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Ronald Morgan (Ron) Richards (1928–2000)

by Caryn Coatney

This article was published online in 2023

Ronald Richards, (middle), with journalist Phil Dickie on his left and lawyer Douglas Spence on his right

Ronald Richards, (middle), with journalist Phil Dickie on his left and lawyer Douglas Spence on his right

published with permission of News Corp.

Ronald Morgan Richards (1928–2000), journalist and newspaper executive, was born on 2 September 1928 at Red Hill, Brisbane, only son of Welsh-born parents Morgan Richards, engine driver, and his wife Minnie Jane, née Jones. Educated at Rainworth Primary and State Industrial High schools, Ron later recalled that he had longed to be a journalist because he believed the profession was ‘on the side of the angels’ (Gordon 2009, 56). He became a copy-boy in 1945 for the newspaper chain owner Ezra Norton’s brash, compact Brisbane tabloid, Truth, and for its sister publication, the weekly Sportsman. Having advanced to a cadet’s role at the regional Warwick Daily News in 1948, he re-joined Truth two years later. By then he had developed a reputation as a police roundsman with a nose for newsworthy stories. On 5 February 1951 he married Ena Rae Peel, a clerk, at St Mark’s Church of England, Warwick.

With journalist colleagues, Richards would hold court in Brisbane’s Empire Hotel, getting tips from police who patronised its bars. He recollected: ‘Some of them were as shady as the crooks they put away. A lot were honest. … We were not a pro-police newspaper and some of our exposés did little to help their careers’ (Houghton 2000, 15). His scoops on police corruption contributed to Queensland’s first royal commission into police misconduct (1963–64). The inquiry investigated allegations that senior police officers encouraged illicit prostitution at the city’s National Hotel, but they were exonerated. He recalled that detectives confronted him at a barbecue on the hotel roof soon afterwards. They dangled the slightly built reporter by the ankles from a balcony, warning that he would be dropped if the police were ever to endure another similar inquiry. Police scandal stories kept circulating, however, as Richards became the newspaper’s chief of staff in 1966. He later helped to rebrand Truth with a new name, the Sun, and a fresh slogan, ‘The Newspaper That Cares about People.’

Dark-haired and with a cheeky grin, Richards developed a flair for creating splashy colour front pages and mastering circulation battles in a thriving tabloid market. He worked on Rupert Murdoch’s London-based popular newspapers, News of the World and the Sun, in the early 1970s. Back in Brisbane, he was appointed editor of Murdoch’s Sunday Sun in 1974, and managing editor in 1976. He launched the morning Daily Sun in 1982, then strove to continue the city’s oldest surviving newspaper, the afternoon Telegraph, which eventually closed in 1988. Murdoch took over Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd, including Brisbane’s long-form morning broadsheet, the Courier-Mail, and appointed Richards to lead the management team in 1987; he became a board member of the parent company Queensland Press Ltd the same year.

Almost immediately, Richards encouraged the Courier-Mail journalist Phil Dickie to increase his efforts to report on suspicious police activities. Dickie’s investigations began generating front-page headlines alleging senior police officers’ tolerance of a shady brothel underworld. The reports contributed to the formation of the landmark Commission of Inquiry into Possible Illegal Activities and Associated Police Misconduct (1987–89), led by G. E. (Tony) Fitzgerald. The inquiry resulted in four former State government ministers being gaoled, the imprisonment of the former police commissioner Terence Lewis, and the resignation in 1987 of the premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

During the inquiry Richards maintained strong editorial support for Fitzgerald even as his news management tactics were starting to be questioned by other newspapers. He sparked a media debate at the end of the inquiry by publishing exclusive interviews with Lewis, a circulation-boosting scoop. Journalists aired allegations that he had paid $30,000 to a University of Queensland historian, Dr Joseph Siracusa, who had been researching the Fitzgerald inquiry, to arrange a meeting and interviews with Lewis. This, Richards assured readers, was ‘an ordinary journalistic exercise to obtain an exclusive story from someone at the centre of a major controversy’ (Hogarth 1989, 81). As a friend and confidant of long standing, he also kept in contact with Murdoch.

After retiring in 1991 as the longest-serving editorial employee of Murdoch’s Australian news operations, Richards became an exuberant advocate for State tourism initiatives. His roles included acting as the chairman of the Queensland Events Corporation Pty Ltd, and helping to establish the Gold Coast IndyCar Grand Prix in 1991. He was appointed AM in 1997. Having contracted kidney cancer, he died on 19 May 2000 at Auchenflower, Brisbane, and, following a Uniting Church service, was cremated. He was survived by his wife and their children, Garry, David, Susan, and Michael.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Condon, Matthew. All Fall Down. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2015
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Lewis Had to Stand Aside.’ 22 September 1987, 8
  • Dickie, Phil. The Road to Fitzgerald. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1988
  • Gordon, Bob. ‘You Wouldn’t Read about It.’ Sunday Mail, 21 June 2009, 56
  • Hogarth, Murray. ‘A Once-Over for the Media.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 1989, 81
  • Houghton, Des. ‘Journalist Born for the Job.’ Australian, 26 May 2000, 15

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Caryn Coatney, 'Richards, Ronald Morgan (Ron) (1928–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/richards-ronald-morgan-ron-33185/text41401, published online 2023, accessed online 20 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Ronald Richards, (middle), with journalist Phil Dickie on his left and lawyer Douglas Spence on his right

Ronald Richards, (middle), with journalist Phil Dickie on his left and lawyer Douglas Spence on his right

published with permission of News Corp.

Life Summary [details]

Birth

2 September, 1928
Red Hill, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Death

19 May, 2000 (aged 71)
Auchenflower, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (kidney)

Cultural Heritage

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