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Sir Sydney Henry (Randal) Heymanson (1903–1984)

by Michael E. Humphries

This article was published:

Sir Sydney Henry (Randal) Heymanson (1903-1984), journalist, was born on 18 April 1903 at South Yarra, Melbourne, son of Frederick Leopold Heymanson, commercial traveller, and his wife Bertha, née McDonnell. Sydney was educated at All Saints’ Grammar School, East St Kilda (where he was editor of the Grammarian), and at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. A brilliant student, he won a scholarship to the University of Melbourne (BA Hons, 1924; MA, 1947), gaining first-class honours and the Dwight prize in history and political science, and the Wyselaskie scholarship in political economy. In 1924 he was elected editor of the Melbourne University Magazine and in 1925 he founded and became the first editor of the university student newspaper Farrago.

While working on Farrago Heymanson was also a history master (1924-25) at Melbourne Grammar; he taught with enthusiasm and by 1926 had saved enough money to fulfil his ambition to travel to England. He carried out doctoral studies (1927-28) with Arnold Toynbee at the London School of Economics and Political Science and, to help meet expenses, lectured (1928-30) in the University of London’s extension program. Finding the academic world narrow and restricting, he turned to journalism.

In 1927 Heymanson accepted an invitation from (Sir) Lloyd Dumas to join the London staff of the Melbourne Herald. As European correspondent for the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd’s Australian Newspaper Service, Heymanson specialised in covering international affairs, and also began contributing to British papers. He was an early commentator on Hitler’s rise to power, noting that the energy and resentment of the German people could lead to militarism and war. With Roy Lewis he launched Vital News (1939-41), which had a confidential circulation among policy-makers in England and the United States of America.

Heymanson became closely associated with Sir Keith Murdoch, and when it became apparent that the entry of the United States into World War II was essential for Allied victory, Murdoch invited him to open a New York bureau for the Herald’s Australian Newspaper Service. From 1940, as manager and editor, Heymanson (his first name now changed to Randal) cabled authoritative reports back to Australia. He also developed extensive professional and personal networks. In 1942-43 he was president of the Foreign Press Association, and in 1948—sharing Murdoch’s conviction that Australia must look to the United States for protection and development—he became one of the founders of the American-Australian Association. Serving as director (1948-84), vice-president (1949-65), president (1966-67) and chairman (1967-84), Heymanson developed it into a forum in which visiting Australian businessmen, politicians and diplomats conferred with prominent, influential Americans.

Lean, gentle, urbane and sagacious, Heymanson was admired by Sir Robert Menzies, who described him as `the best informed Australian living in America’. He was appointed OBE (1955) and CBE (1965), and knighted in 1972. Sir Randal retired from the Herald’s New York bureau in 1969, but continued to write for the Australian press and to maintain a keen interest in travel, art and literature. He never married. Following his death on 27 August 1984 in New York, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Robert Cotton, lamented that `Australia has lost a great citizen and the US a great friend’. Heymanson was cremated and his ashes returned to Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 Sept 1984, p 10
  • M. Humphries, A School That Has Passed (MEd thesis, University of Melbourne, 1986)
  • Heymanson papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael E. Humphries, 'Heymanson, Sir Sydney Henry (Randal) (1903–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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