Sir Asher Joel

Sir Asher Joel (1912-1998) helped to establish the public relations profession in Australian among many other achievements in public life.

Joel was instrumental in the founding of the Public Relations Institute of Australia in 1949 and was a key organiser of some of the nation’s most high profile events over a period of 35 years.

He started his media career at the age of 14 as a copyboy at the Sydney Daily Telegraph and quickly became a respected political reporter.

In 1938 he moved into public relations as a publicity officer with the NSW government for Australia’s celebration of the coronation of King George VI and also the nation’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

Joel enlisted in the Australian Army in 1941 and then served in the Navy from 1942, firstly in New Guinea operations as a staff officer and then as a public relations liaison officer with the Commander of the US Seventh Fleet in the South West Pacific. In 1944-45 he was posted to the staff of General Douglas MacArthur, who was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific Area, with headquarters in Brisbane.

He started his own public relations consultancy in 1946 and continued to be at the centre of many high profile events. In addition to the coronation and sesquicentenary celebrations in the 1930s, other notable events he was involved with included:

  • Visit of Princess Alexandra of Kent in 1959
  • Visit of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1963
  • Visit of US President Lyndon Johnson in 1966
  • Visit by Pope Paul in 1970
  • Captain Cook bicentenary celebrations in 1970
  • Official opening of the Sydney Opera House in 1973 (Joel, 1988)

A couple of his public relations initiatives provide some insights into Joel’s creativity on big occasions. When he was helping to organise the Pope’s visit to Sydney in 1970, people said transport to the venue at Randwick Racecourse would be chaotic, so he led a walk from Central Station to the venue to show its easy access to pedestrians (Sydney Morning Herald, 2008).

Getting the Pope to visit the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children was another Joel idea. The Pope brought toys from Rome – beautifully dressed dolls from Eastern Europe, South American jumping toys and soft toys from the United States – all in a brightly painted Sicilian cart. The Pope’s face lit up when he went into the ward and saw his gifts ready for distribution (Sydney Morning Herald, 2008).

Joel was elected an Independent member of the NSW Legislative Council in 1958, joining the Country Party in 1959 and retiring from politics in 1978.

In recognition for his professional and many community achievements, Joel was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1956, a Knight Bachelor in 1971 and a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1974.

He also wrote a respected reference book, Australian Protocol & Procedures (Joel, 1988).

Joel is quoted as saying:

Communication is the nervous system of our society, community structure and person-to-person relationship. There is no greater need in the world today than the necessity to communicate ably and fluently with others. Surely this is what public relations is all about. (‘Sir Asher Joel,’ n.d.)

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 19 2010