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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rayner, Henry Ross (1914–1989)

by N. D. Tanswell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Henry Ross Rayner (1914-1989), journalist and public servant, was born on 7 November 1914 at Orange, New South Wales, eldest of three children of New South Wales-born parents Alexander Ross Rayner, storeman, and his wife Amy Elizabeth, née Bargwanna.  Harry attended Orange District Rural School, and worked at the local Leader newspaper in his holidays.  At 14 he became an apprentice linotype operator and soon began reporting on local events.  He was editor (1937-41) of the Molong Express and Western District Advertiser.  On 13 September 1941 at the Methodist Church, Orange, he married Beatrice Mary Needham, a shop assistant.

Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 17 July 1941 with the rank of aircraftman, Rayner trained as an electrician and was stationed at bases in New South Wales and Victoria.  On 9 October 1943 he was commissioned as a pilot officer in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch.  Promoted to flying officer in April 1944, he served with No.2 Medical Air Evacuation Transport Unit, based at Morotai Island.  His appointment was terminated on 7 November 1945.  During the war he acted as a 'one man band' to publish RAAF News, preparing the magazine layout at night on his kitchen table.

Chief sub-editor and editor (1946-49) of the Central Western Daily (formerly Leader), at Orange, Rayner was managing editor (1949-52) of the Richmond River Express, Casino.  In 1952 he rejoined the RAAF as a public relations officer in Sydney.  He studied by correspondence and graduated from the University of Queensland (Dip.Jour., 1954; BA, 1958).  Moving to Canberra in 1959, he became director of public relations, Department of Air, with the reserve rank of group captain.  In 1965 he was appointed director of public relations, Department of Defence, and next year accompanied Prime Minister Harold Holt on a South-East Asian tour.  Seconded to the Prime Minister’s Department in 1966 for the visit to Australia of the president of the United States of America, Lyndon Johnson, he was press liaison officer during the tours of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1967 and 1968 and of Queen Elizabeth II in 1970.  He was appointed MVO in 1970 for his services during the royal visit and MBE in 1979.  He retired that year.

Rayner was a foundation member (1963) and president (1968-69) of the National Press Club.  A happy extrovert, he was a volunteer from 1982 for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and the inaugural editor (1984-89) of the Churchill Fellow.  In 1984 he published a biography of Sir Frederick Scherger, whom he believed personified the RAAF.  Rayner enjoyed reading, playing lawn bowls, sketching and making pottery.  In 1987 he moved to Brisbane.  Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 3 August 1989 at his Fig Tree Pocket home and was cremated.  The Canberra Times noted in an obituary that he was 'widely respected for his reputation for veracity'.

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times, 31 July 1968, p 14
  • Canberra Times, 7 April 1979, p 2
  • Canberra Times, 4 August 1989, p 4
  • A9300, item Rayner H R (National Archives of Australia)
  • H. Rayner papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information
  • personal knowledge

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

N. D. Tanswell, 'Rayner, Henry Ross (1914–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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