This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
Ian Glynn (Fitch) Fitchett (1908-1988), political journalist and war correspondent, was born on 11 September 1908 at Terang, Victoria, third of four children of Victorian-born parents Alfred Shaw Fitchett, solicitor, and his wife Nellie, née Delany. W. H. Fitchett [q.v.8] was his grandfather. Raised in the Catholic faith of his mother’s Irish family, Ian was educated by governesses, at the local Convent of Mercy and at Xavier College, Melbourne. He was articled to his uncle, F. S. Fitchett, and admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor on 1 March 1935. After a brief stint as associate to Justice (Sir) Hayden Starke, he forsook law for journalism.
In 1937 Sydney Deamer, the editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, with whom he had struck up a friendship, persuaded (Sir) Frank Packer, the newspaper’s proprietor, to let Fitchett join the paper as a fourth-year cadet. He was assigned to the federal round, which meant making contact with politicians at their Commonwealth offices in Sydney. This gave him a taste for political journalism, in which he was to excel in the postwar years. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 October 1939 and sailed for the Middle East as a sergeant with the 2/4th Battalion in January 1940.
On the way there Fitchett was made a war correspondent. He was then appointed acting official war correspondent, pending the arrival of Kenneth Slessor. Discharged from the AIF on 27 February 1941, he became assistant official war correspondent, Middle East. He covered the Libyan campaign, spending eight weeks in Tobruk during the siege, filing some forty dispatches about the Australian garrison’s activities, despite encountering difficulties with the 9th Division commander, Major General (Sir) Leslie Morshead, who, Fitchett said, `claimed the right to vet everything’.
Appointed official war correspondent for the 8th Division in October 1941, Fitchett served in Malaya from December. According to Alan Reid, his reporting from Malaya included `some of the most distinguished writing that came out of World War II’. Five days before the surrender on 15 February 1942, he managed to get away from Singapore, travelling by sea to Java and then to Fremantle, Western Australia. He carried out assignments for the Department of Information in Australia, Papua and New Caledonia. In 1943 he became the Daily Telegraph and London Daily Express war correspondent with South-East Asia Command, covering operations in Burma, India and China until 1945.
After the war Fitchett went back briefly to the Daily Telegraph, then joined the Melbourne Age, which sent him to Canberra as political correspondent in 1947. He moved to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1960, spending the next ten years as its political correspondent and then three years writing on defence and diplomatic affairs. On leaving daily journalism, he was able to use his deep knowledge of Australian military history to undertake research for the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
A massive Falstaffian figure, with disciplined gingerish hair and a thin, neatly trimmed moustache, and always immaculately turned out, `Fitch’ became a legend in the postwar Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery. He was respected by politicians and colleagues alike for his `incisive pen’, `acid tongue’ and `quick wit’. With a range of contacts, from prime ministers down, unmatched by other journalists, he ranked as one of the outstanding political correspondents of the day, with Reid, Harold Cox and Don Whitington. As head of the Age bureau, he initiated a succession of young journalists into the art of interpreting and reporting politics, among them Graham Perkin.
With `a certain pomposity of manner, accentuated by a booming baritone voice’, Fitchett was one of the few political correspondents prepared to match Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies in scathing repartee. Once, after he had written several critical stories about Menzies, Fitchett ran into him in Parliament House. `I’ll make you eat crow’, Menzies said. Fitchett fired back, `I will be happy to eat crow, Prime Minister, provided it is garnished with the sauce of your embarrassment’. On another occasion, soon after Fitchett had joined the Sydney Morning Herald, Menzies posed a question: `What would Mr [R. A. G.] Henderson [q.v.] think of that, Fitch?’ Fitchett shot back, `Mr Henderson, like God, sir, has not yet been revealed to me’. Fitchett’s clashes were not confined to politicians. At a campaign meeting in the Adelaide Town Hall in 1953, he traded punches with Menzies’ usually restrained press secretary, Stewart Cockburn, much to the amazement of the thousand-strong audience.
Described as masking `a genuine shyness with outbursts of bigotry and misogynism’, the seemingly confirmed bachelor surprised everyone when he married Florence Myrtle Edlington, née Clutton (d.1974), a widow, on 24 January 1959 at St Aloysius’ Catholic Church, Cronulla, Sydney. The epitome of the old-style Canberra journalist, Fitchett brought to his vigorous political reporting the lawyer’s gift of getting to the heart of the matter and exposing the shams and half-truths that riddle politics. Survived by a stepson and a stepdaughter, he died on 10 October 1988 in Canberra and was cremated.
John Farquharson, 'Fitchett, Ian Glynn (Fitch) (1908–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fitchett-ian-glynn-fitch-12494/text22479, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 29 July 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007