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Bonney, Edmund Garnet (1883–1959)

by John Hilvert

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

Edmund Garnet Bonney (1883-1959), by unknown photographer, c1948

Edmund Garnet Bonney (1883-1959), by unknown photographer, c1948

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23259784

Edmund Garnet Bonney (1883-1959), journalist and public servant, was born on 24 November 1883 at Paddington, Sydney, son of William Henry Bonney, a draftsman from New York, and his wife Annie Maria, née Cooper, a Sydneysider. William died in Edmund's early childhood and Annie remarried. Educated at a public school at Newcastle, Edmund moved with his family to Wyalong, then Coonamble, engaging in a variety of bush jobs; he later went to sea. He was employed as a compositor at Dunedin, New Zealand, when he married 18-year-old Elizabeth Julia Johnson on 9 July 1907 in the local registrar's office; they were to have two children before being divorced in 1928.

Taking up journalism at Grafton, New South Wales, at the age of 26, Bonney worked for the Sydney Morning Herald then moved to Melbourne about 1917 to join the Argus. He was general president of the Australian Journalists' Association in 1920-21, news editor of the Sun News-Pictorial in 1922-24 and became chief of staff on the Melbourne Herald in 1926. On 13 February 1928 in the Collins Street registry office he married Minnie Hester. From 1932 he was editor-in-chief of the Adelaide News and Mail. Having spent a holiday motoring across the United States of America, in 1938 he returned to the Argus as editor. Appointed chief publicity censor for the Commonwealth in April 1941, he immediately took a tough and uncompromising line in implementing War Cabinet policy: not only was material detrimental to military security proscribed; any news or comment which the enemy might use to damage the morale of Australians or their allies was also prohibited. Bonney transferred to Canberra in December.

Following a review of its functions, in October 1943 he was made director-general of the expanded Department of Information. The decision next month—to make W. Macmahon Ball (controller of the Australian Broadcasting Commission's shortwave department) responsible to Bonney—led to a bitter confrontation and to Macmahon Ball's resignation. Encouraged by Arthur Calwell, the minister for information, Bonney persisted in censoring the publication of any material which could create an unfavourable impression of Australia abroad. Sections of the press argued that he was being unduly severe and that he was restricting commentary for political purposes. Conflict with the Newspaper Proprietors' Association came to a head when Bonney's department suppressed (Sir) Frank Packer's Sydney Sunday Telegraph of 16 April 1944 for appearing with blank spaces that indicated where censorship had occurred. On 17 April all the Sydney dailies carried the story and were seized. That day the High Court of Australia issued an injunction against the Commonwealth government; by 19 May a code of censorship principles had been accepted by the contending parties.

Loyal to his political masters, Bonney was a superb administrator who attracted similar loyalty from his staff. It was to his credit that, as peace approached, his department was able to take on a new role and advertise Australia in foreign countries. The publicity aimed to attract migrants, tourists and trade, and to promote the nation's contribution to the war effort in order to support Australia's claims in postwar settlements. In 1948-51 Bonney was director of the Australian News and Information Bureau in New York; from 1952 he was the British Travel Association's special representative in Australia. A tall, well-built man, with a 'thatch of iron-grey hair' in middle age, he had twinkling blue eyes and smoked a straight-stemmed pipe. Survived by his wife, and by the daughter of his first marriage, he died on 27 February 1959 at Avalon, Sydney, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945 (Canb, 1970)
  • J. Hilvert, Blue Pencil Warriors (Brisb, 1984)
  • People (Sydney), 6 May 1953
  • Newspaper News, 6 Mar 1959
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 Feb 1959.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Hilvert, 'Bonney, Edmund Garnet (1883–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bonney-edmund-garnet-9538/text16797, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 December 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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