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Publishing powerhouse delivers guest speech at graduation celebrations
With more than 50 defamation litigations under his belt, a handful of prosecutions for obscenity, and a chastisement in Federal Parliament, publishing powerhouse Richard Walsh has had nothing short of an interesting life.
“I’ve been a naughty boy,” he laughed.
“At the time it wasn’t quite as much fun, but it makes for a great story afterwards.”
Mr Walsh was invited to the University of Wollongong (UOW) as a guest speaker for the April graduation celebrations across the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health and the Faculty of Social Sciences on Friday 26 April.
A self-described generalist with an interest in human nature in all its manifestations, Mr Walsh struggled to decide between humanities and sciences at a young age and undertook degrees in medicine and the arts.
“I wish I had nine lives. I would have been a doctor, a lawyer, a writer,” he said.
“I have a great curiosity, which I suppose is fortunate because book publishing is geared towards that.”
Mr Walsh co-edited University of Sydney’s Honi Soit student magazine in his first year of medicine, as an established writer with a couple of books and an arts degree under his belt.
He was sacked by the Student Representative Council, which was then headed up by former high court justice Michael Kirby, for not taking the student politicians very seriously.
“That became a great scandal, and we sought legal advice to become reinstated,” he said.
“After they reinstated us, we resigned. We told them ‘you can stuff it up your jumper’”.
Still eager to keep his hand in the writing game without the burden of answering to student politicians, Mr Walsh got together with his friend Richard Neville and Oz magazine was born.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the satirical, alternative Oz magazine was known for its coverage of contentious issues such as homosexuality, censorship, the Australian government’s White Australia Policy and Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
By the time Mr Walsh graduated medicine he was well established as a writer.
“When I graduated I still wanted to be a psychiatrist but I decided to take a break from study,” he said. “I wanted to get this crazy writing thing out of my system.”
He took on a role in advertising and became a copyrighter before producing and directing television commercials. He was the founding editor of POL magazine and led the Nation Review (then known as the Sunday Review), before drifting into being a book publisher.
“I don’t think anything in my life was a natural progression; opportunities arose and I grabbed them,” he said.
His penchant for finding great stories has led to an illustrious career in the publishing world; from 1972-86 he was Managing Director and Publisher at Angus & Robertson and from 1986-99 he headed Australian Consolidated Press.
Over the years Mr Walsh has been a founding member of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, a member of the National Advisory Council of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, chairman of the Nimrod Theatre, a member of the NSW State Library Council, a trustee of the Australian Museum, president of the Australian Book Publishers Association, a director of the Sydney Theatre Company, chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO and a director of the public companies, PBL, Cinema Plus, HWW and Text Media.
He has written for television - most notably, for the trailblazing Mavis Bramston Show - and for the theatre. He has contributed journalism to The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review and The Australian newspapers; and he is the author of nine books, the most recent being Reboot: A Democracy Make-Over to Empower Australia’s Voters.
Most recently he was recognised in the Australian Book Industry Awards as the winner of the Lloyd O’Neil Hall of Fame Award for outstanding service to the Australian Book Industry.
His greatest career challenge, he revealed, has been “coming to terms with one’s own personality”.
“I’ve done a lot in my life and when you write it all down, about to turn 78, it all looks fantastic, but I guess I’ve achieved all that because by nature I am fast paced,” he said.
“Some would say impatient, certainly as a young man I wasn’t as tactful as I ought to be. When you’re young you just feel you’re on a winning streak and to hell with what people think.”
Where he has experienced career setbacks, he said, was because he hadn’t yet mastered the art of being patient with other people.
“I wouldn’t change a day of it, I wouldn’t change my personality, but I think we all have to at times sit quietly and work out how to maximise what talent you have,” he said.
“Unfortunately, I was in a great hurry.”
Slowing down is not an option for Mr Walsh; he is still keeping a finger in the publishing world as a Consultant Publisher at Allen & Unwin, a regular panellist on Richard Glover’s Drive program on ABC 702, a sessional lecturer at the University of Sydney, and is currently writing a book.
“I started my life as a satirist. I know that I couldn’t earn my living writing smart arse satire now because I’m more conscious of the impact of that on other people,” he said.
His advice to the next generation of graduates leaving university is to find something that gives permanent pleasure.
“We need to find something that is a continuous source of nourishment to our souls, a sense that what we’re doing has some value and worth to it,” he said.
“New graduates need to sit back and think: how am I going to use this skill that I have, to give me enduring satisfaction.”