HENDERSON, RUPERT ALBERT GEARY (1896-1986)
The Sydney-based Fairfax family maintained its pre-eminence in the newspaper industry in New South Wales during the 20th century, and also transformed itself into a national multimedia conglomerate by acquiring commercial television and radio licences and interstate newsprint media. The chief architect of this dramatic expansion was not a member of the family, but the company’s shrewd business manager, Rupert Henderson.
Born in inner-city Sydney, Henderson was driven by the belief that John Fairfax & Sons needed to expand and move with the times. Starting as a cadet reporter on the Sydney Morning Herald in 1915, and after several editorial promotions, Henderson quickly rose to become general manager of Fairfax in 1938, then managing director in 1949.
He was appointed chairman of Australian Associated Press (AAP) in 1940, president of the Australian Newspaper Proprietors’ Association in 1942 and Australian trustee of Reuters in 1952. In 1951, he launched the Australian Financial Review to challenge a rival publication from (Sir) Frank Packer. Henderson took Fairfax into the television era with a successful bid for ATN7 in 1956, followed by QTQ9 in Brisbane. His daring deal-making resulted in Fairfax purchasing the Australian assets of Lord (Lew) Grade’s Associated Television Corporation (ATV), which turned Fairfax into a commercial radio proprietor with a wholly owned subsidiary, Macquarie Broadcasting Holdings.
Henderson’s record of sober business judgement was broken in 1960 when, against the wishes of Sir Warwick Fairfax, Henderson sold Truth & Sportsman Ltd, the assets of which included the Sydney Daily Mirror and Truth, to Rupert Murdoch. The deal gave the 29-year-old Murdoch entry into the critical Sydney media market.
Henderson always referred to himself as a journalist, and earned respect from the profession for his refusal to submit to unreasonable wartime censorship edicts by the Minister for Information, Arthur Calwell. When the Herald’s much-respected financial editor, Tom Fitzgerald, seized on the idea of launching a weekly magazine called Nation, it was Henderson who championed the project in the boardroom.
He was known throughout the newspaper industry as ‘Rags’ (based on his initials), though never to his face. Senior editors called him ‘Sir’, while some Fairfaxes greeted him as ‘Mr Henderson’ rather than ‘Rupert’.
Retiring as managing director of John Fairfax & Sons in 1964, Henderson remained a director until 1978. He acquired his own family media interests, including the Wagga Wagga Daily Advertiser, the Illawarra Mercury, and television licences in Albury and Wagga Wagga. He was the subject of a portrait by Clifton Pugh in 1965.
REF: G. Souter, Company of Heralds (1981).