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Cook, Bertie Stuart (1877–1968)

by Robert Milliken

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

Bertie Stuart Baxter Cook (1877-1968), journalist, was born on 2 March 1877 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of John Baxter Cook, clerk, formerly of Yorkshire, England, and his wife Charlotte, née Chambers, of Chelsea, London. After education at state schools Cook joined the Melbourne Herald as a copy boy in 1889. His wage was 5s. for a six-day week; ten years later, when he had become a fully fledged reporter, his salary had risen to £3 for a 70-hour week. At that time there was no journalists' union, and while other employees could resort to wages boards all attempts by reporters to improve their wages and conditions had failed.

Cook was deeply concerned about the conditions of work and the low morale of journalists. In 1906 he and several colleagues formed the Press Bond, a group for journalists to discuss their problems, but it was ineffectual. By 1908 it was on the point of disbanding, and Cook concluded that journalists' associations would have to look to the law for protection if they were to survive. As Federal parliamentary correspondent for the Herald from 1901, he had followed the passage of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act (1904). In 1908 he lobbied the prime minister, Alfred Deakin, for the legislation to allow journalists as well as manual workers to be registered. Unsuccessful, he decided to test the Act by forming an association and applying for registration. On 10 December 1910 he convened a meeting in Melbourne, attended by 100 pressmen, at which the Australian Journalists' Association was at last formed. Cook became its first secretary, a constitution was drawn up and branches were set up in each State; registration was granted in May 1911. Cook was general president of the federated body in 1916-18; in May 1917 the Arbitration Court gave its first award to the A.J.A. for claims based on the grading system for journalists, a system which has operated ever since.

In May 1918 Cook accepted an offer by W. M. Hughes to organize the first Federal press bureau in the Prime Minister's Department. Next year he resigned to assist his friend (Sir) Gerald Mussen as resident industrial officer at Broken Hill. The strike of 1919-20 upset their conciliatory plans, and Cook spent much of his time as the companies' representative on the distress committee which administered funds to needy miners.

After two years Cook returned to Melbourne and with Mussen formed the Victorian Central Citrus Association; Cook was secretary and for six years general manager. In 1929 he accepted (Sir) Edward Cunningham's invitation to join the Argus as financial editor. In 1935 he became organizer of the publicity branch of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, retiring in 1939.

On 8 March 1899 at St Luke's Anglican Church, South Melbourne, Cook had married Harriet Ann Butler (d.1960). By his early 40s he had grown a vandyke beard, and wore pince-nez. As a journalist he was respected for his facile pen and gentle sense of humour and especially for his 'absolute fairness'. Selections from his memoirs, which contained racy sketches of many leading Federal politicians, were serialized in the Sydney Bulletin from October to December 1959. He was appointed M.B.E. at the A.J.A.'s diamond jubilee in 1960 and remained active in the association's affairs until his death at Glen Iris on 2 September 1968. He was survived by his two daughters and was cremated.

Cook is remembered as the one who did more for the welfare of working journalists in Australia than any other figure. It is fitting that when he returned later to his profession as a distinguished senior reporter, he was able to enjoy the fruits of his battles.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Sparrow (ed), Crusade for Journalism, (Melb, 1960)
  • Punch (Melbourne), 30 May 1918
  • B. S. B. Cook papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Robert Milliken, 'Cook, Bertie Stuart (1877–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-bertie-stuart-5761/text9761, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 November 2018.

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

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