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Radio presenter, top '60s disc jockey (b. 1935, d. 1998)

Ward Austin was a contradictory character. Variously known as 'Pally', 'Baby', 'The White Knight', 'The Confederate Cowboy' and 'the Peter Pan of the Airwaves', he was loveable, enthusiastic, outgoing, full of ideas and full of fun. But he could also be difficult, wayward, capricious, unpredictable and, on occasion, totally out of control. In the late Sixties he was one of Australia's top deejays. By the time of his death he a forgotten relic of a bygone era.

Above all, Ward should be remembered as a natural radio broadcaster and a dedicated music fan who tirelessly championed the music he loved. He was a fanatic for all things American, Elvis in particular, and The South in general. He will perhaps be best remembered for his famous catchphrases, including "Too much for the human unit", "Anytime you're ready Pallie" and "a rickapoodlie and a fandooglie", all of which quickly became part of the vernacular.

Ward was born Ward Austin Gargan was born on 2 January 1935 in Darlinghurst, Sydney. He started his career in radio with stints in various regional stations, but he quickly gained notoriety when he came back to Sydney and began working for 2UE in 1960. After being sacked by 2UE for his irreverent on-air comments, he moved to 2UW in 1964, which marked the beginning of the peak period of his career. Hosting the popular afternoon shift, he quickly rose to become Sydney's most popular DJ, a position he held for the next six years, and he was instrumental in making 2UW Sydney's most popular music station throughout the late Sixties.

Like his Melbourne colleague Stan "The Man" Rofe, Pally was an enthusiastic supporter of local talent and he played a major role in breaking many notable Australian acts (such as The Dave Miller Set) and helping their records to become hits. He was a ubiquitous presence around Sydney during this period, carousing at clubs and bars, attending concerts, hosting dances and promotional events and even starting his own themed discotheque in Sydney, "Ward Austin's Jungle".

In 1969 Austin collaborated with independent producer Martin Erdman, who recorded demo tapes for over 150 bands for for 2UW's 'New UW New Sounds of 69' promotion. The best of these tapes were played every Friday afternoon on 2UW by Ward and the competition culminated a year later in an all-day concert at Sydney Showground. Acts who recorded for the competition included Flake, King Fox, McPhee, Samael Lillith, Clapham Junction, Donnie Sutherland, The '69ers, Elm Tree, Harry Young & Sabbath and Galadriel.

As David Dale noted, Ward's persistently rebellious attitude determined the pattern for his career -- land at a new radio station, hit the big time, then get sacked for saying something on air that offended the management (such as saying "how would you like something hot and throbbing between your legs?" when advertising a motor bike).

His off-air behaviour could be even more outrageous -- he was raided by the police for possessing unlicensed firearms; he was involved in nightclub brawls; columnist Dita Cobb reportedly tipped an ice bucket over his head one night at Chequers nightclub when Ward allegedly made racist remarks to Sammy Davis Jr.

Ward proclaimed his love for 14-year-old schoolgirl Irene Combe in 1965 when he was 31. They met when she wrote Ward a love message on the wall of the studio in lipstick. They married three years later.

Gradually, during the Seventies, the more flamboyant style of the 'personality' DJs like Austin and Rofe fell out of favour as radio stations took on the highly structured, American-inspired "More Music" format promoted by the Digamae consultancy. One of the key aims of the new format was less talk, a concept which was no doubt aimed precisely at unseating high-profile DJs like Ward. There was less room for the old-style patter, but just as importantly, the new format largely excluded DJs from the selections of records and placed it the hands of faceless consultant programmers.

In 1976 Ward had a small role in the movie Summer City. His later radio career included as stint with 2WS, but he never regained the huge popularity he enjoyed in the Sixties and he gradually faded from view in the '80s. In 1990 he announced he was taking Prozac to relieve depression. His last public statement was in 1996, when he told The Daily Telegraph why he had undergone penile implant surgery. "I was born in January 1935, the same month and the same year as Elvis Presley and my old mate, Johnny O'Keefe. The difference is that Elvis and Johnny are dead. But after all the booze, all the late nights and all the cigarettes, the Pally is still alive ... I'm not living with anyone now but I would like to resume an active sex life, which I plan to do as soon as possible."

Little was heard of Ward in the last few years of his life. Aged 63, he died alone in the lounge room of his St Ives mansion, which he had described as "like a scaled-down version of 'Tara' in Gone With The Wind". His body was found by friends on the night of Tuesday 18 August 1998. Police said there were "no suspicious circumstances".

John Laws paid tribute to Ward as "a wonderful eccentric". Brian Henderson said he was the last of a generation of DJs who "made a record come alive by talking about it." John Brennan of 2UE said, "(He) brought fun, excitement and rock'n'roll to Sydney afternoon radio in the '60s. He did some silly things but he was so lovable you would end up forgiving him."

Veteran announcer Bob Rogers took a somewhat more cautious view. "I think Ward stayed too long at the fair. The image overtook him. If you try to stay "with it' for too long, it can screw you up in the head." Rogers remembered Austin's big city debut at 2UE in 1960. "He arrived with the name Ward Austin Gargan but management told him to drop the last name. They gave him the death shift, midnight to dawn, and that was where he found what he wanted to do, which was to be a rebel. It wasn't long before he was sacked."

Ward's funeral was attended by many friends and colleagues from radio and music industry. The event was replete with Americana -- there was a procession of Cadillacs and an Elvis impersonator who sang 'American Trilogy' at the graveside as three US flags were unfurled, including a Confederate flag draping the coffin. His first wife Anne, 38-year old son Dean and 14-year old grand-daughter Amy chose not to attend, but second wife Irene wrote a note for Ward's old friend rock and roller Johnny O'Keefe, (who is buried nearby) asking him to look after Ward and have a party with the real Elvis.


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David Dale
"Lonely death for "Pally" - the DJ with the rebel yell",
Sydney Morning Herald Thursday 20 August 1998

Christie Eliezer
immedia Music and Business News, 25/8/1998, 1/9/98

Ward Pally Austin's funeral

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