1929 - 1992 | NSW, WA | Reporter
Ron Saw started his career in Kalgoorlie, WA, in 1948 and came to Sydney to join the Daily Telegraph in 1957. He developed a strong following as a columnist with a whimsical style and, after joining the Daily Mirror under editor Zel Rabin, became the best-known humorous writer in Australia. But his work was not limited to humour. He reported on the Vietnam War and his powerful and emotive description of the hanging of Ronald Ryan in 1967 was one of the reasons capital punishment was abandoned in Australia. He won the 1980 Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award for his account of his recovery from a stroke.
Ron Saw was a larger than life character whose brand of popular journalism, and sometimes riotous lifestyle, made him a fixture in Sydney media circles in the 1960s and 1970s. As with many of his contemporaries, he graduated from what journalist Alan Ramsey described as the ‘helter-skelter of the afternoon tabloids’.
Stories about Saw – such as how Sir Frank Packer sacked him five times, including three times in one day – were often traded among Sydney journalists. At the time of his death in 1992 his one-time boss David McNicoll hailed him as a journalist who was “uniquely in tune with Sydney’s rhythms”.
Charles Ronald Stuart Saw was born at South Perth, Western Australia on 11 March 1929, the son of Charles Ronald Baden ‘Roy’ Saw, a stockbroker, and Eugenie Marie (nee Elliott). From 1936 to 1945 he attended Hale School, one of Western Australia’s oldest independent boys’ schools, where his father had also been educated.
Saw began work as a cadet journalist at Kalgoorlie for Perth’s afternoon Daily News. By 1948, he was a regular columnist, displaying the humorous vein that would become his trademark. In 1950, he travelled to England where he met Patricia Jessie Andrew, also a journalist. The couple married in February 1951 and then travelled to Montreal where Ron worked variously as a freelance journalist and a short order cook. In December 1952, they returned to Perth with their baby son Andrew.
In 1957, the family shifted to Sydney where Saw worked as a reporter for the Daily Telegraph, owned by Australian Consolidated Press, controlled by the powerful Packer family. Having read some of Saw’s work, ACP editor-in-chief David McNicoll, who would become his mentor, had suggested the move. The editor of the Daily Mirror Zel Rabin was another mentor who encouraged Saw’s ‘unique style’.
By the mid-1960s, Saw had become a “celebrated and controversial columnist” at the Daily Mirror and, according to McNicoll, “perhaps the best-known humorous writer in Australia”. Although his work was predominantly light hearted, he also produced thought-provoking and serious journalism. His compassionate story about a whale shark marooned on the shores of Botany Bay at La Perouse, published in the Daily Mirror, won a Walkley award for the best newspaper feature story (print) in 1965. Another memorable article was his emotive account in February 1967 of Ronald Ryan’s execution. Reporting from Vietnam in 1968, when the war at its height, he injected wry humour into his reports.
Saw also worked for a time on the Sydney Sun and later The Bulletin. In the early 1970s, he sent reports to The Australian Women’s Weekly of his adventures during a ‘world tour’ in his yacht. Usually flippant, these pieces were sometimes in a more serious vein, as in August 1974 when, in the port of Kyrenia, he witnessed the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.
Saw was a nominal Anglican. He and Patricia had two sons and a daughter and later divorced. On 5 October 1963 he married Linden Nicole Louise Martin, a stenographer, at the Presbyterian Church, Pymble. They had two sons. After divorcing a second time, on 15 July 1978 he married Elma Joan Ecuyer, née Bunt, a widowed secretary, at the Uniting Church of Australia’s Wayside Chapel of the Cross, Potts Point.
In 1978 Saw co-wrote a novel, The Back to Back Tango (with Ian Millbank), and published a collection of his articles, The Bishop and the Spinster and Other Cautionary Tales, with illustrations by Alan Moir. Notwithstanding strokes in 1979 and 1980 he continued to write occasionally for the Bulletin. An account of his rehabilitation earned him the Graham Perkin award for journalist of the year in 1980. He expanded this account into a book, The One-Fingered Typist (1981), and subsequently published Memoirs of a Fox-Trotting Man (1982, illustrated by Moir), Brief Encounters with Uncles, Great Aunts, Wombats, Womcats, Tomcats, Randy Bantam Roosters, Ducks, Pigeons, Seagulls, Elephants, Horses, Dogs, Flora and Fauna, as well as Rare Specimens of Humanity (1984, illustrated by Donald Friend), and Stroke and How I Survived It (1985, illustrated by Moir).
Tall and heavily built, Saw could be aggressive and domineering, but also “rollicking” and “devil-may-care” and, according to David McNicoll, a “hard drinking and somewhat wild character”. A “combative and conservative” journalist, he was “immensely intelligent and witty”. Although fond of his father and admiring his work, his son Andrew once recalled how as a child he perceived Saw as a “large and frightening figure” with “a terrifying tendency to yell at people”. After his discharge from stroke rehabilitation in 1981 his third wife wrote of the difficulties of caring for Saw, a man she described as an easily frustrated perfectionist.
Saw was candid about living with the debilitating effects of stroke, describing an attempted conversation with an old friend who visited him in hospital: “My mind, unaffected by the stroke, was rushing along at 100 km/h while my speech dawdled at perhaps 10 km/h. The resulting dissonance was appalling.”
Pauline Curby is a professional historian whose publications include Randwick, (Randwick City Council, 2009) for which she was awarded the NSW Premier’s History Award (Community & Regional History) 2010.
Courtesy of News Corp
Ron Saw, The One-Fingered Typist, Ron Saw, Wildcat Press, distributed by Australian Consolidated Press, 1981
'A Giant Struck Down', The Bulletin, 1 September, 1992, p. 34.
A matter of opinion, informed, insightful, unafraid -- from over two decades of political writing for the Sydney, Alan Ramsey, Allen & Unwin 2009