The careers of Syd and Adrian Deamer span a wide range of print media outlets, pre-eminently as journalists and editors rather than managers. Both Syd and Adrian, his younger son, achieved recognition for their editorial independence and their talents as journalists. However, both were destined to clash with newspaper proprietors and senior staff over their liberal views and bohemian work habits. If Syd’s early career was the more charismatic, Adrian’s was arguably the more durable, culminating in a legal career with John Fairfax & Sons and the Australian Press Council.
Sydney Harold Deamer (1891–1962) entered journalism in the United Kingdom before emigrating to Australia, where he worked on Sydney and Melbourne newspapers after World War I. He gained professional recognition as president of the Australian Journalists’ Association (later the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) for his successful advocacy during the 1927 Metropolitan Dailies’ Agreement. Recruited by (Sir) Keith Murdoch to edit the Adelaide Register, Deamer subsequently moved to the Melbourne Herald, where he became embroiled in an ongoing power struggle between Murdoch and Theodore Fink.
After spending time in London with Australian Associated Press, Deamer returned to Australia in 1936 to edit the revamped Sydney Daily Telegraph. Within (Sir) Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press Ltd, he enjoyed considerable autonomy at the Telegraph in competition with the staid Sydney Morning Herald. In 1939, after resigning over his demotion on the Telegraph in favour of Brian Penton, Deamer was appointed editor of the fledgling ABC Weekly, where he continued to promote progressive views, criticising government control of the ABC wartime news service. As head of the ABC’s Public Relations Division in 1943–44, Deamer promoted its wartime independence on both the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee and in evidence to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting.
In a move designed to forestall an offer from the Sydney Morning Herald, Frank Packer offered Deamer a directorship with Consolidated Press. He was re-employed in 1944 as a feature writer and associate editor with the Daily Telegraph, before accepting an appointment on the Herald in 1946 to write Column 8. Despite declining health and renewed bouts of drinking, Deamer maintained Column 8, with a figurehead of ‘Granny’ bearing his waspish features at the top of the column, for the remainder of his career, until 1961.
Syd’s renewed influence on the Daily Telegraph helped to secure Adrian Deamer (1922– 2000) a cadetship with the paper, but relations between the two would remain tense over Syd’s caustic wit and drinking habits. Adrian steadily rose through the ranks on a range of papers with the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT). He became chief of staff and features editor on the Herald, then London editor in 1960. On his return to Australia, he was recruited to work for the Australian in Canberra.
He left the HWT on amicable terms, but did not become editor of the Australian until 1968. Deamer took the paper to the centre-left of the political spectrum. Its attack on the Vietnam War and the divisive Coalition politics of the Springbok Rugby tour in July 1971 helped precipitate his sacking by Rupert Murdoch. Later that year, Deamer delivered the Arthur Norman Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism, defending his position and his search for a younger, more progressive readership.
While considering his future prospects after the Australian, Adrian found casual work with the Bulletin and Radio Australia. During the turbulent 1970s, he was sceptical of the newly established Department of the Media and the Australian Press Council (APC), and developed his own theory of ‘self-censorship by osmosis’ to explain the limitations of Australian journalism under proprietorial dominance.
After completing his law degree in 1978, Adrian was offered a position with law firm Stephen, Jaques and Stephen, which acted for John Fairfax & Sons, combining his knowledge of law and journalism to good effect. Recruited directly to Fairfax by Max Suich, he served as its in-house legal manager at a time when the company and its publications faced annual suits of $2–3 million. Prior to his retirement in 1993, Deamer was appointed Fairfax’s representative on the APC, and was subsequently retained as a member of its Press Freedom Committee. An editorial traditionalist like his father, Adrian Deamer maintained until his death in 2000 that ‘an editor should (never) be anything other than that bastard sitting in the room who is always difficult to get on with’.
REFs: D. Cryle, Murdoch’s Flagship (2008); C.J. Lloyd, Profession: Journalist (1985).