Journalist railed against inequality
JOHN Stubbs was a man and journalist of great passions, born in western Queensland and educated everywhere from the banks of the Warrego River to Brisbane, Kuala Lumpur, Canberra, Hong Kong, London and beyond.
His enduring, lifelong passion – along with the love of his wife Romey and family – was politics, which guided much of his travel and employment.
A renowned political journalist, he won a Walkley Award for an outstanding contribution to the profession in 1995, Stubbs also shone as an author, commentator and political staffer in Queensland, Canberra and Adelaide.
Born in Cunnamulla the son of a respected lawyer, he observed poverty of pocket and heart, never losing an indignation at the undercurrent of old time racism.
He formed what would be a lifetime bond with a school chum, Herb Wharton, the prized Aboriginal author who would always lunch with Stubbs when the two were in the same town.
Stubbs’ career in journalism began with a cadetship at the Brisbane Telegraph after he’d won a prize for an essay on the temperance movement – something he’d relay with joyous laughter after a few reds.
A move to the Melbourne Age foreshadowed a restless and always-aim-higher ambition, which took him to Kuala Lumpur, where he worked for the Straits Times, and a job on the Daily Sketch in London – a time when he met his beloved wife Rosemary, or Romey as she is called by all – and also worked for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Back in Australia, Stubbs worked for The Australian in Canberra when the pioneering national daily was launched in 1964. It was a turning point in his life, cementing an involvement in politics that never left him.
Stubbs did some work for Labor leader Arthur Calwell before the 1966 election and wrote his first book, The Hidden People, a groundbreaking study on poverty in Australia that had a lot to do with setting up the Henderson Inquiry that defined policy responses for decades.
A stint in Hong Kong was cut short when Stubbs was lured back to Canberra to become the chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald, aged 30, before returning to London where he penned, with son-of-Gough Nicholas Whitlam, his second book, Nest of Traitors, on the Petrov spy scandal of 1954-55.
Whitlam government minister Clyde Cameron asked Stubbs to return to Canberra in early 1974 and he saw out the last 15 months of that wild time in national politics.
The political staffing life sustained Stubbs for the rest of the 1970s in Adelaide, serving the government of Don Dunstan.
Stubbs was back in Brisbane in the early 1980s, after a small period with Lismore’s Northern Star, where he was the popular political reporter and columnist for the Daily and Sunday Suns until those papers closed.
After that, his third book, an authoritative biography of his friend former Labor leader and governorgeneral Bill Hayden, kept him busy before he and Romey left town for something of a retirement in Bangalow in northern NSW.
A terrible stroke in 2008 left him incapacitated but he still managed to get around in a specially fitted-out vehicle and he’d meet with friends for the occasional lunch at a local bowls club.
Like many journalists, Stubbs lived a crowded life with twists and turns that took him to places a youngster in Cunnamulla couldn’t even imagine.
Everyone who met and knew him remembered Stubbs fondly. He was unstintingly generous with his time and knowledge and possessed a memory that was as frightening as it was impressive.
His innate sense of social justice was a constant, he could never abide inequality whether it was social, economic or racial and he had a perceptive eye for humbug and hypocrisy.
John Stubbs is survived by his wife Romey, children Will, Susie and Sasha and grandchildren Audrey, Darcy, Jude, Rosealee, Arian and Siena.