Vale: John Messer, Vice-President 1978-80

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Vale: John Messer, 07 April 1937 to 11 September 2020

Environmentalist, journalist and former member of Beaumaris Conservation Society Inc. John Messer – and his wife Patricia, who survives him – lived in Beaumaris for almost 47 years, and were members
of Beaumaris Conservation Society Inc. for 38 years from 1977 to 2015. They had three children. John was the Vice-President of BCS from 1978 to 1980.

John was the first Environment Writer for ‘The Age’ newspaper, where he broke the 1969 front page story of the plan of the Bolte Government’s Lands Minister, Sir William Macdonald, for a bitumen road through the Little Desert to assist the land clearing plans to assist a relative of his. It is now a National Park.

John joined ‘The Age’ in 1969, and was on its editorial staff for some 23 years over two separate periods, most recently 1998 to 2004. He worked there as a reporter, feature writer, environment writer, leader writer, news and features sub-editor, letters editor and obituaries editor.

When John was the Letters Editor at ‘The Age,’ a paper mill lobby group had collated and analysed John’s published work for over a year, and tabled a detailed report to the then editor, Graham Perkin, claiming bias on John’s behalf against the lobbyists, by promoting opinions and objection letters written by environmentalists. John, unsure of the outcome, believed he might be sacked, so his union representative supported him at the meeting.

The meeting was short. Mr Perkin simply asked John whether he thought he had been biased in his editorial selection, and John replied emphatically “No”. Mr Perkin immediately thanked him, and said he would write the
lobby group a one-line letter thanking them for their “attentiveness”, and that he was “confident that his Letters Editor was doing an excellent job, and that’s why we pay him”

John was never afraid to speak truth to power. He was the type of environmental advocate that whispered so that people leant in to hear what he had to say; rather than shouting so opponents blocked their ears. He was a jovial gentleman to everybody, and a friend to fewer.

Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s article on the history of ‘The Age’ mentions a 1969 initiative of John’s by name in Paragraph 18, where he wrote about and photographed the 1969 bushfires along the Melbourne-Geelong Road
where people had fled their cars and many were incinerated.

A former President of the Beaumaris Conservation Society, Geoffrey Goode, first met John at the Banana Republic Day protest led by Port Phillip Conservation Council on the Mordialloc foreshore against a proposed industrial ethane pipeline before it was eventually laid across the sea bed of Port Phillip Bay. John wrote that front page story, and an earlier one on the Bolte Government’s refusal of an oil pipeline proposal that PPCC led the opposition to. It was a time of public outrage and emerging environmental education and activism in Victoria.

John later became the Publications Manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, and he was the original editor of its quarterly magazine, ‘Habitat Australia’. It was a position he held for nine years, and loved very much.

John’s career began with a journalism cadetship on the ‘Morning Bulletin’ in Rockhampton, where he was born. He worked on Brisbane’s ‘Courier-Mail’, and had three years on the staff of the four million-circulation ‘Sunday Express’ in Fleet Street, London. Notably he attended and wrote about the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.

He completed National Service Training with the Royal Australian Air Force where he flew a Tiger Moth aircraft in Queensland, and was elected to the Queensland District Committee of the Australian Journalists Association.
John enjoyed walking along the cliff top at Beaumaris with his family. He loved the Heidelberg School paintings, which capture the beauty of the Beaumaris and Mentone cliffs, and their being romantically and impressionistically frozen in time. He was glad BCS Inc’s campaign to save Beaumaris Bay from a huge marina succeeded.

John often took his children to fossick for fossils along the Beaumaris cliffs where the old Keefer’s boatshed was located below the Beaumaris Hotel. He would also take his family to enjoy fish and chips on the beach at sunset at
Ricketts Point to watch the sunset. He loved camping, and his family camped at both Stradbroke Island in Queensland, and Wilsons Promontory.

John’s son, Dr Jonathan Messer, a BCS Inc. Life Member since 2012, wrote this obituary.