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Gribble, Diana (Di) (1942–2011)

by Elizabeth Howcroft, Eric Beecher and Michael Heyward

Diana Gribble, who has died of pancreatic cancer, aged 69, left an indelible imprint on Australian culture, book publishing and media.

Her lifetime of achievements include co-founding the Australian book publishing house McPhee Gribble in the 1970s, co-founding the Text Media Group in the 1990s, becoming a publisher of online properties including Crikey and Smart Company in the 2000s, and sitting on numerous cultural and philanthropic boards.

Di was a creator. Not only did she build several significant Australian publishing enterprises, she had that rare gift of making things possible for other creative people. She never stopped mentoring young writers and publishers; she never lost her passion or enthusiasm.

Born in Melbourne, Di was the second of the four children of Archie Glenn and Betty Balderstone. As a young child she contracted rheumatic fever. Confined to bed for three months at the age of three, she taught herself to read anything from the corn flakes packet at breakfast, the back of tram tickets and numerous books at once.

When, at age five, rheumatic fever returned, she spent another lengthy period in bed and read the Oxford Children's Encyclopedia from cover to cover.

After high school at Fintona, she began studying architecture at Melbourne University, but before completing the course she and her university friend, Hilary McPhee, decided to become book publishers. The result was the birth of McPhee Gribble, one of Australia's most creative publishing houses of any era.

McPhee Gribble's first book was Thoroughly Decent People, by Glen Tomasetti, published in 1976, and was soon followed by Monkey Grip, Helen Garner's famous novel about inner-city life, which won a National Book Council award and set its eponymous publishing company on a remarkable course.

Over the next 15 years, McPhee Gribble went on to publish and often discover a stellar list of authors, among them Tim Winton, Murray Bail, Kaz Cooke, Peter Cundall, Rod Jones, Jean McCaughey, Rodney Hall, Kathy Lette, Gabrielle Carey and Drusilla Modjeska. But, as Di revealed in a 2002 interview with writer Eve Vincent, it was far from easy for two women to build an ambitious venture in the masculine world of Australian book publishing.

"Publishing in Australia was a real boys' club: they were intelligent, beer-drinking blokes," she noted. "And women were editors and secretaries and publicity people, but they weren't publishers."

Despite these challenges, McPhee Gribble developed an almost cult status within the then staid Australian literary milieu. An invitation to its Christmas party became highly prized among members and hangers-on of the literati, and the party itself soon outstripped the company's legendary reputation.

In 1989, McPhee Gribble was sold to Penguin Books, and Di (pictured above in 1990) embarked on the next phase of her career, partnering with Eric Beecher, who had recently resigned as editor-in-chief of The Herald and Weekly Times, to launch the Text Media Group.

Text published books, custom magazines and local glossy newspapers, including the Melbourne Weekly. It grew quickly, with Di deeply engaged in its strategy and culture. Again, she was instrumental in attracting top-flight authors to her new book publishing venture, including Peter Singer, Tim Flannery, the Chaser team, Shane Maloney, Hazel Hawke, Robert Manne and Raimond Gaita.

Text Media eventually listed on the sharemarket and became a notable and rare example of a listed Australian independent media company. In 2004 Fairfax Media (owner of The Age), one of its major competitors, launched a takeover bid and eventually Text Media was sold to Fairfax. For Di, this was the signal for yet another media adventure called Private Media, also alongside Beecher, built around internet journalism. It started by acquiring the idiosyncratic online news service Crikey from its founder Stephen Mayne in 2005, and since then has added a number of other websites: Smart Company, StartUp Smart, The Power Index and Property Observer.

In addition to her various publishing careers, Di occupied a diverse range of interesting roles: as deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, a member of the Australia Council, a director of Lonely Planet, of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Melbourne Major Events Company, Austrade, Circus Oz, Care Australia, and a founding member of the Women's Electoral Lobby, as well as the Essendon Football Club's Women's Network.

She was so "fair, considered and upright", says her close friend Brian Johns, the former publisher and ABC managing director, "that it left me completely unprepared for her openness to ideas. She'd fly with you on an idea, she was so imaginative."

Diana's second husband, sculptor Les Kossatz, died in February this year. She is survived by her first husband, architect John Gribble, their daughter Anna, stepsons Yuri and Matt Kossatz, sisters Elizabeth and Fleur, brother Gordon, and her father Archie Glenn.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 22 October 2011

Additional Resources

Citation details

Elizabeth Howcroft, Eric Beecher and Michael Heyward, 'Gribble, Diana (Di) (1942–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gribble-diana-di-16650/text28549, accessed 21 November 2019.

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