Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cockerill, George (1871–1943)

by L. J. Blake

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

George Cockerill (1871-1943), journalist and author, was born on 13 July 1871 at Bendigo, Victoria, son of George Cockerill, a miner from Northamptonshire, England, and his Irish-born wife Mary, née Vance. He was educated at Specimen Hill State School and Bendigo Corporate High School. At 15 he began a five-year apprenticeship to the Bendigo Independent and studied at the Bendigo School of Mines. He gained promotion as chief reporter of the Independent and conducted a Saturday coaching school. Meticulous reporting of the Amalgamated Miners' Association conference at Creswick in 1893 led to his appointment later that year as chief of staff of the Ballarat Star. He studied further at the Ballarat School of Mines, then in 1898 accepted an invitation to join the Melbourne Age staff under David Syme. Strong in support of Syme's protectionist policies, Cockerill emerged as a specialist writer on national needs and problems and a staunch protagonist for the development of a national sentiment.

As Age special representative in the thick of the Federation campaigns, Cockerill became privy to many political secrets. Politicians such as (Sir) Edward Barton, Alfred Deakin, Billy Hughes, (Sir) William Lyne, (Sir) George Reid, Andrew Fisher and King O'Malley knew him as 'The Thunderer'. In 1910 (Sir) Geoffrey Syme appointed him chief of staff of the Age, and in January 1914 editor Frederick Schuler made him chief leader-writer. In this position he brilliantly delivered trenchant judgment on public affairs. For fifteen years from 1912 he served on the board of examiners for licensed shorthand writers. At one time he edited the Empire Press Union's Australian letter.

In 1926 Cockerill left the Age to become editor-in-chief of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. When it became a pictorial he returned to Melbourne in 1928 and joined the Development and Migration Commission as editor of reports and chief of publicity. Next year he became leader-writer for the Melbourne Herald. After a heart attack in 1939, he retired to live at Abbotsford.

A tall, fresh-faced man, in his youth Cockerill enjoyed football, cricket, boxing, wrestling, rowing and running; in later life he became an ardent bushwalker and chess-player. A lover of Australian art and literature, he was a member of the Bread and Cheese Club (founded 1938). At St Kilian's Catholic Church, Bendigo, on 12 September 1893, he had married Mary Ellen O'Halloran, daughter of a contractor; they had three sons and two daughters. He died in hospital at East Melbourne on 2 June 1943 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. He was predeceased by a son and a daughter.

Author of numerous pamphlets, Cockerill also wrote Building the Commonwealth: The Australian Policy (Sydney, 1948), but died before completing 'Study of the growth of Australian manhood'. Historical novels included Down and Out: A Story of Australia's Early History (1912), The Convict Pugilist (1912) and In Days of Gold: A Romance of the 'Fifties (1926). Memories of his youth on the goldfields found expression in the humorous tales of Cornish miners published in the Age Literary Supplement. Using a slight veneer of fiction, he wrote his memoirs, Scribblers and Statesmen (1944).

Select Bibliography

  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • R. Bridges, That Yesterday was Home (Syd, 1948)
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 1 Nov 1929
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 June 1943
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 June 1943
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 June 1943.

Citation details

L. J. Blake, 'Cockerill, George (1871–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cockerill-george-5702/text9639, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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