Gidday Stephen (assuming Boss ends up on your screen):

I thought your punters, media and business, might be interested in some info about the death of Gordon Barton the other day. Check Valerie Lawson’s obit (presumably in today’s SMH; I took it off the website) at .

Business and political journalists of the early 1970s remember Gordon well, as brilliant but quirky. He achieved top uni results while socialising with the Push down at the Royal George in Sussex Street. He bought an old truck and started running blackmarket onions across the border from South Australia (so he told me) and built the business up to the big Ipec transport concern. I think his business partner Greg Farrell may have provided the level-headed balance to Gordon’s impetuosity (just as Peter Wright should be credited with much of Lang Hancock’s business fortune).

He founded and probably subsidised the radical newspapers The Sunday Observer and Nation Review (and, I seem to recall, a short-lived radical youth spinoff which is forgotten today, The Living Daylights, in the mid 1970s. Living Daylights was noteworthy for deciding apostrophes were reactionary, and refusing to use them). Barton was the main founder of the Australia Party.

My recollections are imperfect, probably because the business and political scene in those Whitlam government years was awash with booze to an extent which would astonish today’s young fellows. You’d better rely on Valerie Lawson.

Barton once told me he began Nation Review to give George Munster a place to continue his noted commentaries. Munster and Tom Fitzgerald, then finance editor of the SMH, had published Nation.

I also seem to remember that Gordon Barton acquired the old NSW Club building in Bligh Street, and gleefully showed a few journos around while mimicking the pompous old gits with their G and Ts when they discovered who’d bought the place.

Gordon grew beards and then shaved them off with such frequency we used to ring his office before deciding which file pictures to use in The Daily Telegraph.

Mention of Tom Fitzgerald reminds me that he was one of Australia’s most influential business commentators during his years with the SMH, and I’m sure he’d qualify for your list of journalists who could move markets. He’d sit down every night and begin writing (by hand, I seem to recollect), with the subs sending slips of copy paper down the chute to the composing room in a steady stream until he finished, usually right on deadline. Only when it was set in type would anyone know how long his column would be. The subs set plenty of fillers in case it ran short.

Perhaps it was partly because Tom was so valuable to the SMH, that Rupert Murdoch lured him to News Ltd’s Mahogany Row as editorial director soon after the Holt Street operations had expanded with the purchase of The Daily Telegraph from Sir Frank Packer in 1972.

Another journo who could make the list was the late Don Henderson, the Tele’s finance editor up to 1972. In the pre-Poseidon boom years business journalism was a cozy, clubby, affair, until Don introduced rigorous standards to the Tele in the liftout section he labelled Dollars and Cents section.

One of Don’s coups hastened the crash of a major finance company. With rumours flying, the company invited journalists to inspect its main office operation out in the suburbs. Amid the scenes of sparkling efficiency, Don said his wife had an account and asked how easily it could be found. When she failed to turn it up, the office assistant said: “Perhaps it’s with the ones out in the toilets.” And so Don discovered where the company had hidden its bulging files of problem accounts away from prying eyes.

Don had been a finance journalist on the SMH until his uncle, Fairfax general manager R.A.G. (Rags) Henderson, sacked him for being unable to pay his debts. For years his friends and staff believed he had punted too foolishly on the sharemarket, but in a long session in the Lord Nelson after Don’s funeral, the economics journalist Roger Randerson revealed that a family feud was involved, and that Don had been a guarantor in his father’s affairs.

SMH business journalist Anne Lampe deserves a mention (and perhaps, to a lesser extent, yours truly) for a series of articles in the 1970s which exposed the way life companies ripped off their clients with whole-of-life and endowment policies. I think Anne’s articles really did change the way life offices did business.

Oh dear! I’m rambling again. Perhaps in retirement I’m suffering relevance deprivation syndrome (although I suspect that began some years before my retirement).


Ian Skinner

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