Jon Cassidy: journalist and leader of radical organisations

Published in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald July 12, 2019 — 8.45am

Jon Cassidy – known as Darce – was an accomplished journalist, photographer, staunch unionist, energetic campaigner for social justice, Indigenous and workers’ rights, renowned cook and major force in alternative media.

Cassidy’s father Ralph was a barrister who joined the RAAF in 1941, dying in a plane crash soon after. His mother Audrey was a dress designer. He was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) where one of his teachers noted that “it is obvious that Jon is very capable, but does not work hard enough to put himself completely at the top”.

He enrolled in Law at Sydney University but instead became a radical journalist, launching an irreverent, uncensored, underground journalism through news sheets, adopting the slogan “All power grows out of the barrel of a Gestetner” (a now obsolete stencil duplicating machine) and enraging university and high school authorities.

Darce Cassidy, ABC journalist and and protester.
Darce Cassidy, ABC journalist and and protester.

Cassidy joined the ABC in 1964, initially as a researcher on Four Corners followed by stints on AM, PM and numerous Radio National programs, including Lateline, Broadband and Background Briefing. He was a journalist for over thirty years and the Melbourne manager of Radio Special Projects (later Talks and Documentaries). He was a long-time official of the ABC Staff Union, first as NSW branch secretary and then as Victorian secretary, a position he won from the incumbent right-wing leadership in a bitterly fought election. His last ABC position was South Australian manager.

In the 1960s Cassidy was a significant leader in radical organisations, including the Maoist-led Monash University Labour Club and the Worker Student Alliance.

He openly supported the Vietnamese armed struggle against US occupation and like other advocates of militant protest he was regularly slandered.

Bob Santamaria’s right-wing magazine Newsweekly campaigned to oust him from his “subversive” influence at the ABC, claiming he was a terrorist. Management obtained advice from ASIO that Darce was a revolutionary, not a terrorist, whose role in producing book reviews for Radio National did not threaten national security.

One of his earliest protests occurred in May 1964 when he took his mother’s old wooden washing line supports and a 44-gallon drum emblazoned with KKK to a demonstration at Sydney’s Wynyard Park. In a symbolic gesture of support for the US civil rights movement he lit it, so it resembled the burning cross used by the Ku Klux Klan to terrorise African-Americans.

Darce Cassidy protest-  a symbolic gesture of support for the US civil rights movement.
Darce Cassidy protest- a symbolic gesture of support for the US civil rights movement.

The following year he was a participant in the Freedom Ride, a bus tour which exposed endemic racism towards Indigenous people in rural Australia. During the journey through western NSW there were several heated confrontations, including a life-threatening incident when the bus was run off the road.

Cassidy took along a recorder, documenting the discrimination of local whites towards their Indigenous neighbours. The ultra-conservative ABC management censored these tapes, but he kept them under his bed until they were broadcast on Radio National many years later. He often revisited the towns along the Freedom Ride’s itinerary to support Indigenous peoples’ fight for equal rights.

Alongside his mainstream journalism Cassidy was active in alternative media, as a volunteer broadcaster and board member of 3CR, one of Australia’s first community radio stations, also writing for Nation Review and New Journalist.

He recorded the then obscure Redgum, paving the way for the band’s stellar success. He had a long involvement in training and education. In the early days of community radio he developed training courses for 3CR, SBS radio and numerous community radio stations. In the early 1980s he joined the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Advisory Committee, helping design the first media studies course and later lecturing in broadcasting law and policy.

After retiring, Cassidy became the first executive director of Electronic Frontiers Australia, leading the fight for the liberalisation of encryption technology, against government proposals for tighter Internet censorship and in support of transparency in relation to phone and email surveillance.

Cassidy was active in multicultural broadcasting as executive director of the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters’ Council. He was instrumental in transforming the Save Our SBS group from a club into an active and effective incorporated association.

Cassidy also took a keen interest in cooking and his curries and laksas were famous for their intensity. He was adept at preparing many Italian dishes and enjoyed both kinds of reds – wine and Coopers – and the occasional cigar. He was an accomplished photographer, recording protests, conversations and arguments and even the delight of his two-year old daughter enjoying her first sherbet. His landscapes have a tremendous sense of light, colour and texture and exquisite composition.

In his last years, after his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Cassidy joined the Australian Greens and campaigned for the rights of refugees. He is survived by his daughter Anna (whom he had with Julie Rigg), his wife of 35 years Jan Smith and their son Michael.

Jan Smith, Anna Rigg and Mark Aarons

Jon “Darce” Cassidy, 1941-2019

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