Freotopia > authors > Ron Davidson (1936-10 October 2020)
Ron Davidson was born into a Perth newspaper family and served his time as a journalist. He failed first-year English at the University of Western Australia three times before giving up and taking a psychology degree. Ron lectured in psychology for twenty years and published academic papers before rediscovering the family knack for storytelling. Meanwhile Ron was having a love affair with Fremantle during his thirty years in a heritage house there. He accumulated stories, characters and places, and the result, Fremantle Impressions, has been hailed as a new way of writing about cities. Fremantle Press website.
Peter Kennedy, obituary in the West Australian, 9 November 2020:
Port city’s champion
Ron Davidson was a staunch advocate for the preservation of Fremantle’s heritage, including the historic prison.
And he also applied his writing skills, producing several books recording important aspects of the port city’s rich history.
He was well qualified to do both.
His first job was as a cadet journalist in 1954 on the Sunday Times, where he learned the value of a keen eye for detail and producing copy, which accurately recorded events in a very readable style.
One of his first assignments was the royal visit to Perth of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
It occurred during the height of a poliomyelitis epidemic, and the royal couple was forced — for health reasons — to return each night to the royal yacht Gothic at Fremantle rather than stay at Government House.
Ron became the paper’s senior football writer in 1956 when he also covered the Olympic Games in Melbourne, doubling up in Rome in 1960 to report on his old school friend, Herb Elliott, spread-eagling the field in the 1500m final in world record time.
Ron moved to political reporting in the 1960s, with many stories on premier David Brand and industrial development minister Charles Court — both later knighted — and their successful strategy to open up the Pilbara as an iron ore province.
With a sharp eye for the unusual, Ron was an entertaining source of stories ranging from popping champagne corks at the premier’s Christmas parties to long-term rivalry between senior Labor MPs John Tonkin and Herb Graham.
He was also studying part-time at the University of WA and recording A passes in his psychology units. He graduated with first class honours in 1964, winning the psychology department’s coveted Fowler Prize.
This led to a career change, joining the department’s staff, first as a tutor then in a lecturing capacity. The topics in his research program were wide-ranging, including opinion polling, political propaganda, personality and politics, effects of punishment and intravenous drug use by the young.
After retiring from UWA in 1997, Ron returned to writing as well as becoming more involved in issues linked with Fremantle. His home overlooked the old prison.
Ron had already written High Jinks at the Hot Pool, published in 1994, telling the story of the weekend Mirror newspaper, which covered many offbeat stories as well as the divorce courts and Saturday sport.
It was also the story of his father Frank, a senior executive at Western Press — publisher of the Sunday Times — who had edited the Mirror.
He observed the arrival of Rupert Murdoch, who bought Western Press in 1955 and visited Perth regularly to oversee the editions of both the Sunday Times and the Mirror, which — while still profitable — he closed in 1956 without warning because of its “lack of taste”. Ron was occasionally enlisted to drive the future media baron to Perth Airport for his return flight to Adelaide.
Ron served on committees for the Fremantle Society, Community Action for Rational Development, the Fremantle Prison Trust and was one of the founders of the Fremantle History Society.
He wrote widely, including Fremantle Impressions and also Fighting for Fremantle, which he wrote with his wife Dianne (nee Everts). He also wrote about the wartime prime minister, John Curtin, whom he met when his father was WA officer in charge of the department of information. Ron recalled travelling in the family car when his father and the PM discussed wartime matters!
Ronald Courtney Davidson was born in Perth on January 17, 1936, the elder of Frank and Mavis (nee Robinson) Davidson’s two sons. He attended Aquinas College and, despite being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 15, was a prominent athlete.
He later assisted coaching Aquinas teams for the annual Interschool Sports.
He married Dianne, a postgraduate student, in 1977. They have two daughters, Emma and Jane.
In his eulogy, younger brother Lawrie praised Ron’s “courage, tenacity and intelligence, (for) taking responsibility for his health and medication, all from a beginning in difficult teenage years”.
The owner of the Fremantle Herald, Andrew Smith, said Ron was responsible for him becoming the editor as well.
Ron offered to help find a replacement when the initial editor quit soon after the paper’s launch 30 years ago. Several days later, Ron recommended that Andrew take on the role — which he did — despite minimal experience.
Anne Brake, who was appointed curator at Fremantle Prison in 1994, said Ron had been a strong believer in the rights of the community to participate in the decisionmaking process, including for heritage places.
A former professor of history at Murdoch University, Bob Reece, said Ron had a “whimsical view of the world that made him a droll — but never dull — companion”.
George Williams, who was a junior reporter at the Sunday Times, observed Ron’s strategy when accompanying him on Friday visits to cabinet ministers’ offices. “He had perfected the subtle art of saying very little,” George said, “and living with an awkward silence which was so long that people would blurt out stories to him.”
Ron’s mobility had been restricted in recent years and he had a severe stroke in late September. He is survived by Dianne, Emma and Jane.
Davidson, Ron 1994, High Jinks at the Hot Pool: The Mirror Reflects the Life of a City, FACP.
Davidson, Ron 2007, Fremantle Impressions, FACP.
Davidson, Ron & Dianne Davidson 2010, Fighting for Fremantle: The Fremantle Society Story, Fremantle Society.
Ellement, Connie & Ron Davidson 1987, The Divided Kingdom, FACP.
Dorward, Cécile & Ron Davidson 2000, Anything but Ordinary: The Nine Lives of Cécile, FACP.
Davidson, Ron 2001, 'Fremantle snapshots', Fremantle Studies, 2: 65-76.
Davidson, Ron 2010, 'The Galati family: 50 years of Fremantle heritage', Fremantle Studies, 6: 88-92.
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