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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Daley, Michael Joseph (1940–1982)

by Robyn Williams

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Michael Joseph Daley (1940-1982), science journalist and television producer, was born on 23 October 1940 at Christchurch, New Zealand, son of Matthew Patrick Daley, baker, and his wife Mary, née Walsh. From an early age Michael displayed a journalistic bent: at high school he wrote and edited the Daley Weekly. Starting with general journalism, he developed an interest in science, which flourished when he moved to Sydney in the early 1960s to work on the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1964 he became the inaugural science and medical correspondent for the Australian. At St Mary’s Catholic Church, North Sydney, on 25 November 1961 he had married Anne Elizabeth Rogers, a nurse.

In 1968 the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s science unit, led by Peter Pockley, launched `The World Tomorrow’, one of the first science magazine programs on radio in the country. Its essence was journalism and Daley was recruited to report on major issues. Although reporters were not yet favoured as on-air presenters, he soon took over from the designated announcer and made the show his own. Before long, tensions emerged as his uninhibited style clashed with leading scientists’ views on everything from ozone depletion and supersonic flight to radiation hazards. Scientific institutions were unused to dealing with truculent journalists who would not give up. During this period he maintained his print journalism, notably with the Bulletin.

Late in 1972 Daley moved to ABC television. As executive producer, he established a television science unit that made a series of programs, and documentaries including `Vela X: The Supernova Story’, which he wrote, produced and directed. Other subjects covered were Sir Mark Oliphant and his particle accelerator at the Australian National University in Canberra; Papua New Guinea; and, presciently, babies and their genes. By 1982 the unit had made over seventy programs ranging from half-hour portraits of Australian scientists to `Genesis’, a series on evolution on which Daley worked as executive producer until just days before his death.

Daley’s work was always `edgy’ and questioning. He was one of the first to stress the centrality of politics in scientific affairs. He was as uncomfortable with the ABC hierarchy as with the scientific establishment. But his insistence on the importance of science in public affairs placed it at the centre of the broadcasting schedule, where it has remained ever since. He was a `journo’s journo’ who relished all the convivial distractions of the traditional reporter, but who barely missed a beat however hard he played. A robust physique and gruff tones contrasted with his boyish demeanour. His work was his life; holidays were dismissed as unwelcome interruptions. Diagnosed with acute leukaemia during the compulsory medical examination for one of his trips to Antarctica, he virtually ignored his condition, working with undiminished intensity right until the end.

Survived by his wife and their son, Daley died on 6 May 1982 at Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated. The Michael Daley award for science journalism, established by the Federal government, commemorated his pioneering work. His son, Jonathan, who followed him into television as a cameraman, was later killed when he fell from a helicopter during a shoot.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, This Is the ABC (1983)
  • ABC, Annual Report, 1967-82
  • Australian, 8-9 May 1982, p 9
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 May 1982, p 6
  • ABC, Scan, 31 May-20 June 1982, p 15
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Robyn Williams, 'Daley, Michael Joseph (1940–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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