Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fisher, John (1910–1960)

by Amirah Inglis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Fisher (1910-1960), journalist, was born on 7 June 1910 in South Melbourne, fifth of six children of Scottish-born Andrew Fisher, prime minister, and his wife Margaret Jane, née Irvine, from Queensland. The family moved to London in 1915. Apart from one year in a state school at St Kilda when the Fishers revisited Melbourne in 1921, John was educated in England, from 1922 to 1929 at Merchant Taylors' School, London. Having travelled in Europe, in 1930 he returned to Melbourne where (Sir) Keith Murdoch gave him a cadetship on the Herald.

In 1934 Fisher's life was transformed by the arrival in Australia of Egon Erwin Kisch, a Czechoslovakian communist who had been invited as a star delegate to the All-Australia Congress of the Movement Against War and Fascism, to be held in Melbourne in November. The Federal government prohibited Kisch from landing and the case became a cause célèbre. As publicity manager of the Kisch reception committee, Fisher helped to have the ban overturned. Kisch sailed for Europe in March 1935 and Fisher accompanied him. During the voyage he provided material for Kisch's witty and perceptive book, Australian Landfall (London, 1937). Fisher was one of its English translators.

From 1935 Fisher was based in Moscow: he worked as sub-editor on the Moscow News, published an article in International Literature (October) and in Paris attended the first International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture. In 1936 he moved between Moscow, Brussels, London and Berlin. Following the insurrection in Spain in July, he was active in the Republican cause. At Barcelona in 1937 he was Australian representative on the World Committee for Aid to Republican Spain, and was liaison officer between that body and the Spanish Relief committees in Melbourne and Sydney. In August he co-organized the British Empire press delegation to Madrid. Back in Australia next year, he spoke on public platforms about his Spanish experiences.

Politics were Fisher's passion and journalism his trade. He was assistant foreign editor of the Labor Daily (Sydney), then Canberra correspondent for the communist newspaper, Tribune, from September 1939 until it was banned in May 1940. Seeking to enter Federal parliament, in 1939 he had tried unsuccessfully to gain Labor Party pre-selection for his father's old seat of Wide Bay, Queensland, before standing in New South Wales in 1940 as State Labor candidate for Hume and receiving only 4.9 per cent of the vote.

In Canberra he had met Elizabeth Skelton, a stenographer on the Hansard staff; they were married on 19 August 1941 at the registrar general's office, Sydney. On 6 June 1942 they sailed for Vladivostok, en route to Moscow where Fisher freelanced and was the Australian Broadcasting Commission's war commentator. The A.B.C. terminated his regular broadcasts in January 1943. That month he became press attaché to the Australian legation at Kuibyshev; Beth worked as its clerical officer.

After the cessation of hostilities in Europe the Fishers shifted to Prague. John continued freelancing and Beth was employed by the publishers, McGraw-Hill. Told to leave Czechoslovakia in 1949, he spent the next years in London. The couple separated and were to be divorced in 1959. He settled in Sydney in 1954. Although he had brief stints as a sub-editor, his days in journalism were over. His application in 1955 for a position with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was blocked by the Department of External Affairs because of an unsatisfactory security assessment and a negative report by the Department of Labour and National Service.

Tall, extremely thin and ascetic, Fisher was a serious, selfless and impulsive man who tried 'to make the world a better place'. His only interest outside politics was in Shakespearian drama. He took a job as a mailsorter in the General Post Office, Sydney. Survived by his two sons, he died of coronary vascular disease on 25 August 1960 at Plympton, Adelaide, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Worker's Weekly, Mar, Apr 1939
  • Tribune (Sydney), 1 Sept 1939, 8 Sept 1939-Apr 1940
  • A989, item 1943/845/10/2, A472/1, item W16406, A1066/1, item PI45/226, A1068/1, item IC47/22/18/1 and A1838/261, item 2154/1/14 (National Archives of Australia)
  • W. Powell, draft and notes for B.A. Hons thesis on John Fisher, University of Sydney, c1984 (copy held by author)
  • private information.

Citation details

Amirah Inglis, 'Fisher, John (1910–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fisher-john-10189/text18003, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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