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Birtwistle, Ivor Treharne (1892–1976)

by Anne Porter

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

Ivor Treharne Birtwistle (1892-1976), journalist, was born on 8 April 1892 at Beaumaris, Melbourne, son of James Birtwistle, architect, and his wife Emily, née Davies, both Victorian born. The family moved to Perth where Ivor attended Claremont State School. In 1908 he was employed as a fileroom-boy by the Western Mail and apparently remained with that weekly until 1912 when his involvement with the Presbyterian Church led to his editing the Presbyterian. In 1913 he became an ordinand in the Church's Home Mission; following some months at Beverley, he resigned to join the literary staff of the Melbourne Age.

Only 5 ft 3 ins (160 cm) tall, with hazel eyes and dark-brown hair, on 13 February 1915 Birtwistle enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and served with the 22nd Battalion on Gallipoli, in Egypt and at the Somme (France) where he was severely shell-shocked on 28 July 1916. After he was discharged in Melbourne on 22 June 1917, an aunt gave him money to travel to the Solomon Islands to recuperate. There he visited the Methodist mission at Kokeqolo, New Georgia. Returning to Melbourne in 1918, he was appointed publicity officer for the national committee of the Young Men's Christian Association, which he had joined in Perth in 1912. During 1919-20 he was vice-chairman of the Repatriation Board of Victoria and in 1920 promoted the Peace Loan campaign. He went to Perth that year to work on the West Australian under (Sir) Alfred Langler. As its police and, subsequently, political reporter, Birtwistle emerged as a familiar figure: with his bowler-hat and cane, he was dapper, precise and well mannered.

Appointed editor of the Western Mail in 1924, Birtwistle married Kathleen Winifred Broadley with Presbyterian forms on 21 November 1925 at Ross Memorial Church, West Perth. As editor (1924-39), he continued the emphasis which his predecessor Alfred Carson had given to matters of community interest. Birtwistle encouraged readers to contribute personal recollections to sections of the paper entitled 'Dolly Pot' and 'A Digger's Diary', while 'Virgilia' provided a focus for women from rural areas. He also made the Mail a vehicle for comprehensive news coverage, especially after 1927 when C. P. Smith succeeded Langler as managing editor of West Australian Newspapers Ltd and introduced a less conservative policy. In 1930-40 Birtwistle was director of studies in technical journalism at the University of Western Australia. Seconded as deputy-director of the State's Department of Information in 1939-40, he rejoined the West Australian in 1941 as night sub-editor until the end of the war when he was appointed chief day-editor of 'Life and Letters'. In early 1950 he became inaugural counsellor of cadet journalists and, from 1952, was also literary editor, positions he held until his retirement in 1957.

President (1929-37 and 1946-47) of the Western Australian Surf Lifesaving Association, Birtwistle managed its State team in 1947. Having been a publicity officer for the Western Australian Boy Scouts' Association, he was president of the State executive in 1938-50. He was, as well, a vice-president and director of the Western Australian Y.M.C.A., and an active member of the Returned Service's League of Australia and of the Gallipoli Legion of Anzacs of Western Australia. At Cottesloe, where he lived, he was involved in local government. In 1952 he was appointed O.B.E.

Birtwistle had been a founding member (1926) of the (Royal) Western Australian Historical Society and its honorary secretary (1926-28); he succeeded E. O. G. Shann as chairman in 1928, and was president in 1952-57 and 1960-64. From the beginning, Birtwistle's discretion and tact were invaluable in reconciling the diverging views of the early settlers' descendants on the committee. The society's push for the establishment of the National Trust of Australia (Western Australia) succeeded in 1959: Birtwistle was an inaugural member and councillor, and helped in the trust's assessments of buildings.

In the early 1960s he moved to his cottage at Roleystone. A member of the Armadale-Kelmscott Shire Council in 1964-69, he fostered research into the district's past as president of the local historical society and encouraged school children to participate by writing essays. His influence led the council to provide a site for History House at Armadale and to treble the amount donated by the public. The $30,000 building was opened two months before Birtwistle's death; he was the first curator of the museum's archives. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Birtwistle died on 15 June 1976 at Roleystone and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Jaggard, A Challenge Answered (Perth, 1979)
  • Artlook, 2, Aug 1976, p 13
  • Newsletter (Royal Western Australian Historical Society), July 1976, p 2
  • Early Days, 8, pt 1, Dec 1977, p 7
  • West Australian, 16 June 1976
  • Comment News, 28 June 1976
  • I. T. Birtwistle, Personal Reminiscences as a File Room Boy of West Australian Newspapers, (typescript, no date, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Minutes of General Assembly of Presbyterian Church of Western Australia, 1912, 1913 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Minutes of YMCA (Perth), 1920, 1939-65 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Boy Scouts' Association (Perth) press releases (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Royal Western Australian Historical Society records, (held by the society and State Library of Western Australia)
  • History House, Armadale, Western Australia, records.

Citation details

Anne Porter, 'Birtwistle, Ivor Treharne (1892–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/birtwistle-ivor-treharne-9512/text16745, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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