RICHARD Schmeiszl has been described as a colourful character who was larger than life.
He spent more than 30 of his 47-year career as a reporter at the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times, having previously enjoyed a successful career at various prominent publications in Melbourne.
He broke many major stories at both a national and local level and was a thorn in the side of councils and police, in particular, and others whom he felt needed to be held to account.
Through his reporting, Richard courted controversy, creating challenges for many, especially his children who grew up enduring less than complimentary comments about their father.
Two of the topics of wrongdoing he blasted open resulted in him winning Australia’s most coveted journalism awards – a Walkley and a Quill – unheard of for a reporter on a country “rag”.
He was agreeably proud of those awards and the other 19 he won during his long career.
Aside from controversy, he also stood up for the underdog. Those needing help always sought him out and he wrote what he could on their behalf.
Richard was eccentric, kind, generous, hilarious, stubborn, extravagant and frequently outrageous. He moved through life with a combination of grit, wit, easy charm and a born-to-rule mentality, yet he mixed easily with people from wildly divergent backgrounds and circumstances.
He could talk his way out of and into anything, including spinning a sob story to a Melbourne supermarket employee during the height of last year’s pandemic, resulting in him being directed out a back door with a large box of that rare commodity – toilet paper, plus a big tub of his favourite chocolate ice cream. He paid for neither.
Richard’s sudden death on March 23 shocked many, not least his wife Jane and children Kate and William. He developed an aggressive cancer and his descent was rapid.
Richard was born in 1943 in Locs, Hungary. As an infant, he became very ill, spending three months in a Hungarian hospital. His life was saved when his father came home on leave from the war, providing a vital transfusion of the unusual blood they shared.
As the tide of the war turned, he, his mother, brother and her parents had to flee Hungary to Germany, ahead of the Russian advance; on foot then by train which was frequently bombed by the Allies.
At war’s end, the Red Cross helped reunite the family and, following two years in a refugee camp in Italy, the four Schmeiszls migrated to Australia via the Irish ship the Dundalk Bay.
They went straight to Bonegilla Migrant Camp. Richard’s mother quickly found work as a maid with a well-to-do Toorak family, while his father followed the flood of migrants to the factories in Geelong. His parents worked hard, saved well and quickly put a deposit on a house.
Richard began his education at Armadale State School in 1950. He knew no English, but in three years topped the class.
The family was reunited in Geelong, where his parents worked double shifts in a foundry, leaving Richard and his brother to their own devices. Richard made the best of it. He joined Cubs, played tennis, did boxing and loved swimming, excelling at breaststroke.
His skill at fencing resulted in him becoming Australian junior epee champion and an invitation to represent Australia at an international fencing competition in New Zealand. Wanting his son to focus on his studies, his father refused permission for him to go.
Scholastic excellence continued until the middle of secondary school, when Richard decided having fun was more exciting than study. For the rest of his life, he regaled everyone with stories of his antics, many of which were based at St Joseph’s College Geelong, where he was a weekly boarder.
His facility with the written word earned him a job as a cadet reporter at the Melbourne Sun, followed by various journals including TV Week, Everybody’s magazine and Go Set. His career focused on show business writing and pop music and he interviewed many famous people including the Beatles, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Roy Orbison, Normie Rowe, Little
Patti and Judith Durham. He was described by one editor as Australia’s leading show business writer, receiving numerous promotions.
By the late 1960s, Richard was working for Truth newspaper. Covering a case at Oakleigh Courthouse, he took a fancy to a young reporter in a red dress called Jane Ross. They married in 1974.
Richard suffered from the illness of alcoholism. Trying to escape the drinking culture of show business, he took a job at The Advocate, a Catholic weekly newspaper. He was proud to interview and be blessed by Mother Teresa and of writing the reflections of Father John Brosnan who supported Ronald Ryan, the last man to be hanged in Victoria.
With Jane expecting their first child, Richard thought a move to country Victoria would provide a better life for his family. It took him many years to come to terms with his demons, but when he did, he inspired many others to follow his example of sobriety. He was a member of AA and recently celebrated 32 years without a drink.
During his years at the Sentinel Times, he often clashed with public servants whose tendency to spend their lives in meetings bamboozled and infuriated him.
He retired in 2011, enjoying friendships at Lang Lang Golf Club, reconnecting with St Joseph’s College and Geelong High School and following his beloved Geelong Cats.
His family is left with the legacy of an extraordinary individual who touched the lives of many.
As a former colleague wrote in tribute: “Vale Richard Schmeiszl… exclusive!”