Bay and on the Kokoda Track. Two of The Argus' real life war-time heroes were Jack Cannon and Peter Knox both of who served with Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force. Their adventures and survival are recounted by Jim Usher. Cannon was the sole survivor of the crew of a Lancaster which crashed in England . He was thrown from the plane and landed in a clump of bracken which broke his fall. Knox was shot down over Belguim and escaped the Germans, guided to safety by the under- ground movement. Where to now for the world of newspa- pers a thoughtful article by Usher summa- ries the changes in newspaper compilation, journalism and production during the last 50 years. He compares the young journalists of today with those of the 50's emphasising their better education but decrying the lack of imagination which he claims dimishes the quality of their reporting. For all in the fascinating business of newspaper publishing, Life and death of a newspaper is a compelling read. Make sure you do so. PETER ISAACSON Peter Isaacson is a former publisher and is a life member of PANPA . The Argus was a home for generals publishing matters As an employer, The Argus was fertile ground for ex-services personnel and talented journalists, writes Peter Isaacson.