Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Adams, Noel Darwin (1906–1989)

by Malcolm Saunders

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Noel Darwin Adams (1906-1989), journalist, was born on 7 March 1906 at Waratah, Tasmania, third child of Oliver Linley Adams, a Tasmanian-born surveyor, and his wife Leonora, née Battanta, who came from Victoria. Educated at the Church Grammar School, Launceston, and the University of Tasmania (BA, 1929), where he majored in English and history, Noel first worked for the Hobart Mercury and then for the Melbourne Argus. Early in the 1930s he followed his parents to Argentina and spent two years on the staff of the Buenos Aires Standard. He returned to Australia via Europe in 1933 and joined the Adelaide Advertiser as a `special writer’, soon becoming a leader-writer in the editorial section. On 3 May that year at St Paul’s Church of England, Adelaide, he married Joan Patricia Irvine.

On 27 September 1941 Adams enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was posted to the 58th Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company in February 1942 and promoted to lance sergeant. Discharged on 26 October, he was accredited as a war correspondent for the Advertiser. He witnessed the Huon Peninsula campaign in New Guinea in December 1943-January 1944 and the landings at Tarakan and Labuan Islands, Borneo, in May 1945. Between assignments in South-East Asia, he wrote stories which often had a military theme, and also covered local issues.

Late in 1944 Adams toured areas along the Murray River in South Australia and in southwest New South Wales investigating the impact of the long drought. A colleague, Stewart Cockburn, believed that the resulting dozen articles heightened public and governmental awareness in South Australia of the dangers of soil erosion to the fruit and grain industries, and led to greater use of contour ploughing and other land-management techniques. The Advertiser released Adams for a few months in 1946 to be press relations officer to the governor-general, the Duke of Gloucester. Representing the Australian metropolitan morning newspapers, he accompanied Princess (Queen) Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh on their royal tours of 1952 and 1953-54.

As the Advertiser’s foreign editor during the 1950s and 1960s, and former president of the local branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Adams established himself as an authority on international relations. He read widely and often travelled overseas. Although he maintained his interest in South America, he paid particular attention to South-East Asia, and among highlights of his career were interviews with prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew, of Singapore, and Tunku Abdul Rahman, of Malaysia. One year he substituted for his friend Douglas Pike and taught Asian history at the Workers’ Educational Association of South Australia. Foreign governments invited him to visit their countries. In 1962 the West German government suggested that he write a series of articles on the Berlin Wall; in 1965, awarded a scholarship by the Department of State, United States of America, he focused on that country’s Black civil rights movement. He regularly wrote one of the Advertiser’s two weekday editorials, but was occasionally upset by interference from the newspaper’s conservative management headed by Sir Lloyd Dumas. For example, during the Suez crisis of 1956 he was called back to the office in the early hours of the morning to rewrite a piece in which he was critical of the British government’s actions—an incident he never forgot.

Adams became a well-known figure on radio and television. For some years he was a commentator on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio program `Notes on the News’, and early in the 1960s he was the host of `Meet the Press’, on Adelaide’s ADS-7. After retiring in March 1971 he continued to write articles and book reviews for the Advertiser, made documentaries for television, and travelled. For most of their married life he and his wife lived in rented premises in North Adelaide; only when their son and daughter had grown up did they buy a house, at Wattle Park. Tall and slim, with a dark complexion, Adams was attractive to women and seemed younger than his years. He contracted Parkinson’s disease, and in 1985 the Adamses moved to the Helping Hand Centre, North Adelaide. Survived by his wife and their son, he died there on 31 March 1989 and was cremated. In 1991 Cockburn described Adams, renowned for his elegant style, as `one of the most gifted writers in the history of the Advertiser’.

Select Bibliography

  • Advertiser Pl, Jan-Feb 1971, p 2, Mar 1989
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 Mar 1971, p 8, 1 Apr 1989, p 13
  • series B883, item SX14700 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Malcolm Saunders, 'Adams, Noel Darwin (1906–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/adams-noel-darwin-12119/text21709, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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