Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Olle, John Andrew (1947–1995)

by Chris Masters

This article was published online in 2019

John Andrew Durrant Olle (1947–1995), broadcaster, was born on 28 December 1947 at Hornsby, Sydney, only child of Sydney-born Major John Durrant Olle, radio telegraphist, and his wife Marie Jose, née Ifwersen. His father, a World War II veteran, had been thirty-six when he married in February 1947; Marie Jose, New Zealand born and of Danish and French heritage, was twenty-one. The marriage lasted six years. Though Andrew was educated at a succession of private boarding schools—Geelong Grammar Preparatory School, Toorak, Melbourne; Albury Grammar School, New South Wales; and Ivanhoe Grammar School, Melbourne—his upbringing was far from privileged. After the divorce John had gained custody. His army career (resumed in 1948 and extending to 1960) made him an absent father; a memory later shared was of Andrew walking the fence at school, waiting for rare weekend visits. Despite this, their relationship retained what Andrew came to call a ‘distant closeness’ (Hawley 1992, 29). In 1962, with his father remarried, Andrew moved to Mornington, Victoria. Enrolled at the local State high school he proved disruptive, abandoning his studies in 1963 and facing court.

At this point a supportive parole officer rescued Olle. The next saviour was his step-grandfather. In December 1964 Olle relocated to Brisbane to live with his mother and her stepfather, who secured him a place at Brisbane Grammar School. Boarding in his final year, he won a Commonwealth scholarship and then enrolled as an arts-law student. At the University of Queensland he again drifted, before beginning a cadetship at the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Brisbane on 27 November 1967. In the following year Annette Longfield Marjason, a nurse at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, attended a function with Olle sitting at a parallel table. Ten months later, on 24 April 1969, they married at St Thomas’s Church of England, Toowong.

From 1969 to 1970 Olle worked in Townsville, before returning to Brisbane. He worked on This Day Tonight between 1971 and 1977, mostly in Brisbane but briefly (1973–74) in Melbourne. The story that put him on the national stage came in 1976 when Queensland police raided a hippy commune at Cedar Bay. An expensive assault, employing a naval patrol boat, aircraft, and armed officers, secured minor convictions and had major repercussions. His Logie-winning report, delivered with clarity and passion, was one of a series on abuse of police power by the Bjelke-Petersen government.

Moving to Sydney, Olle began working on national television programs such as Four Corners (1977–78, 1985–94), Nationwide (1979–80), A Big Country (1981), and Channel Nine’s Sunday (1981–85), demonstrating talent, industry, and versatility. He anchored election coverage and from 1987 he presented a popular morning radio show on Sydney radio station 2BL. By 1995 he was working fifteen-hour days, turning up at the radio studio at 5.30 am and going on to present the 7.30 Report that night. Interviewing was his forte; his signature expression was ‘indeed.’ Probing rather than punishing, he liked the simple ‘why?’ Best of all was the creative silence. He also knew when to stop talking and let the audience think. Annette, who knew him best, described him as riddled with self-doubt, having no ego, and, as he would put it, being ‘cursed with an ability to see both sides of [an] argument’ (Olle, pers. comm.).

When, at forty-seven, he died from brain cancer on 12 December 1995 at St Leonards there was widespread shock and grief. Soon after, a nationally broadcast memorial service packed the Sydney Town Hall. An old friend, Peter Luck, noted that ‘it’s not often that a nation mourns a journalist’ (1996, 125). Survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter, he was cremated. A memorial trust was founded in his name to raise funds for neuroscience research, and an annual media lecture and a journalism scholarship were established in his honour.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Hawley, Janet. ‘The Hidden Parts of Andrew Olle.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 1992, Good Weekend, 26–33
  • Luck, Peter. ‘A Decent Man.’ In Andrew Olle 1947–1995: A Tribute, edited by Annette Olle and Paul Lyneham, 120–26. Sydney: UNSW Press, 1996
  • Olle, Annette. Personal communication
  • Olle, Annette, and Paul Lyneham. Andrew Olle 1947–1995: A Tribute. Sydney: UNSW Press, 1996
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Chris Masters, 'Olle, John Andrew (1947–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/olle-john-andrew-27542/text34947, published online 2019, accessed online 23 August 2019.

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