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Francis (Frank) Harvey (1911–2005)

by John Farquharson

Frank Harvey, who has died aged 94 at Tura Beach on the NSW south coast, always regarded himself as a ‘newspaperman’. Almost his entire working life was devoted to newspaper production, which was where his expertise lay. But, above all, he prided himself on being a ‘master printer’. To him a printing shop, large or small, was hallowed ground.

For more than 50 years he plied his trade in the composing room of the Sydney Morning Herald, which he joined as a messenger in the reporters’ room before becoming an apprentice compositor upon turning 16 on April 26, 1927. When he retired in December 1974, he was assistant production manager with an overall staff of about 1000 and a budget of $12 million.

In the postwar years when the Fairfax company began to expand under the direction of the then general manager, Rupert (‘Rags’ Henderson), Harvey was called upon to give technical advice on the printing facilities of the new acquisitions. With the Herald’s move from Hunter Street to Broadway, Harvey as composing room manager was responsible for the planning of what eventually became one of the biggest newspaper composing rooms in the world. Throughout his long career, he was respected as a ‘straight shooter’ and ‘dedicated company man’, always concerned for the welfare of his staff.

Born in Redfern on April 26, 1911, his education began at the Macpherson School in Mosman, where his family were then living. When his parents moved to North Sydney he attended the Greenwood School, qualifying to go to Chatswood High. However, his father insisted that he learn a trade and sent him to Fort Street Technical High School where he passed the Technical Certificate. He left school at 14 to become an office boy with the firm of S. T. Leigh, printers for the W. D. & H. O. Wills tobacco company.

He wasn’t long at S. T. Leighs before realising that his prospects there were limited. His next move was to apply to the Sydney Morning Herald to join its printing department. He was accepted as a messenger in the reporters’ room with an understanding that he would be given an apprenticeship as a compositor upon turning 16 at a wage of twelve shillings and sixpence a week. Five years later in 1932, when he completed his apprenticeship he became a compositor on four pounds eight shillings a week. During his apprenticeship he went to the Fairfax School, which all employees aged 14 to 21 were expected to attend for one hour of their employer’s time each day. They studied English, French, Geography, History, Mathematics, Economics, General Science and Current Affairs under the headmastership of Mr F. G. Brown, a former chief naval instructor with the Royal Australian Navy. In his final year Harvey won the prize for economics. In the middle of the Great Depression, he considered himself fortunate to be given a position on the day staff. Within two years, at the age of 23, he was made deputy overseer, a position in which he remained until 1941 when he was released to join the RAAF in World War II. However, with the closure of the Herald’s evening edition in January 1940, ending its reign as virtually a 24-hour newspaper, Harvey was transferred to the night shift.

In the RAAF he was trained as an electrician and then sent to complete courses in various aspects of radio before becoming a radar mechanic. He served at various radar stations in Australia until sent overseas to serve in Borneo. Later he took part in the landings on Labuan Island with the American forces. At the end of the war the Fairfax company requested his immediate discharge and he returned to the Herald in January 1946.

After 12 months on night shift he was appointed night overseer. He also enrolled at Sydney Technical College to undertake a three-year management course covering financial, production, personnel and sales management. During this time he received a request from Fairfax general manager, Rupert Henderson, to investigate privately for him several country newspapers, the Illawarra Mercury, at Wollongong, the Goulburn Post and the Daily Advertiser at Wagga Wagga. Later when the company purchased the Canberra Times in May 1964, and the Newcastle Morning Herald in September 1961 he had to give advice on the production operations of these newspapers. Earlier, when Fairfax acquired an interest in Associated Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Sun, a Sydney afternoon daily, in August 1953, Harvey again gave advice on its production facilities. He fulfilled a similar advisory role upon the Herald acquiring an interest in the Age in December 1966.

With the amalgamation of the Sun, a major factor in triggering the move from Hunter Street to Broadway, Harvey was called upon to take responsibility for planning the new huge composing room. Upon its completion he became composing room manager. To keep up with technical developments in the newspaper industry, Harvey made several overseas trips during the 1960s and early 1970s. On one of those trips he went to a conference in New York which marked the beginning of the new computer technology in the industry which eventually saw the end of linotype machines and hot-metal type-setting.

Because of a shortage of staff, in 1960 he was sent to South Africa where he managed to recruit 54 people to come and settle in Australia. A visit to New Zealand had a similar outcome. As well as being appointed a management representative in negotiations with unions on industrial agreements and wages, he was management’s representative on the Sydney Technical Printing Council. On appointment as composing superintendent he became responsible for the daily production of the Herald, and the Australian Financial Review together with the weekend publication of the Sun-Herald, the National Times and a range of magazines published by the Fairfax group. He retained the title of composing superintendent until 1973 when he was appointed assistant production manager. During his last five years of service he made a staff-recruiting visit to Britain, spending six weeks in Fleet Street. Returning to Australia through the United States, he investigated the latest developments in computer production and type setting, which occupied most of his time until his retirement.

A keen sportsman, he was a member of the Herald cricket and golf clubs and founder and life member of the Herald-Sun bowling club. On retirement he became vice-president of the Retired Employees’ Association and upon moving to Queensland founded the Gold Coast branch of the REA, of which he was chairman for 15 years. He and his wife, Irene, moved to Bega in 2001 to be near their daughter, Margaret, and her husband, Ross Williams, at Numbugga. Later, they moved into a retirement village and nursing home at Tura Beach.

From comments made by composing room colleagues and management, he was in high esteem by management for his technical skills. John B. Fairfax, chairman of Rural Press Limited, who was deputy chairman of the old Fairfax company described Frank Harvey, as ‘solid, extremely efficient and a good company man’. His work mates and staff in the composing room also respected him for the way he sought to develop teamwork. A devoted family man, he spent as much time with them as the work demands of a daily morning newspaper allowed.

His wife of 70 years, Irene, whom he married in 1935, survives him, as does a daughter, Margaret and her family. A son, Max, predeceased him.

Francis Harrie Harvey, born April 26, 1911; died August 11, 2005.

Original publication

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Harvey, Francis (Frank) (1911–2005)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

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