July 4th, 2014

Richard Farmer’s half century of journalism

 As a journalist since 1959 I have been a cadet at the ABC and then the Hobart office of the Launceston Examiner; writer of a weekly political column for The Advocate from the age of 19, general reporter and football writer for Tasmanian Truth and, following that paper’s closure, Tasmanian correspondent for Melbourne Truth with writing for Footy Fan as a sideline.
With an art degree completed part-time from the University of Tasmania (political science, history and an undistinguished smattering of economics) it was off to the mainland following a girlfriend in 1964. Unable to obtain a job on either The Canberra Times or The Australian, fluked a position as research-officer/personal-assistant to the then chairman of the Commonwealth Public Service Board Sir Frederick Wheeler. Gained some wonderful insights into how government actually worked and prepared draft papers on the creation of an ombudsman and an administrative appeals tribunal – two reforms that occurred after I returned to journalism working for the foundation editor of The Australian Maxwell Newton who was publishing a subscription only newsletter Incentive.
Under the Newton tutelage my education in economics really began as he was at the forefront of what later would be described as economic rationalism but for us at the time was a campaign against Country Party protection-for-everyone feather-bedding. I started newsletters Tariff Week and Minerals Week, edited another called The Parliamentary and Legislative Review and wrote regularly for The Financial Times of London, The Economist – the economic and business back half – and the fortnightly journal Nation published by the business editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Tom Fitzgerald. (In its way I suppose Nation was a predecessor of what you are planning to do with The Saturday Paper.)
The fine art of the make-up sub was learned after a Newton expedition into publishing rural newspapers. At one stage I was involved in the editing of six south coast NSW papers from Eden to Nowra with two of them being bi-weeklies. I was sent to Perth to help launch The Sunday Independent for Lang Hancock and Peter Wright and turned the Minerals Week newsletter into the paper The Australian Miner.
The work experience for a young journalist was great but working so closely with a a frenetic man with bipolar problems certainly had its drawbacks. A period in London trying to establish my own mining newsletter during the Poseidon mining boom, without success, was followed by a more tranquil period as the London correspondent for The Australian Financial Review.
Agreed to return to Australia when the Newton “empire” expanded to include a Sunday weekly The Melbourne Observer where I was a journalist of many parts with writing the horoscope and ghosting Alex Jesaulenko’s AFL column perhaps the high points. The harsh reality of publishing when having little or no capital quickly became apparent to me and I gratefully accepted the job as the foundation political correspondent for The Sunday Australian in 1971(?) before the Newton crash came.
A long on-and-off stint with the Murdoch press followed writing from Canberra. The job as political writer for the Sydney Daily and Sunday Telegraphs following their purchase by News Limited and the closing of The Sunday Australianwas briefly interrupted by some months on the London Sun establishing Superbrain – the man with a computer for a mind on that paper’s racing pages.
And then, for something completely different, it was starting a restaurant – someone told me once it features in a history of Australian gastronomy but I’ve never looked it up – and there have three other such eating ventures over the years. Not that the writing stopped. I covered the 1975 election for The Australian from behind the counter of the retail liquor business Farmer Bros I had started with my brother that year. The job as Canberra correspondent for The Bulletin followed for a few years before a subsequent return to News limited writing weekly columns for both The Australian and The Sunday Telegraph during the 1980s and into the 1990s with running an election campaign or four for the Labor Party thrown in.
After years as a lobbyist, internet bookmaker, Eden fish sausage manufacturer and Barossa wine producer, a late in life return to journalism writing for the Crikey website that ended a fortnight ago when I declined the offer of continuing to write for a quarter of the quite modest amount they were paying me.
Now, to while away the hours, there’s the fun of this little politicalowl.com website.

Where I fit in the political spectrum

The Pew Research Center has devised a little test so you can find out where you fit in the political spectrum. You will find some details HERE. Here’s the verdict on me after I pretended to be a US citizen:

3-07-2014 ideologyplacementSo what does that suggest I am? According to Pew I am a Solid Liberal along with 15% of the public which means:

2012 vote: 89% for Obama | 3% for Romney
Generally affluent and highly educated, most Solid Liberals strongly support the social safety net and take very liberal positions on virtually all issues. Most say they always vote Democratic and are unflagging supporters of Barack Obama. Overall, Solid Liberals are very optimistic about the nation’s future and are the most likely to say that America’s success is linked to its ability to change, rather than its reliance on long-standing principles. On foreign policy, Solid Liberals overwhelmingly believe that good diplomacy – rather than military strength – is the best way to ensure peace.

Nothing I can disagree with there. So keep that in mind when reading the Owl. It’s better to know the starting point of pundits than not.

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