By Mark Baker
Australia has lost one of its most successful independent publishers and a pioneer of community journalism with the death of Peter Isaacson.
One of the most highly-decorated Australian pilots in World War 2, Isaacson died peacefully at his Melbourne home on Friday 7 April. He was 96.
Starting with a single Melbourne suburban giveaway, the The Elsternwick Gazette, in 1947, he created a publishing house with papers in every Australian state as well as New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Biographer Denis Warner described Peter Isaacson as “a founding father of the modern, well-produced, newsy suburban newspaper.”
Isaacson began his newspaper career at the age of 16 as messenger at The Age, where his mother, Caroline, was women’s editor.
In 1940 he enlisted with the RAAF and, after pilot training in Australia and Canada, went on to complete 45 combat missions with Bomber Command including many with the legendary Pathfinders – a remarkable achievement given the attrition rate for Australian air crew in Europe was 42 per cent.
By the end of the war he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Flying Medal and the Air Force Cross for his bravery, skill and tenacity.
In late 1943, the 23-year-old flew his Lancaster bomber – Q for Queenie – back home via the United States and across the Pacific. It was the first flight from Britain to Australia from east to west.
During a tour of the country promoting recruitment, Isaacson narrowly escaped being court martialed after swooping low over Sydney Harbour and flying his Lancaster under the Harbour Bridge.
Isaacson was inducted into the Australian Media Hall of Fame in 2014 in recognition of his achievements in building a publishing empire that produced about 60 newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Observer.
Since 1956 he had been a trustee, chairman, and life governor of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1991 for his publishing and community work.
Peter Isaacson's beloved wife Anne died last year. He is survived by his sons Anthony and Tim, daughter-in-law Julie and grandchildren Clementine and Walter.
A service and gathering to remember his life will be held at 2pm on Wednesday, 3 May at Temple Beth Israel, 76 Alma Road, St Kilda The service will also be be livestreamed at www.tbi.org.au/live/.
Peter Isaacson's Hall of Fame tribute video