End of a Pacific era: Ken McGregor

Stuart Inder, MBE, was the most authoritative journalist, editor and publisher in Australia of the South Pacific Islands from the early 1950s into the mid 1980s. His contacts were extensive, inside and outside these shores, and were unequalled. Other interests were extremely wide.

In a period when most of the Islands groups, such as Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the New Hebrides and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the Solomons, Micronesia and Nauru won their independence from colonial powers such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK,  Inder was on first name terms with all key political leaders plus company CEOs controlling Islands businesses.

He wrote and/or edited a huge variety of magazines, daily newspapers such as The Fiji Times, year books and features, plus travelled widely through virtually all of the Islands, from Norfolk or Tahiti, Tonga or Niue.

Inder nurtured close first-hand relationships with the royals of Tonga and Western Samoa, the nickel heavyweights of New Caledonia and the rebels of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, plus many other PNG stars including various governors-general.

He was in demand for his perceptive editorials. Two of his outstanding attributes as a journalist were that he was a great listener and, secondly, he had a forte for hard-to-find details of a story or quote.

The importance to Australia of the Pacific Islands period was supplanted in the 1980s and 1990s by Asia, but Inder stayed with his roots “in the Pacific and its Pacific Way” as he continued researching and  editing historical or other trends he figured were relevant to his old hunting ground.

He began the Pacific Islands Monthly lunch (PIM, named after his arguably best known journal) in the mid 1960s, which continues today as probably the Sydney CBD’s longest running lunch venue. Top value at the Law Society Restaurant in Phillip Street.

Onetime rulers or leaders of Islands economies, such as Michael Somare of PNG, the late Ratu Mara of Fiji and the late Hammer de Robert of Nauru, all broke PIM bread amidst lashings of red. The New Hebrides’s Jimmy Stephens never made the greek lamb topped table but many, may others did such as Islands traders and stalwarts Peter Fisher and Henry Cumines.

Inder supported writers in dozens of published books, in which he was eventually credited; his door was always open to younger journalists looking for tips, referrals and leads prior to covering the Inder “patch”. Inder’s invoice for aiding authors was a big bottle of scotch.

Entrepreneur Dick Smith hired Inder for several years to exploit his extensive editorial detailing skills in Australian Geographical Magazine, plus the quirky Smiths, including Pip, had Inder editing their exploratory books.

The Inder range of contacts was particularly global, with visits to the British Foreign Office in London, a many months’ long sojourn in Honolulu as guest of the Hawaiian East West Centre and a fascinating early liaison partnership with onetime top CIA researcher and Big Apple-based Dick Hubbell, who formed Worldwide Information Services.

Hubbell was later stabbed to death outside his First Street apartment in NYC, not before the research baton here was passed on to myself and personal contact made with the late Florida-based assistant attorney Jim Garrison, featured in the US movie blockbuster, JFK.

Inder also declined to publicly support West Papuan opposition to Indonesian occupation and bullying. He saw an inevitability in the Indonesian predatory snatch, and genocide strategy, for this country now called West Irian.

But Inder was a strong supporter of PNGAA, hoping it remained non-political, and a key contributing editor to Una Voce for its dynamic current president, Andrea Williams.

Inder was too kind: his personal book, capping the big changes politically in the Pacific in his times, and the key players involved, lies unpublished, I understand. Shameful, and a big loss to Islands research.

He was too damn busy helping many, many others get their publications out. Most times advice and re-editing for a third party would be settled by a good bottle of red in exchange for hours or days of free support.

Inder was extremely anecdotal. His surviving wife Jo was his rock as they each supported various worsening illnesses in recent years. Jo has not been well. The three Inder children were also additional ‘rocks’ and Inder was sadly to lose a grandchild in recent years.

Inder amassed one of the world’s leading books and literature collections covering the Pacific Islands, which was mostly sold off in recent years.

Most men, Inder loved to point out, “should be taken out and shot when they turned 60”. In later years he chose to ignore the comment and restrict his startling comment to a PNG coconut planter or a couple of Islands traders, fallen out of favour.

Born in 1926, he self-published an independent newspaper at his Manly, Sydney, school in his early teens, and was rewarded with punishment in the form of a cane, in true Dickens style by an outraged headmaster.

Inder became a copy boy on The Sun newspaper before he was called up, WW2, in the early 1940s and later joined Australian military forces in Japan and Korea, for media work in the late 1940s as a journalist, followed by an eventual return to The Sun, post war. Then followed a substantial stint in Port Moresby for ABC radio through the early 1950s, travelling extensively throughout PNG for news.

In 1954, working for the ABC out of Moresby, Inder was the first journalist to meet geologist John Zehnder following the latter’s 130 day walk as the first white man, of the Lavani Valley, from Lake Kutubu to Tari.

The world’s media went onto to christen Lavani as a “Shangri-La”, which decades later became the cradle of PNG’s current burgeoning oil and gas industry.

NZ-born iconic writer, lobbyist and publisher RW Robson hired Inder in the mid-1950s to eventually take over editorship of Pacific Islands Monthly (PIM) in 1965, a position later upgraded as publisher and then manager under later uninterested owners, The Herald & Weekly Times.

News Ltd eventually bought the Herald & Weekly Times, including PIM, which became a poor cousin publication of the uninterested Murdoch-controlled other more substantial initiatives. News closed down PIM about 2000, but its columns (1929-2000) have remained vital for useful research material.

Stuart is survived by Jo, their children, Stephanie, David and Lesley, plus grandchildren and great grand children.

 

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