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Black, Roderick Hector (Rod) (1917–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

Rod Black was always on the land, always part of rural NSW, a fighter for the rights of primary producers and a voice of reason against the free marketeers.

Ultimately he was part of the expansion of Land Newspapers, which became Rural Press, whose voice resounded from one end of the country to the other.

As one of the tributes written about him said, Black was ''both a gentle man and a true gentleman'' with a great fighting heart, winning great respect and admiration throughout the bush because of his integrity, honesty and vision.

Roderick Hector Black was born on June 11, 1917, son of a flour miller and farm produce trader, Roderick Sutton Black, and Lavinia (nee Paice). His earliest years were spent at Molong, where his father had a property, Valehead. He went to Wolaroi College at Orange for his secondary education but illness prevented him doing his Leaving Certificate. Instead, he went back to the land.

When war broke out, Black joined the RAAF, where his communication skills quickly became apparent, and he was assigned to training duties at various parts of the state.

In 1942, he married Teresa (''Tess'') Leach, a hairdresser from Sydney. In the last six months of the war, Black was posted to New Guinea as a squadron leader and fighter pilot. Then he returned to Valehead.

In 1952, after his father's death and the need to sell the property to cover death duties, Black bought a property, Strathalbyne, at Peak Hill. He also became more and more drawn to rural politics.

In 1964, he sold up at Peak Hill and moved to Purlewaugh, near Coonabarabran, in the state's north-west, where he bought a property, Table Top. His interest in rural politics continued and he was elected president of the NSW United Farmers and Woolgrowers Association.

He saw that having two farmer advocacy bodies in the state – the other being the NSW Graziers Association – was not terribly efficient and was one of a handful who pressed for amalgamation. This was achieved with the formation of the Livestock and Grain Producers Association, which became the NSW Farmers Association. Black also served a stint as president of the Australian Wool and Meat Producers Federation.

In 1974, Black bought a second property, Timbali, adjoining Table Top. He also joined the board of Land Newspapers, which started expanding, acquiring regional newspaper chains throughout Australia.

Former Land editor Peter Austin said: ''He was always one to take the long-term view, and to take policy positions that he saw as beneficial for the nation (or certainly, for rural Australia), rather than for just his immediate constituents. Like that other great rural leader, Sir John McEwen, Rod saw the value in stimulating growth and spreading prosperity across industry sectors, for the wider good.

''He was not afraid, therefore, to use the T word [tariffs], which today would see any agri-politician hastily lassoed and whisked off the podium.

''Nor did he trust unrestrained markets to deliver equitable or sustainable returns to the farm sector, a sector characterised in his day by many farmers trying to raise families on barely viable soldier-settler or closer-settlement blocks.

''Hence his vigorous advocacy of producer-controlled marketing boards and other structures designed to mitigate price fluctuations and deliver some order to commodity marketing,'' Norris said.

''This stance, of course, earned Rod regular brickbats from the free-market end of town, which subscribed to the 'survival of the fittest' ethos, and saw market price gyrations as a necessary process for culling the weak and aggrandising the strong.

''The latter stance ultimately prevailed in the philosophical debate, and farm organisations and their political party allies embraced the market as the one true (economic) god.''

Black was devoted to his wife and family and was dealt a cruel blow by his wife's death from a heart attack in 1979.

But he continued on as a farmer and media man. He was elected chairman of Rural Press in 1984 and, on November 29 the following year, he officially opened the company's new headquarters near North Richmond.

On March 12, 1987, Black proudly said the company had achieved its aim of owning a rural weekly newspaper in every mainland state with the purchase of the Western Farmer and Grazier (now Farm Weekly).

He retired in 1990 and moved to Timbali and, in 2002, to Coonabarabran. He devoted his time to his growing family and took up drawing.

Rod Black is survived by children Susann, Jill and Rick, grandchildren Rodney, Rene, Sara, Simon, Timothy, Mitchel, Rebel, Deanne and Cameron, and nine great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 October 2011

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Black, Roderick Hector (Rod) (1917–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/black-roderick-hector-rod-16722/text28618, accessed 21 October 2019.

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