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Harold Mitchell remembered 


Harold Mitchell was an advertising icon, philanthropist and very successful businessman who died unexpectedly from complications arising from knee surgery. He was eighty-one.

Harold – the son of a sawmiller – came from humble beginnings in Trafalgar to develop and operate the biggest media placement business in Australia.

Harold and your writer shared parallel paths as young blokes. He went to Melbourne and was working in an advertising agency in Latrobe Street. I went from Trentham and was working in the advertising industry in the same little courtyard where Harold worked. We were both shy country kids.

In 1962 we both enrolled in a four-year diploma course at RMIT along with one hundred and thirty other hopefuls. We suffered cold lecture rooms, half cold pies and bad coffee in order to further our careers. Only twenty of us graduated. Another member of that group was a bloke named Bruce who told us one night that he was giving up advertising to pursue a career in music as his amateur folk group had secured a long-term gig on a cruise ship. I remember thinking that was a courageous move, but it worked out very well for Bruce Woodley and ‘The Seekers’.

Harold and I both worked in different advertising agencies in that time but at some point Harold spotted an opening and in 1976 founded Mitchell and Partners which went on to become the biggest media buying agency in Australia, which he later sold to an English crowd for a lot of money.

Harold made a lot of money and was estimated to be worth $370 million, but he gave a lot of it away. He was particularly fond of the arts and many groups benefitted from his generosity. He cared about community health and sports and was patron of many groups which he helped financially. At one point he owned the Melbourne Rebels Rugby team.

I last saw Harold in the eighties when I was writing articles on the future of the media for some magazine or other and went to Harold for insight. He told me then that he had managed to get on top of his weight problem and he had much earlier given up alcohol altogether.

It wasn’t always plain sailing for Mitchell. The first business he started went stunningly broke and he was bailed out by Kerry Packer.

Harold once said “Sometimes I reflect on where life has taken me – from the sawmills of Gippsland, to the intimate circles of Australia’s richest and most powerful media families”.

Many honours were bestowed on Harold Mitchell over the years. He deserved them all.