1896-1974 | VIC | Reporter
Buggy was a reporter's reporter. He covered the Melbourne police strike (1923), the fatal shoot-out between "Squizzy" Taylor and "Snowy" Cutmore (1927) and Kingsford-Smith's arrival in Brisbane after the first trans-Pacific flight (1928). When police fired on coal-miners at Rothbury, Buggy used his singlet to apply a tourniquet to a wounded miner's thigh. After an interloper upstaged the NSW premier by slashing a ribbon at the opening of the Harbour Bridge, Buggy interviewed him exclusively. He reported more than 200 murder investigations, 83 murder trials, and nine hangings. A respected cricket and football writer, he was credited with inventing the term "bodyline".
In an era when on the road reporters usually filed under anonymous bylines, crime reporter Hugh Buggy was a headline act. Not only did he have the best name in the business, he could back it up with scoops, yarns and angles that only a reporter obsessed with the craft could possibly find.
At a time when interstate news refused to travel (an event in London was often deemed more interesting than one in a rival capital city) he was as big in Melbourne as he was in Sydney.
Buggy covered more than 200 homicide investigations, 83 murder trials, nine hangings, and helped solved two murders when police followed up his published theories. So well respected was he in police circles that one Commissioner urged him to quit newspapers to become a detective. No wonder one of his books was titled: Hugh Buggy’s Murder Book: True Crime Stories by a Famous Reporter.
Buggy learned early that there was much more fun to be had in the news business by getting out in the action than staying behind a desk. And so for years where there was a big yarn Buggy, quietly smoking his pipe and taking prodigious notes, would be nearby.
He covered the 1923 Melbourne police strike (the whole force was sacked which must have put a dent in Hugh’s sizeable contact book), the fatal shoot-out between “Squizzy” Taylor and “Snowy” Cutmore in 1927 and Charles Kingsford-Smith’s arrival in Brisbane after the first trans-Pacific flight in 1928.
With an acute nose for news and an instinct for public interest he went on to ghost a book on the historic flight.
When the day arrived for the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be opened in 1932 the nation’s press were there to report the event with alarmingly florid prose. The colourful event turned into a police rounds story when Captain Francis de Groot charged forward on his horse to cut the ceremonial ribbon as some form of protest. And naturally it was Buggy who secured the exclusive interview with the somewhat confused Irishman.
Buggy was up to his armpits in the biggest stories around. When police fired on coal-miners at Rothbury, NSW during a strike, Buggy used his own singlet to staunch the bleeding in a wounded miner’s thigh. “After that I could do no wrong on the gold fields,” he later said.
In his reporting career of more than 50 years, Buggy worked for The Argus, The Sun News Pictorial, the Melbourne Evening Sun, the Sydney Sun as well as The Truth in Melbourne.
Never one to accept the official and often laundered version of events he would dig out his own facts. After the 1927 Greycliffe ferry disaster, which claimed 40 lives, he secretly met with the diver who was tasked with recovering the victims from the sunken vessel.
Buggy may well have been a famous crime reporter but he was also an elite sports journalist, excelling in the most competitive areas of football and cricket.
He has been widely credited with coining the term Bodyline to describe the English cricket team’s controversial fast bowling tactic used to thwart Don Bradman and others during the 1932-33 tour. It has been said he filed body line but a Herald sub shortened it to fit the headline. As a good reporter Buggy would naturally have claimed full credit, leaving the sub to mumble in his seven ounce glass of Abbots Lager.
He became a top football writer, using his photographic memory to recall facts and scores from games long gone. In 1996 he was inducted into the Australian Football League Hall of Fame for his contribution to the code through his newspaper stories and books, including one on the history of Carlton.
He was an expert in Morse code and shorthand. For anyone under the age of 50, that was equivalent of today’s Twitter and Google.
Buggy married twice but personal relationships always came second. Both marriages ended in divorce and he remained childless.
In a case of poacher turned gamekeeper, he became chief operational censor at General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters during WWII (1942 – 46). From 1946 to 1950 he was an editor with Radio Australia but it was in print where he excelled.
For a time he lived with mother and aunt in their Carlton house, and after they died he lived there alone. Work life balance was not a priority for a man who simply loved newspapers.
When The Argus died from under him, although he had reached a respectable retirement age he continued to work for suburban papers and for three years as chief court reporter for Truth newspaper. He died of a heart attack on June 18, 1974 and was buried in Seymour where he was born and raised as an only child.
As was the journalism practice at the time (no Wikipedia back then) reporters cut and pasted their stories into their own clipping books. After he died they found 300 in his home. They were sold to a second hand dealer and almost certainly lost. But the Hugh Buggy legend lives on.
John Silvester, son of a homicide detective, has been an award-winning crime reporter for the Herald Sun and The Age in Melbourne since the 1970s. His work helped inspire the popular television drama Underbelly.
Cover of Hugh Buggy’s Murder Book: True Crime Stories by a Famous Reporter, by Hugh Buggy.
Cover of Let's Look at Football, with Hugh Buggy.
Captain Frances de Groot prepares to gatecrash the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.
Charles Kingsford Smith’s triumphant return to Brisbane after his epic flight in 1928. Courtesy State Library of Queensland.
Hugh Buggy’s Murder Book: True Crime Stories by a Famous Reporter, Hugh Buggy, Argus and Australasian Ltd, 1948.
Let’s Look at Football, Hugh Buggy, Argus, Melbourne, 1952.