Vale Gareth Powell

By Phil Sim in Media News on
Gareth Powell, who can count pioneering roles in Australian magazine publishing and technology media amongst his many career achievements, passed away last Friday.
 
A funeral service will be held on Friday at the Clovelly Bowling Club at 3pm and all friend and past acquaintances are welcome to attend. Powell was being treated for cancer of the spine in a Sydney hospital, at the time of his passing.
 
The Welsh-born Powell worked as a book and magazine publisher and editor, both in Australia and the UK. He founded pioneering magazines like Chance International, POL Magazine, and The Australian Apple & Commodore Reviews, as well as editing the IT pages at both The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald. Often controversial, and always colourful, Powell left an indelible impression at most every turn of his career.
 
Originally a reporter at the Wallasey & Wirral Chronicle around Liverpool, Powell headed to London to publish books. He told Influencing in 2009 that: “I was pretty successful because I was outrageous”.
 
“Around 1964, about the time when Lady Chatterley's lover was released, I published 'Fanny Hill' and spent eight hours in gaol for publishing obscenity”, he boasted. The case against him was thrown out of court, and arguably resulted in a more liberal press in both Britain and Australia.
 
He moved to Australia in the mid-sixties, where he was responsible for publishing the best-selling novel “Now you’ll think I’m awful” by Sue Rhodes and in 1966 he launched  Chance International, one of this country’s first monthly men’s magazines. In 1968, a copy of the magazine, which was being imported from Hong Kong where it was printed, was seized by customs for containing offensive material, including the comic strip Barbarella.
 
The judge presiding over the case in the Equity Court ruled against Powell, ordering that issue of the magazine be destroyed, stating: "I am not sure what Barbarella was about but I suspect lesbianism."
 
In 1969, Powell launched the iconic Australian lifestyle magazine POL Magazine, which was considered ground-breaking for its production values and originality. In 2003, the National Portrait Gallery ran an exhibition, “POL: Portrait of a Generation”. It described POL as  “distinctively Australian, lively and intelligently sexy, POL expressed the preoccupations of a generation of Australians”. The magazine ran until 1986 and guest editors included Germaine Greer and Richard Neville.
 
In the eighties, Powell also began publishing computer magazines. The Australian Apple Review was launched in 1983 with Graeme Philipson as its first editor and The Australian Commodore Review followed in 1984. He edited the IT pages of both The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald. At the latter, where he also edited the travel section, he was forced to depart in controversy following allegations of plagiarism on Media Watch, which he always disputed.
 
Close friend and editor of Computer Daily News, David Frith described Powell this week as “the best, wittiest and most perceptive commentator on the local IT scene from the mid 1960s” (see below for full tribute). Veteran tech PR pro David Sanday said Powell was a “great journo and a character of the industry”.
 
“I remember with great fondness his presence at the press conferences I ran for Prime and Oracle: he would always shake up the event with his insightful questions. The industry is poorer for his passing,” he said in a tribute on CDN.
 
****************************************************
 
David Frith, penned the following tribute for Computer Daily News this week, which he has kindly allowed us to reproduce as well as additional tributes published in CDN that followed.
 
We might get some argument, but here at CDN we have little doubt that he was the best, wittiest and most perceptive commentator on the local IT scene from the mid 1960s – when few of the current crop had been born – on not only the Down Under but the global scene. He knew most of the practitioners well – the British as well as the Aussie writers and a good number of the Yanks too, along with a host of Hong Kong, Thai and Chinese writers. The cast of his net was amazingly large.
 
But while he fully realised the import of the IT industry – and its tendency to over-rate its importance – he was much, more deeply involved in the publishing industry than most of his critics (and he had a few) realised.
 
To name just two: in the 1960s, Welsh-born Gareth almost single handedly was responsible for changing the horribly outmoded British laws on publishing of sexual writing; and just a little later in Australia, of all places, he changed the perceptions and ambitions of what perceptive and imaginative magazines could achieve.
 
His British accomplishment was the publication – after several hundred years of oppression – of Fanny Hill, a bawdy 1748 novel by John Cleland, which resulted in him being charged with "gross indecency" and cast into the London cells for a couple of nights before the matter was laughed out of court, and the UK and Australian publishing scene been much freer as a result.
 
He moved to Australia, and promptly set the local publishing scene alight with the launch of Pol magazine – huge, colourful, witty and full of challenging ideas and artwork. Australia had never seen anything like it – the previous example of a "leading" Aussie magazine was the Australian Womens' Weekly, then even more dowdy than it is now. Pol no longer exists, alas, but the many brilliantly colourful and perceptive publications to be found on newsagency shelves, not to mention the Internet, owe their heritage to Gareth Powell.
 
In the 1980s he edited IT sections for both Rupert Murdoch's Australian and Fairfax's Sydney Morning Herald IT pages, as well as travel sections, before a row engineered by rivals led quite most unfairly to his departure from Fairfax.
 
Funnily enough, he held no grudges: he never did, though he certainly experienced grudges held against him.
 
He was the most amazing man I have ever met: erudite, well-learned and – like all good Welshmen – able to quote the words of great poets at will, as well as those of Dylan Thomas, perhaps the greatest English poet of them all, T.S. Eliot, with whom he, believe it or not, once shared a desk at the Faber publishing group in London.
 
Surprisingly to some, he had also been an arms-bearing soldier: indeed, one of the so-called "Virgin Soldiers" who under fire saved Malaya from communist takeover in the 1950s. Life is full of surprises.
 
Gareth Powell lived and loved well. He leaves a talented family that has included a Welsh sister and great British actress; daughter Sian, a talented journalist well known for her ABC reports from Indonesia and other Asian countries; another son who is a gifted UK classical pianist; his loving wife Brenda; and David, a wonderful, care-giving son in Eastlakes, Sydney, who tended Gareth's last days. What a family: God bless them all.
 
- David Frith
 
“I was shocked to hear that Gareth has passed away … I have known him since his Fairfax days and stayed in contact until very recently. Great guy, big heart. I will miss him. – Paul Budde

“It’s hard to imagine the scene without Gareth. He was the nearest person I knew to a polymath.” – John Stackhouse
 
“Very sad to learn of Gareth’s death. You don’t believe people like him ever actually die … he was a very important person in my life.” – Graeme Philipson
 
“So sorry to hear about Gareth. He and Jeff (Bird) had a great friendship, Gareth often popping into our office to take Jeff off to a long lunch somewhere and regaling our bewildered junior staff with travel tales and that great wit of his. – Wendy Hill
 
“Re Gareth’s penchant for the poets: when I invited him to send a message via my client Ericsson’s mobile data system (a long while ago, now), he simply typed the full text of Shelley’s ‘My name is Ozymandias … etc., etc.’ “ – Derek Evans

“It is indeed a sad day: he was a great journo and a character of the industry … I remember with great fondness his presence at the press conferences I ran for Prime and Oracle: he would always shake up the event with his insightful questions. (He also always made the execs nervous when he walked through the door!). The industry is poorer for his passing.”– David Sanday

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