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Inder, Stuart Gerald (1926–2015)

by Amy Ripley

Journalist, editor and publisher Stuart Inder was the leading expert on the Pacific Islands between the early 1950s and the mid-1980s as he covered the region's recovery from World War II and chronicled its critical transition from colonisation to independence.

Commitment and passion for the people and stories of the islands shone through his work. With elegant, clear prose and keen eye for detail, he always got right to the heart of a story.

Throughout his long and distinguished career he worked for news outlets including the ABC, Australian Geographic, the Bulletin and the Sydney Morning Herald. However, it was his 30-year stint for the Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM) which cemented his reputation as a much respected authority on Pacific issues.

His perceptive commentary and analysis was applied to such seminal events as the raising of Nauru's first independent flag in 1972, the celebrations to mark the signing of the Treaty of Independence of Papua New Guinea in 1978 and the opening of Norfolk Island's first Legislative Assembly in 1979.

In 1965, Inder wrote about the quest of the Banaban people to be fairly recompensed by the British government for the phosphate mining on Ocean Island. His words drew international interest and helped publicise the Banabans' case, which they later won.

Stuart Gerald Inder was born on November 7, 1926, in Mosman, the third of seven children to Gerald Inder, a haulage contractor, and his wife, Lilian (nee Woodberry). He grew up in Manly and went to Manly Intermediate High.

As a child, Stuart loved writing and showed early promise, demonstrating the flair and originality that would characterise his later career. In 1939, when he was 12, he and three of his brothers established and published the Smedley Times, a local weekly newspaper with news, sports and a serial, all for the bargain price of a penny. He was also a regular contributor to Sunbeams, the children's page in the Sunday Sun.

Inder left school in 1942 and went to work as a copyboy for the Sydney Sun. He became a cadet in 1944. Later that year, he was conscripted into the AIF, where he trained as a signalman. He was about to be shipped out to New Guinea in 1945, when the war ended.

He was then sent to Japan and worked with the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces on their newspaper, British Commonwealth Occupation News, and was part of a team that produced public health information films for the troops.

After being demobbed in 1947, Inder returned to the Sydney Sun. In 1950, he was in Maitland, reporting on the floods, when a ruptured appendix sent him to Maitland Hospital for two months. There he met Jo Bell, a nurse from Coffs Harbour, and they were married in 1951.

In 1953, the growing family moved to the then Australian Territory of Papua, where Inder became the ABC correspondent. With an irresistible sense of adventure, he thrived on the adrenaline rush of providing daily news bulletins. He later said this was one of the best times of his life.

In the days before easy air travel, he hopped on cargo ships and travelled extensively throughout the Islands. He met chiefs, colonial officials and politicians and always had an ear out for the gold-coin quote and finer details that made a good story. Before long he was invited to contribute articles to Pacific Islands Monthly.

PIM, first published in 1930 by New Zealand-born Robbie Robson, was the voice of the Pacific Islands for 70 years. It played an integral part in building the identity and strength of the islands as they recovered from World War II and prepared for independence. Readers with few other regional news sources could keep an eye on the shipping schedules, catch up on the region's latest political developments and read personal memoirs from old Pacific hands.

It was also an important medium for advertisers to reach a captive audience, its pages thick with adverts for the essentials of a colonial life in the tropics - Electrolux kerosene-powered deep freezers, Peter's powdered milk and Arnott's crackers.

The Inder family returned to Sydney in 1955. After a two-year stint at People magazine, Inder joined the staff of PIM full-time in 1957. As joint editor of PIM with Judy Tudor, later publisher for Pacific Publications, Inder's career with PIM spanned more than 30 years. Pacific Publications published, along with PIM, the daily Fiji Times (which Inder edited in Suva for three months in 1958), the Pacific Islands Year Book, and books by writers such as Robert Langdon and James Sinclair.

Speaking about his time there, Inder said: "We loved it. We all believed in it and we put our everything into it".

In the mid-1960s, Inder initiated the famous weekly Thursday lunches, held near PIM's office in central Sydney. These were an invaluable source of news, gossip and contacts for all who attended, including island traders such as Peter Fisher and Henry Cumines, planters, kiaps (Pidgin for district and patrol officers) and journalists. The lunches continue to this day at the Law Society restaurant in Philip Street.

With an enviable contact book and a huge amount of knowledge, Inder was trusted and respected throughout the region for his balanced reporting and thoughtful editorials. He was in demand as a world authority on Pacific affairs, often providing expert commentary for the ABC's PM and Notes on the News.

He had strong professional working relationships with political and business leaders throughout the islands including Michael Somare (PNG), Hammer de Robert (Nauru), Sir Tom Davis (Cook Islands), David Lange (New Zealand) and Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (Fiji).

In 1981, Inder decided to retire from Pacific Publications and try life at a slightly gentler pace. This quieter, but no less productive part of his life included 10 years as a staff writer for Australian Geographic, another job which he loved. During this time he worked on editing or co-writing the beautiful photographic books of Dick and Pip Smith's travels in their helicopter and light plane.

He contributed entries to the Australian Dictionary of Biography and World Book Encyclopaedia and was a curator at the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau, founded at the ANU by his friend and former PIM contributor, Robert Langdon.

In 1981, Inder was appointed as an MBE. He was also chairman of the Ethics Committee of the Australian Journalists Association and an active member of the PNG Association of Australia.

In the early '80s, he gave several popular lecture tour cruises, focusing on the Pacific Islands, and in 1985, he spent six months as a fellow of the East West Centre at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu.

Between 1982 and 1987 Inder was retained by the Bulletin as Pacific Affairs writer and was also a regular casual night subeditor for the Herald. In 2002, he edited the popular Tales of Papua New Guinea, a book of memoirs by the Retired Officers Association of PNG.

He continued writing and editing until 2013 and generously supported many other writers and younger journalists looking for advice.

Although he worked very hard and was often away from home, Inder was always a family man.

Stuart Inder is survived by Jo, children Lesley, David and Stephanie, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 April 2015

Additional Resources

Citation details

Amy Ripley, 'Inder, Stuart Gerald (1926–2015)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/inder-stuart-gerald-19837/text31083, accessed 17 November 2019.

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