Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Beatty, William Alfred (Bill) (1902–1972)

by Jan Brazier

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Alfred Beatty (1902-1972), by unknown photograher

William Alfred Beatty (1902-1972), by unknown photograher

State Library of New South Wales, Australian Photographic Agency - 19764

William Alfred (Bill) Beatty (1902-1972), writer and broadcaster, was born on 27 November 1902 at Paddington, Sydney, only son of James Joseph Beatty, waiter, and his wife Margaret, née Brazil, both Dublin born. On leaving Christian Brothers' College, Waverley, Bill worked as a clerk, gave piano lessons and recitals, and travelled in the Far East and the United States of America. Deeply impressed by the Americans' pride in their history, he determined to arouse in Australians a greater interest in their own past.

In 1936 Beatty joined the fledgling, Catholic-owned radio station 2SM as announcer and pianist. His programme, 'Cuckoo Court', featured his first broadcasts on Australiana which provided the basis for his illustrated 'Believe Bill Beatty' items in the Wireless Weekly (1939-41) and A.B.C. Weekly (1941-43). In June 1941 he was appointed to the Australian Broadcasting Commission as a script and continuity writer. In addition, he wrote and broadcast a weekly, 15-minute, dramatized talk, 'Australoddities', a programme of local curiosities and amazing facts, which was to run for over four hundred sessions. Beatty also presented Australiana items on the 'Children's Session' in 1941-44. His programme fitted the patriotism of the war years and their aftermath when the A.B.C. came under pressure to include more Australian material. 'Australoddities' continued on air as a small, but popular, item.

Beatty roamed widely, collecting material for his programme and writings; correspondence with his listeners and readers provided much information. His first publication, This Australia, Strange and Amazing Facts, by 'Believe Bill Beatty', appeared in 1941 and was read over the British Broadcasting Corporation network in 1946. He followed it with Amazing Australia (1943) and Australia, the Amazing (1944). In 1946 he declined a lecture tour in the United States because he was unable to afford the fare. When 'Australoddities' moved to another A.B.C. network in 1950, its audience dropped and the programme ended in December 1951.

From 1952 until 1960 Beatty worked as a clerical assistant in the Commonwealth Department of Trade and Customs in Sydney to enable him to continue to support his sister and her children. Meantime, he pursued his main interest—Australian folklore. Fourteen of his books were published between 1950 and 1970, among them Unique to Australia (1952), Come A-Waltzing Matilda (1954) and A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales and Traditions (1960). He combined his knowledge of Australian history with his journeys to produce several travel guides, including The White Roof of Australia (London, 1958) and Around Australia with Bill Beatty (Melbourne, 1966).

His writings presented bits of history, anecdotes, firsts, bests, oldests and other miscellaneous information, and made entertaining reading. He was an early popularizer and chronicler of Australian traditions who recalled his life's work as 'a relentless but rewarding pursuit' to rescue and preserve nearly-forgotten tales. A slim, handsome man, with glasses and a pencil-thin moustache, Beatty never married, and lived with his sister and her family at Newport. He died there of ischaemic heart disease on 13 April 1972 and was buried in the local cemetery with Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Wireless Weekly, 19 Apr, 28 June 1941
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 June 1960
  • H. de Berg, interview with Bill Beatty (transcript, 1963, National Library of Australia)
  • Scriptwriters, New South Wales, biography files: Bill Beatty (ABC Document Archives, Sydney)
  • William Beatty, Australian programme material, Australoddities, correspondence and scripts, 1938-48, SP 300/1, box 2, Series B, SP 341/1, box 64, SP 368/1, boxes 2 and 6, SP 1011/2, box 11, SP 1297/2, box 14, Series C (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Jan Brazier, 'Beatty, William Alfred (Bill) (1902–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/beatty-william-alfred-bill-9463/text16645, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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