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Angus Henry McLachlan (1908–1996)

by Michael McKernan

This article was published online in 2021

Angus Henry McLachlan (1908–1996), journalist, newspaper executive, and company director, was born on 29 March 1908 at Narrogin, Western Australia, third child and only surviving son of Scottish-born James Henderson McLachlan, bank manager, and his Victorian-born wife Mabel Dora, née New. The family moved to Victoria in Angus’s early childhood. He was educated at the Cathedral and State schools, Wangaratta, and in Melbourne at the Grange Preparatory School, Brighton Grammar School, and Scotch College. In his four years at Brighton Grammar he was often fearful, experiencing overbearing teachers, but he was much happier at Scotch, where he discovered an ability and interest in writing. ‘There was never any suggestion that I should go on to the university’ (NLA MS 8005), he later wrote, and, although he wished to be a journalist and was introduced to (Sir) Keith Murdoch, he failed to obtain a cadetship on leaving school at the end of 1924.

Instead McLachlan studied shorthand and typing at Brighton Technical School and took employment, for seven months, with the Phoenix Assurance Co. Ltd. In January 1926 he commenced work with the Provincial Daily Press, which provided news to three major Victorian provincial newspapers and a string of minor titles. Covering the coroner’s court, the law courts, and more, he received a wide-ranging introduction to journalism. When the Federal parliament moved to Canberra in 1927 he moved too, working with two other journalists to cover parliamentary stories for the PDP. A keen and careful observer, quick to form opinions and make judgements, he had hoped to continue as a political journalist but decided to leave the PDP after a disagreement with the manager.

Securing another interview with Murdoch, McLachlan started work at the Melbourne Herald in August 1928. He worked hard, studied at the University of Melbourne (DipJourn, 1932), and, with luck—he was the only reporter to witness a savage fight between striking unionists and police at Melbourne’s Princes Pier—established a considerable reputation. At the age of twenty-two he was appointed the Herald’s State political roundsman, giving him the opportunity to get to know leading State politicians, including (Sir) Robert Menzies. Active in the Australian Journalists’ Association, he was elected president of the Victorian district in 1935 and general president in 1936.

In early 1936 McLachlan was appointed first assistant sub-editor at the Sydney Morning Herald. He had first visited Sydney in 1927, and ‘had fallen in love with the place’ (NLA MS 8005). In 1937 he became news editor, a spectacular promotion. This role was the second most senior position on the paper, beneath—but not answerable to—the editor. As he later explained, ‘the news editor’s authority was unusually wide … the editor could advise but not direct the news editor … the collection, the assessment, and presentation of the news was the news editor’s responsibility’ (NLA MS 8005).

McLachlan remained news editor at the Herald for thirteen years, twice interrupting his service for higher national responsibilities. When Menzies selected Murdoch as director-general of the Department of Information, Murdoch asked for McLachlan to become the department’s editor. Appointed initially for three months, he started work in June 1940. Staying at Melbourne’s Chevron Hotel, he befriended Charles Bean, who also worked for Murdoch. Murdoch issued a regulation giving himself the power to have corrections printed in any newspaper he deemed to be in error, resulting in uproar from newspaper proprietors and amendment of the regulation. Dissatisfied in his job, McLachlan returned to Sydney in September, and Murdoch resigned as director-general soon after. During 1944, when McLachlan was in London seeking information on postwar reconstruction in Britain, he was appointed press liaison officer to the incoming governor-general, the Duke of Gloucester (December 1944–April 1945, December 1946–January 1947).

As part of a broader shake-up within John Fairfax & Sons Pty Ltd, McLachlan became general manager in June 1949, moving into management for the first time. He ‘had mixed feelings about’ the move, later recalling that ‘I loved journalism and I loved having the control of the paper’ (NLA MS 8005). Working closely with the governing director, (Sir) Warwick Fairfax, whom he considered vain, arrogant, and ‘deeply selfish’ (NLA MS 8005), and Rupert Henderson, whom he admired, he developed and confirmed his remarkably wide-ranging contacts among senior Federal and New South Wales politicians, business leaders in Melbourne and Sydney, university and cultural leaders, and churchmen. His correspondence shows the extent of his influence on Australian life from the 1940s to the 1980s. During this period he oversaw the creation of the Sunday Herald and was involved in the company’s move into television, becoming a director of Amalgamated Television Services Pty Ltd in 1955.

When Henderson retired as Fairfax’s managing director in 1964, McLachlan replaced him after a mighty tussle with Warwick Fairfax. He was also a director of David Syme & Co. Ltd (1970–79) and The Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty Ltd (1970–79) after Fairfax bought both newspaper groups. In 1965 he persuaded John Douglas Pringle, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from 1952 to 1957, to return to the role; Pringle updated the appearance of the paper and expanded its coverage. Ill-health forced McLachlan to retire as managing director in 1969, but he remained a director of Fairfax until 1980. The company granted him a city office and the services of his long-serving secretary, and he continued to observe, judge, intervene, and comment until his late eighties. ‘Tall and scholarly’ with ‘pale blue eyes beneath … dark and bushy eyebrows’ (Souter 1981, 411), he ‘was a man of unfailing courtesy and charm, but with a shrewd, agile intelligence and underlying toughness of character’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1996, 33). He died on 10 August 1996 in Elizabeth Bay and was cremated; he had never married.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Carroll, Vic. ‘Cadet Rose to Head Fairfax Empire.’ Australian, 19 August 1996, 13
  • National Library of Australia. MS 8005, Papers of Angus H. McLachlan, ca. 1908–1987
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Souter, Gavin. Company of Heralds: A Century and a Half of Australian Publishing by John Fairfax Limited and Its Predecessors 1831–1981. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1981
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Angus Henry McLachlan.’ 13 August 1996, 33

Additional Resources

Citation details

Michael McKernan, 'McLachlan, Angus Henry (1908–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2021, accessed online 24 June 2024.

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