December 12, 1944-June 30, 2022
Long-time Richmond identity Gene Swinstead, who died on June 30 at the age of 77, achieved much in life and his chosen career in media. In those days, though, rather than an all-encompassing bland collective noun, the game was newspapers.
Metropolitan papers then were different products, with real character. They were exceptionally good, stood for community values, fought battles for their readers based on solid principles, and led public opinion, rather than following social media. In fact, a bit like Gene Swinstead.
Gene started his newspaper career at Advertiser Newspapers in Adelaide as a cadet journalist and moved to Melbourne in1969 to take up a position on the afternoon newspaper, The Herald. He quickly moved through the ranks as a journalist and editor to hold numerous management positions within the Herald and Weekly Times Group.
These included general manager of Leader community newspaper group, as well as HWT, and managing director of the Fiji Times before he was appointed by News Corp chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch to manage his pay-TV company Star in Hong Kong, then chief executive of Star India.
Gene was exemplary in these positions, but unlike many he was not defined by them; Gene shone through for who he was, rather than what he did for a living.
He was an unassuming, caring man blessed with great wit and a warm nature; he loved a good time, but he was never boisterous. Mischievous, yes. When he was sitting between Rupert Murdoch and his son Lachlan at a private showing of the then soon-to-be released Fox film Something about Mary in Aspen, they had just witnessed the scene involving the Cameron Diaz character grabbing a substance dangling from the ear of Ben Stiller, believing it to be hair gel.
In reference to a well-known former Victorian premier, Gene whispered to the Murdochs, 'now I know how he does his hair'. The audience were left at a loss as to why the three men were laughing so hard.
Gene would treat the Murdochs, pretty well as he would the copyboy. He had no pretensions, but a great love for newspapers and the people who worked in them. Many he helped and was an inspiration to others.
When a young Wayne Ludbey was still in high school, Gene gave him a camera as he thought he had some aptitude. Ludbey went to become a renowned newspaper photographer, working for both The Age and the Herald Sun, specialising in sport.
After his retirement 16 years ago, Gene became active in Scleroderma Australia and the state branch, and was national president for a number of years. He would catch up with friends at Richmond's London Tavern Hotel, which saw a trail of editors, writers, journalists and others coming through the doors. And, like that small theatre in Aspen, there were peels of unrestrained laughter.
Gene is survived by his wife, Anne; four children, Jane, Lorna, Angela and Megan; seven (and soon to be eight) grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
He will be farewelled at Tobin Brothers Chapel, 1382 High Street, Malvern, on Friday (July 15) at 2.00pm. Web streaming is available at: https://tobinbrothers.com.au/tribute/details/25160/Gene-Swinstead/obituary.html#tribute-start
- Ian Moore