Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ross Francis Gollan (1902–1961)

by Kathleen Dermody

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Ross Francis Gollan (1902-1961), journalist, was born on 2 October 1902 at Bowral, New South Wales, eldest child of native-born parents Colin Gollan, schoolteacher, and his wife Nellie (Ellen), née Sullivan. Ross attended Sydney Boys' High School, edited the school magazine, was a prefect and played Rugby in the first XV. At the University of Sydney (B.A., 1923; M.A., 1925) he edited Hermes and won the 1923 Wentworth medal for the best undergraduate essay.

Joining the Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet on probation in 1923, Gollan made a strong impression as a persistent news gatherer and as an accurate, clear and concise writer with 'the faculty of drawing a man'. On 11 November 1926 at the district registrar's office, North Sydney, he married a fellow journalist Sylvia Stewart Russell, daughter of A. G. Stephens. She died in childbirth on 4 January 1930. Left with an infant daughter, Gollan married Valmai Fitzroy Clack at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, on 29 April 1931; they were to have three children. Midway through 1928 he had transferred to Newcastle where he made a name as a balanced reporter with a good political mind. After twelve years of covering the tumultuous coal troubles, he moved back to Sydney and was then sent to Canberra as Federal parliamentary roundsman.

During the early part of 1941 Gollan used his column to attack a prime ministerial aspirant (Sir) Percy Spender who was to blame him for undermining his political reputation. Gollan also criticized Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies for being out of touch with the electorate and was credited with having influenced (Sir) Arthur Fadden's rise to power by promoting him as the obvious successor to Menzies. When Fadden became prime minister, Gollan enjoyed a period of influence and prestige that lasted but forty days until John Curtin took office on 7 October 1941.

Having rejoined the rank and file of the press gallery, Gollan remained a significant force in political reporting. A colleague described him as 'a square built, untidy man who gave the Sydney Morning Herald the reverent loyalty that others reserve for their church'; he was widely read and a good talker, a likeable fellow who thought big and had strong views. Although he approved of Curtin, Gollan increasingly criticized the government and by 1944 denounced its 'resurgent partyism' and the crippling war restrictions. His obituary of Curtin, resented by the Australian Labor Party, presented a sharp assessment of the prime minister's strengths and weaknesses.

In 1946 Gollan was recalled to administrative staff head office, Sydney, but, after disagreements with his superiors, was moved in 1949 to the circulation department as manager. From 1960 he wrote a daily column, 'Sydney Spectator', which provided witty comment on people and events. Survived by his wife, their two sons and one daughter, and by the daughter of his first marriage, he died of a coronary occlusion on 11 November 1961 in Prince Henry Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. Gollan, who had worked for the Herald for thirty-eight years, was a man of widely divergent qualities, admired for his scholarship, extraordinary literary knowledge and his great interest in sport.

Select Bibliography

  • H. H. Wiedersehn (ed), An Outline History of the Sydney High School (Syd, 1933)
  • A. Fadden, They Called Me Artie (Brisb, 1969)
  • P. Spender, Politics and a Man (Syd, 1972)
  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • V. Lawson, Connie Sweetheart (Melb, 1990)
  • New Journalist, 11 Nov 1973, p 11
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 6 Jan 1930
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Jan, 14, 21, 28 July 1941, 15 May 1944, 6 July 1945, 25 May 1960
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 12 Nov 1961
  • M. Gollan, notes on Ross Gollan (typescript, copy in ADB file)
  • M. Pratt, interview with Alan Reid (transcript, 1972-73, National Library of Australia)
  • personal file for R. Gollan (John Fairfax & Sons Ltd Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

Kathleen Dermody, 'Gollan, Ross Francis (1902–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 October, 1902
Bowral, New South Wales, Australia


11 November, 1961 (aged 59)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.