The Northern Rivers community is sad to say goodbye to Ron Way, the much-loved TV and film director, who retired to Kyogle in 2006.
Ron, who was a staunch anti-gasfields activist and a proud member of the Bentley Gatekeepers, passed away peacefully on the weekend after a period of illness. He was 85.
Ron Way made his name directing classic Australian television shows including Pick-a-Box, My Name’s McGooley, What’s Yours?, The Mavis Bramston Show, This is Your Life and Seven Little Australians. He also directed the feature film Frenchman’s Farm.
The very self-effacing Ron would always tell people that his life off-screen was more interesting though, and he certainly had his share of adventures.
He was born in Hong Kong, where his father worked for RKO Radio Pictures and was wounded trying to defend the island against the Japanese Army.
Narrowly avoiding capture, the family fled to French Indo-China and then eventually Bombay. Next stop for Ron was school in the Himalayas, then Singapore, then Perth.
In 1952 Ron was drafted for National Service, but the film bug had already bitten and he started making 16mm films with his Bell & Howell camera.
A stint in Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak and British North Borneo as a projector technician led Ron into the weird and wonderful world of early 3D, widescreen Cinemascope and 70mm. This led to the opportunity to go to the University of Southern California as a film student (the same school that produced George Lucas, Ron Howard and Sam Peckinpah).
Ron had a chance to work in Hollywood but was more excited by the new medium of television back in Australia (he also turned down the opportunity to direct Wake in Fright).
Returning to Australia in 1960, he hit the ground running at Channel 7, directing episodes of all the major shows of the time as well as specials for artists such as Johnny O’Keefe, Shirley Bassey, Louis Armstrong and Sammy Davis Jr.
Ron’s agent was Harry M. Miller, who also represented Alan Jones, leading to an ongoing friendship between these two very different men. Years later, with the Bentley Blockade in full swing, Ron was able to connect fellow Bentley Gatekeepers with Jones, adding to the pressure on the Baird Government which ultimately led to an historic win of community over invasive gasfields.
Ron loved to swim. His wife Noelle remembers first meeting him at the Freshwater sea pool in Sydney, and they remained swimming alongside one another for the next 31 years, most recently at the Kyogle Pool, where they both had season tickets.
Ron was very proud of his involvement with his adopted community of Kyogle and the Northern Rivers, before, during and after the Bentley Blockade. He brought the Kyogle cinema back to life as part of the Growing Kyogle group and was a wonderful mentor and encouraging voice to myself and many other film makers in the region. He never stopped making films, although he traded the big crews and cameras for a little handycam in later years.
Friend and Bentley farmer Rosemary Joseph remembers Ron as a lover of fine single malt whiskey. His son Adrian says he was an avid football fan.
He had several near-death experiences, including surviving a horrific light plane crash thirty years ago when he was filming in the Northern Territory, major surgery and an induced coma, but he never lost his gentle spirit and curious mind, which remained active until the end.
Ron loved his family, his cats, his curries and his community. He leaves behind his wonderful wife Noelle and children Melissa, Adrian and Jeremy, as well as stepdaughter Naomi. There will be a celebration of Ron’s life for the many people whose lives he touched in mid-July.
Vale Ron Way, a remarkable man.