Vale Peter Ross

Old school professional, a warm and engaging broadcaster, incisive journalist

by Eric Hunter

Sadly we’ve lost another of the ABC’s stalwarts.

Peter Ross, like me, came not from a news background but from the announcer’s desk where the closest we got to journalism was reading the bulletins shoved in front of us by a staffer who rushed in from the newsroom, often at the last moment and without any time for a pre-read before the red light flashed and we were on air.

Yet Peter turned out to be one of the best of Four Corners’ legion of great ABC reporters. He had a fine intellect and above all a delicate touch with the English Language, such as when Jo Bjelke-Petersen, exercising his prerogative of choosing a replacement following the death of Labor Senator Bertie Milliner, went against convention and selected rogue Labor man Albert Field as Milliner’s Senate replacement . “…it was a choice”, intoned Peter, in his dulcet English tones, “matched only by Caligula’s, to make his horse a consul”.

After leaving Four Corners, Peter earned a well-deserved reputation for fronting the ABC’s national TV Sunday afternoon Arts program where for several years he brought well informed and often entertaining reviews of matters cultural.

But, I first met Peter when I arrived in 1964 as ABC Canberra’s first Talks Officer, and he was the ABC’s sole staff announcer in the old studios on Northbourne Avenue, next door to commercial station 2CA and the Civic Hotel. Peter, 2CA’s legend Brian Minnards and I often enjoyed the odd glass of cooling ale at the Civic, sometimes daring to venture further afield to the more up-market Ainslie Hotel just down the road from the War Memorial.

An ABC announcer’s job in those days was simply to play records and read the news. But, most of Canberra’s programming came direct from Sydney with just a couple of hours of local radio each day. Canberra was also one of only three regional areas that had some local TV production. Peter’s TV News reading task was a five minute bulletin (with no film) just before the 7pm bulletin from Sydney, presented by by James Dibble or with great solemnity by John Chance (not so solemn though on the occasion during a radio bulletin, he announced that a woman in Newcastle had been “...bitten on the funnel by a finger-web spider”). Peter’s job wasn’t all that onerous – nor was mine for that matter, so we had plenty of time to discuss philosophy in the pleasant surrounds of the Civic.

But the ABC’s work place wasn’t quite as sophisticated as Peter himself (or even our watering holes). We were located above the Ansett terminal, with the actual studio atop an archway under which the Ansett buses entered or left. Consequently, with precise planning, they always arrived or departed during Peter’s afternoon hour of local music and if the drivers revved their engines at a critical point, the vibrations travelled up though the archway and into the studio, sometimes causing the record arm to jump and skid across the disc. But it never fazed Peter. He always apologised charmingly for the “technical” problem and calmly introduced the next record. He did once tell our manager, Graham Chisholm, that next time it happened he was going to name Reg Ansett as the person responsible. Chisholm, not renowned for his sense of humour, was un-amused, but the rest of the staff were – mainly at at Chisholm’s discomfort.

Peter Ross was an ABC professional of the old school. A warm and engaging broadcaster and an incisive journalist.

Vale Peter – most of all, a thoroughly nice bloke.