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Harold Douglas (Doug) Watson (1914–1997)

by Rod Kirkpatrick

This article was published online in 2021

Harold Douglas Watson (1914–1997), newspaper proprietor and editor, was born on 24 June 1914 at Tumut, New South Wales, youngest of five surviving children of New Zealand-born Alexander Wilkie Watson, newspaper proprietor, and his New South Wales-born wife Grace, née Wilkie. Educated at Tumut Intermediate High School, Doug was dux and completed the Leaving certificate in 1931. He joined his brother Errol and their father in producing the weekly Tumut and Adelong Times and the weekly Adelong and Tumut Express. Another brother, Clyde, aided by his two sons, Frank and Ian, began producing the bi-weekly Tumut-Batlow-Adelong District News in opposition in January 1933.  In the depressed times, Doug was soon working in all facets of the business, including delivering papers, melting metal ingots, reporting local events, setting type, and feeding sheets into the Wharfedale press.

For nine years, seven members of the Watson family published four newspaper editions per week for the two towns. In November 1940 fire destroyed his father’s newspaper office. Doug had been accepted into the army, but as the newspaper industry held essential status, his call-up was deferred to allow him to help rebuild the business; he therefore missed active service. On 25 July 1942 he married Victorian-born Bessie Lillian (Beth) Dowell, a nurse, at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Tumut.

Doug persuaded Clyde to sell his paper to the Watson family in February 1942 instead of to the Bennett brothers, owners of the Junee Southern Cross. In 1946 his father established a family partnership, A. Wilkie Watson and Sons, with Doug, Errol, and their brother Ted. Doug became managing editor in 1947. His work was his life. Several nights a week he sat at the kitchen table reading news or advertising proofs with his wife or one of their sons. His son Greg remembered ‘the pages and pages of type describing in great detail the dresses on all the ladies at the balls and dances held around the district’ (Watson 2015). Doug often gave up his Sundays to interview families to compile obituaries. Father and sons worked seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. In 1966 the family bought the nearby Tumbarumba Times.

Buying out his brothers, Doug formed Wilkie Watson Publications Pty Ltd, with his wife and their four sons as shareholders. Despite his best efforts to run the newspapers along family lines, he failed to unite his sons, as pressure grew on the business to support their families. Over the ensuing twenty years, Greg, Stuart, David, and Mark worked for varying periods in the business, with Stuart leaving first to purchase the Junee Southern Cross. Mark moved away to continue working in newspapers and advertising. After a failed attempt to buy the business in 1988, Greg left to join Rural Press Ltd. Doug maintained effective control of the business through governing shares until his death.

Watson was a charter member of the Rotary Club of Tumut (president 1967–68) and a Paul Harris fellow (1988), and he was a Tumut Shire councillor from 1967 to 1970. Like his father, he was a ‘stalwart’ (Tumut and Adelong Times 1997, 10) of the Country Press Association. In earlier life he had enjoyed dancing and both cross-country and downhill skiing. Predeceased by his wife (d. 1996) and survived by their four sons, he died on 16 October 1997 at Darlinghurst. After a funeral at St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Tumut, he was buried in Tumut non-denominational cemetery. Court action about the will followed, which resulted in David taking full control of the business.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times. ‘Chief Chronicler for 50 Years of the Times of Tumut and Adelong.’ 1 November 1997, 6
  • Kirkpatrick, Rod. Country Conscience: A History of the New South Wales Provincial Press, 1841–1995. Canberra: Infinite Harvest Publishing, 2000
  • Tumut and Adelong Times. ‘Passing of Newspaper Family Doyen: Harold Douglas Watson.’ 21 October 1997, 10
  • Watson, Gregory Roy Wilkie. Interview with the author, 6 November 1998, Ormiston, Qld
  • Watson, Gregory Roy Wilkie. Personal communication
  • Watson, Gregory Roy Wilkie. Typescript details of his father’s life, 23 November 2015
  • Watson, Harold Douglas. Interview with the author, 16 May 1996, Tumut, NSW

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rod Kirkpatrick, 'Watson, Harold Douglas (Doug) (1914–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2021, accessed online 24 May 2024.

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