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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Deamer, Sydney Harold (1891–1962)

by Gavin Souter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sydney Harold Deamer (1891-1962), newspaper editor, was born on 1 December 1891 at Avondale Square, off the Old Kent Road, London, son of Rhoda Deamer. After Rhoda emigrated to North America, Syd was brought up by an aunt and educated at the British School, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Having worked briefly as a provincial journalist, he emigrated to Australia in 1912 and spent the next two years in the far north-west of Western Australia, as a railway navvy at Marble Bar, and butcher, storekeeper and gold prospector at Bamboo Creek.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 October 1914, Deamer served at Gallipoli and in Egypt. From August 1916 he was attached to the A.I.F. War Chest Club in London. He married Martha Clara Jones on 30 September 1916 at the parish church, Bishopwearmouth, Durham. On completing pilot training, he was commissioned in the Australian Flying Corps on 2 May 1918 and served in France with No.3 Squadron from September. Lieutenant Deamer was shot in the calf while flying an R.E.8 artillery spotter over German lines near Bellicourt on 29 September. In January 1919 he returned to Australia with his wife; his appointment terminated in Sydney on 24 April.

A small, assertive man with limited formal education but considerable intellect and pungent wit, Deamer became one of Australia's most prominent and mobile journalists, equally at home in the reporters' room, board-room and bar-room. Following a year on the new Smith's Weekly, he moved successively to the Sydney Sun, Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial and Melbourne Herald. In 1926 he was elected general president of the Australian Journalists' Association, but three years later his employer (Sir) Keith Murdoch lured him away from the union and into the editor's chair of the moribund Adelaide Register. Deamer revived it sufficiently to scare Advertiser Newspapers Ltd into selling a controlling interest to the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, though not sufficiently for the Register News-Pictorial to survive. With its closure in 1931, Deamer was put in charge of the Melbourne Herald and fought off a threat posed by the Star, a rival afternoon newspaper.

He spent some months in London in 1935 with the new cable service, Australian Associated Press Pty Ltd, then went to Sydney next year as editor of the resurgent Telegraph which had been acquired by Consolidated Press Ltd, a company controlled by the young (Sir) Frank Packer. Under a new masthead, the Daily Telegraph became a brighter and more profitable broadsheet. Deamer got on well with his talented and often hard-drinking journalists, one of whom described him as 'a scintillating, Bohemian type of man, possibly too much so [but] a fine editor nonetheless'. Deamer's relations with Packer were less harmonious: during the 1936 abdication crisis in Britain he tartly corrected his proprietor's dinner table reference to 'morgantic marriage'—'Morganatic, old dear, morganatic!'

Deamer resigned in 1939 to edit the new A.B.C. Weekly for four years. He was an accredited war correspondent and, as controller of public relations for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, gave evidence of political interference to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Broadcasting in 1944. Packer welcomed him back as associate-editor (1944-46) of the Daily Telegraph and a director of Consolidated Press.

Moving to the Sydney Morning Herald, from 1947 to 1961 Deamer was founding editor of 'Column 8', a daily, front-page feature of miscellaneous paragraphs under a symbolic drawing of 'Granny Herald' whose waspish features bore a resemblance to his own. He retired in February 1961, only a month before the death of his wife. Next year, while travelling to England in the Orion, he suffered a heart attack. When the ship docked he was transferred to hospital at Billericay, Essex, and died there on 30 October 1962. He was survived by two sons, Tom and Adrian, the latter of whom was to edit the Australian.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Cutlack, The Australian Flying Corps (Syd, 1923)
  • R. S. Whitington, Sir Frank (Melb, 1971)
  • D. Zwar, In Search of Keith Murdoch (Melb, 1980)
  • D. Horne, Confessions of a New Boy (Melb, 1986)
  • Australasian Journalist, 15 Apr 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 1939, 29 Nov 1944, 8 Mar 1945, 21 June, 6, 13, 20, 27 Sept, 4, 11 Oct 1958, 1 Apr 1961, 1, 3 Nov 1962.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gavin Souter, 'Deamer, Sydney Harold (1891–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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