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Richard Neville (Dick) Cole (1911–2000)

by John Farquharson

Dick Cole was the first manager of the Canberra Times after the ownership passed from the Shakespeare family to John Fairfax and Sons Ltd in May 1964 and, as such, made a significant contribution to the paper’s development.

A Fairfax stalwart, Cole, who died in Calvary Hospital on Sunday night (July 30), gave a record 57 years of distinguished service to the company. This included 12 years, firstly as manager, then general manager of the Canberra Times before another seven years as a member of the paper’s board of directors.

The Canberra years were undoubtedly the peak of his career, which had begun in February 1926 when he joined Fairfax as a messenger straight from Randwick Intermediate High School. The 12 years of his management from July 1964 to March 1976, when he retired, saw the paper, under the successive editorships of David Bowman, John Allan and the early tenure of Ian Mathews, grow immensely in stature and influence, both locally and nationally.

They were the intense development years during which the paper shrugged off the strong competition posed by Rupert Murdoch’s newly launched Australian. Cole’s part in this struggle, on taking up his appointment, was to concentrate on building up the paper’s advertising and circulation. At the same time he had to put accounting procedures in order. The result of this combined editorial and management effort was that Murdoch switched his operation from Canberra to Sydney. And The Canberra Times went on to attain circulation dominance in the city despite competition from Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan morning papers. 

In the old Fairfax company there was a tradition of non-interference by management in the editorial conduct of publications. Cole adhered strictly to this. So initially he worked very much in the background, at least until the 1970s, when he took a more public role as the tempo of the paper’s promotional activities increased. And editors found too that, although naturally reserved, there was a warm human being behind the hand that maintained the tight financial control under which they had to operate.

Cole was born on January 27, 1911, and grew up in the Randwick area. He had a somewhat difficult home life, but after joining Fairfax his career surged ahead without a backward step. His messenger days lasted only about eight months, when he transferred to the clerical department and then began studying accountancy. In 1934 he was admitted to the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants.
He then had a short spell in Newcastle before returning to the accounts department, where he continued to serve until 1942, when he joined the army. After four years in the army, during which he served in Morotai and Borneo, he returned to the company on the administrative staff. Five years later he was appointed assistant company secretary, and in May 1961 was put in charge of transport, storage and the flying service at the Blackwattle Bay newsprint store. His next career shift came with his secondment to Canberra, which he found rewarding and congenial. After playing his part in seeing off the Australian, he had a major role in the launching of Canberra’s first afternoon paper, the Canberra News in November 1969. This move had been prompted largely by concern at the possibility of an afternoon paper being started either by Murdoch or Max Newton, who was running several profitable specialised publications out of Canberra. However, when circulation levelled out at around 13,000, and with costs rising more rapidly than revenue, the paper was closed in July 1974.

The advent of the Canberra News also saw a shake-up in both the administrative and editorial areas, leading, among other things, to greater emphasis being placed on promotional activities. Cole had a hand in the appointments that were made to pursue this development.

Dick Cole’s managership left the business and revenue side of the paper in a healthy state. What had been achieved from 1964 to 1976 undoubtedly helped to pave the way for many of the new initiatives undertaken by the Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty Ltd, publishers of the Canberra Times.

He was not only noted for his life-long devotion to the Fairfax organization, but was also known as an enthusiastic golfer. As well as being a strong supporter of the then Canberra Times Golf Club, he played at the Federal Golf Club for some time off a handicap of 23. In his young days he was also a keen tennis player and cricketer and was a member of Randwick Cricket Club.

His wife Joyce, and daughter Jacqueline survive him. A son, Richard, predeceased him.

Richard Neville Cole, born January 27, 1911; died July 30, 2000.

Original publication

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Cole, Richard Neville (Dick) (1911–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 July 2024.

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