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McLachlan, Angus Henry (1908–1996)

by John Farquharson

One of Australia's most distinguished journalists, Angus McLachlan, died in Sydney on Monday, aged 88.

He was a director of The Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty Ltd, publisher of the Canberra Times, from 1970 till 1980.

He was an active executive of the Sydney Morning Herald and its parent company, John Fairfax Ltd, for 32 years, retiring as managing director in December 1969.

He achieved an outstanding reputation for journalistic excellence and integrity. He encouraged this in young reporters and demanded it of editors.

A man of unfailing courtesy and personal charm, he had a shrewd, agile intelligence and an underlying toughness of character.

Born in Narrogin, Western Australia, on March 29, 1908, Angus Henry McLachlan was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, and Melbourne University, where he earned a Diploma of Journalism.

In 1926 he joined Provincial Daily Press (later known as Australian United Press, an agency supplying news to provincial papers) and the following year became a member of the first Parliamentary Press Gallery in Canberra.

He was appointed state political correspondent of the Herald, Melbourne, in 1928, and first assistant sub-editor soon afterward. He became involved in the work of the Australian Journalists' Association and was president of the Victoria district.

He joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1936 as first assistant sub-editor. A year later, he was appointed news editor (chief news executive) at 28.

He was held this post during World War II and during the modernisation of the Herald, which brought news to the front page for the first time in 1944.

He was seconded as editor to the Department of Information by the Director-General of the department, Sir Keith Murdoch, and as press liaison officer to the Governor-General, the Duke of Gloucester, for two periods.

In June 1949 he became general manager of John Fairfax and Sons Pty Ltd. He held the position in that company and the later public company for just over 15 years. The most significant aspect of his working life was the working partnership he formed with R. A. G. Henderson, the managing director. This lasted for at least two decades. Never in all their dealings did they manage, or need, to get on first-name terms.

Mr McLachlan figured significantly in the company's affairs over those decades during which the organisation underwent the biggest changes in its history. One of his first tasks was to supervise the launching of the Sunday Herald (later merged with the Sunday Sun to become the Sun-Herald), the company's first venture into Sunday journalism.

His responsibilities grew rapidly. The company acquired Associated Newspapers, which published the Sun and a number of magazines, then expanded its interests into television.

He was zealous in defending the rights of newspapers.

In 1953, Sydney newspapers, including the Herald, campaigned against malpractices in the Sydney City Council. When the Herald published a series of allegations of corruption, the council rushed through the City Council (Disclosure of Allegations) Bill, designed to force newspapers to reveal the names of their informants.

On December 3, 1953, police visited Mr McLachlan's office. Ordered to disclose the names of two aldermen whose allegations had formed the basis of one report, he refused.

After public protests and legal challenges, the Disclosure of Allegations Bill was dropped. Mr McLachlan was praised for his stand by Douglas Hamilton, Professor of Libel Law at Columbia School of Journalism. "Somebody must stand and refuse to reveal confidential sources even if it means putting himself in jeopardy of police brutality," he said.

In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, Mr McLachlan said, "I conceived it to be the duty of this newspaper ... to bring and keep such matters before the public."

He was appointed managing director of John Fairfax Ltd on January 1, 1965, succeeding Mr Henderson. On December 31, 1969, he retired from that post, on medical advice. He remained a director of John Fairfax Ltd till 1980.

He was at various stages a director of Amalgamated Television Services Pty Ltd (ATN Channel 7), David Syme and Co Ltd (The Age), The Federal Capital Press and Macquarie Broadcasting Holdings Ltd.

He was several times chairman of Australian Associated Press, a director of Reuters Ltd, London, 1966-71, and later a trustee; and a member of the council of the Library of NSW, 1966-75, and of the Sydney University Extension Board. A journalist with a reputation for excellence.

The funeral will be at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium at 2.30 this afternoon.

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Citation details

John Farquharson, 'McLachlan, Angus Henry (1908–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/mclachlan-angus-henry-1566/text1629, accessed 18 September 2021.

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