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Groom, William Henry George (1900–1984)

by Rod Kirkpatrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

William Henry George Groom (1900-1984), journalist and newspaper proprietor, was born on 1 September 1900 at Toowoomba, Queensland, second of four children of locally born parents Henry Littleton Groom, journalist, and his wife Marion Flora, née Black. William Henry Groom was his grandfather; Sir Littleton Groom was his uncle. Always known as George, he was educated at state and private schools. Growing up in a newspaper environment, he began his working life as a cadet journalist in January 1918 at the Toowoomba Chronicle, where his father was managing director. After stints on the Maryborough Chronicle and the Brisbane Daily Mail, he managed the Longreach Leader (formerly News) and its printing interests from September 1922 for a few months. In May 1923 he joined the staff of the Melbourne Herald.

Returning to Queensland in 1926 Groom worked `bloody long hours’ to establish the Bundaberg Daily Times, launched on 16 August that year by a syndicate of businessmen. Because of ill health he resigned in October. In March 1927 he became executive secretary to (Sir) Keith Murdoch, managing director of the Herald & Weekly Times Ltd, Melbourne. He found Murdoch `a tremendous man to work with’ but hated the Melbourne climate. On 28 August 1928 his mother, now widowed, bought the Johnstone River Advocate and the Northern Sportsman. Taking charge, Groom immediately shut down the loss-making, year-old Sportsman, upgraded the plant, and made the weekly Advocate a bi-weekly from 1 January 1929.

Innisfail struck Groom as `back-block America, all except the revolvers’; he found that `sugar was a god, and you mustn’t touch it’. Determined to build up the Advocate into a viable newspaper, he kept reminding his readers that it had been established with the motto, `fair, fearless and free’. His brother Spencer David (1904-1983) and sister Marion Flora (1907-1988), known as `Dolly’, were soon working on the paper as journalists. He developed a small chain of newspapers, starting with the acquisition of the Atherton Tableland Examiner, into which he incorporated (1931) the Atherton News & Barron Valley Advocate.

Attempting to find suitable industries other than sugar for the region, he helped to establish the Palmerston Province Development League and operated it at his own expense. The group advocated building a new road from Innisfail to Millaa Millaa on the Atherton Tableland to `open lands’ and to allow transport of timber. His editorials helped to initiate the royal commission on the development of North Queensland, established in 1931 by the Arthur Moore government. He encouraged local business; in 1936-37 he was president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of Far North Queensland and in 1937-38 of the Queensland body. In 1941 he was elected a life member of the Innisfail Chamber of Commerce. Active in other community organisations, he was also president of both the local Rotary club and the show society.

A Johnstone River Advocate report won national attention in 1934 when Groom investigated rumours that a Japanese sailing ship was seeking trochus shell in Australian waters near Dunk Island. After an unsuccessful aerial search over the Great Barrier Reef he chartered a speedboat, found the vessel and through an interpreter interviewed its captain. He and the crew of the speedboat were later threatened with prosecution because they had boarded an overseas vessel and returned to port without undergoing quarantine examination.

In 1935 Groom was a delegate to the Imperial Press Conference held in South Africa. He launched the Sunday Australian at Cairns in February 1939 and published it, on pink paper, until 4 April 1952. The Johnstone River Advocate became a daily on 25 November 1940, and on 19 May 1941 changed its name to the Evening Advocate; circulation was little more than 1500 and during the late 1940s and the 1950s it competed with the Cootamundra Herald, New South Wales, for the title of the smallest-circulation daily in Australia. In 1973 Groom protested effusively in print when the abolition of postal and telecommunications concessions to newspapers resulted in a 1000 per cent increase in charges for receiving telex news from within Australia and overseas. He announced plans to close the paper on 28 September but was persuaded to continue publication from 1 October as a tri-weekly, without news received by telex. In January 1978 he sold the Evening Advocate. Spencer retired at the same time; Dolly had returned to Toowoomba after her marriage to V. G. Bancroft in 1939. Never married, George Groom died on 2 July 1984 at Cairns and was cremated after a funeral service in St Alban’s Church of England, Innisfail.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Kirkpatrick, Sworn to No Master (1984)
  • Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette, 3 Oct 1922, p 2
  • Queenslander, 26 Jan 1933, p 33
  • Johnstone River Advocate and Innisfail News, 10 Apr 1934, p 1, `special souvenir issue’, July 1936, p 10
  • Evening Advocate (Innisfail), 1 Oct 1973, p 1
  • Innisfail Advocate, 4 July 1984, p 1
  • R. Kirkpatrick, `The Groom Family Dynasty Implodes and a New Chain Emerges in the North’, PANPA. Bulletin, Sept 2002, p 59
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Rod Kirkpatrick, 'Groom, William Henry George (1900–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/groom-william-henry-george-12570/text22633, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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