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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Irving, Freda Mary Howy (1903–1984)

by Keith Dunstan

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

Freda Mary Howy Irving (1903-1984), journalist, was born on 16 September 1903 at Victoria Barracks, Melbourne, third and youngest child of Godfrey George Howy Irving, military officer, and his wife Ada Minnie Margueritha, daughter of Frederick Thomas Derham. Freda was educated at Lauriston Girls’ School, Malvern. The family was utterly military: her brother, Ronald Godfrey Howy Irving (1898-1965), became a brigadier; her sister, Sybil Howy Irving, was the first controller of the Australian Women’s Army Service. Barely five feet (152 cm) tall, Freda was perhaps destined for a different profession.

A meeting with the women’s editor of the Evening Sun in 1925 led to her employment as a journalist and a social writer for that paper. In 1932, after it was taken over by the Herald & Weekly Times Ltd and renamed the Sun News-Pictorial, she was appointed social editor. Her first big break came in 1936, when she went to London for the Herald to cover the abdication of King Edward VIII and the coronation of King George VI. In 1940 she became publicity officer for the Victorian Red Cross Society and in 1943—almost inevitably— joined the AWAS. Commissioned next month, she served on Sybil’s staff as amenities officer for the three women’s army services and later in the Directorate of Public Relations. She left the army in December 1945 as a captain.

Feisty and direct, Irving could handle those in authority, whether editors or senior officers, with ease. In 1946 she returned to the Sun and, after freelance work in 1948, joined the Argus, working for Gladys Hain on its women’s magazine. In 1952, in poor health, she left, briefly tried farming, then rejoined and covered the Royal Tour in 1954. Women’s editor when the paper closed in 1957, she made sure that every member of her staff got a job. It was not so easy finding one for herself: she termed this condition being `on the beach’, and she was there a number of times during her career. She worked in public relations (1958­63) and, after a period (1963-65) as Melbourne editor of the Women’s Weekly, she had a merry if unsuccessful attempt at running a licensed grocery at Croydon.

With diverse connections and respected for her generosity, integrity and versatility, Irving returned to journalism on the Sunday Observer in 1967, and over the following years worked on the Camberwell Free Press, the Age, and as Melbourne editor for Woman’s Day, and wrote the gossip page for the Sydney Sun-Herald and articles for Pol magazine. The first female president (1972) of the Melbourne Press Club, she was appointed MBE in 1981 and honoured by colleagues from around Australia at a dinner at Melbourne’s Hilton Hotel in September. Apart from journalism, her greatest passion was horse-racing: she was a member of a small syndicate that owned a mare, Freda’s Joy. Gravel-voiced, hard-drinking, hard-smoking and, on occasions, hard-swearing, Freda Irving was still writing when she died, unmarried, on 26 September 1984 at Kilmore. She was buried in Fawkner cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Ollif, Women in Khaki (1981)
  • K. Dunstan, Informed Sources (2001)
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Oct 1981, p 26
  • Australian, 28 Sept 1984, p 9.

Citation details

Keith Dunstan, 'Irving, Freda Mary Howy (1903–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 29 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 17

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