Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Kirke, Basil Everald Wharton (1893–1958)

by Marion Consandine

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Basil Everald Wharton Kirke (1893-1958), radio broadcaster and manager, was born on 29 March 1893 at Armidale, New South Wales, fourth child of Australian-born parents Samuel Wharton Kirke, draftsman, and his wife Ellen, née Clements. The family moved to Manly, Sydney, in the early 1900s. Basil attended Fort Street Model School and played Rugby Union football. About 1910 he sailed to Fiji where he worked in turn as an overseer and manager of the Viria Estate sugar-plantation. While on leave, he joined (1911) the Manly Life Saving Club and in February 1914 participated in a mass surf-rescue.

On 19 February 1915 Kirke enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital. Wounded at Gallipoli in October, he was invalided home and discharged on 21 February 1916. That year he entered the British Colonial Service. After being stationed in Fiji, he was sent to the British Solomon Islands Protectorate as inspector, armed constabulary. He spent some time in Malaya before managing (1919) the Jawarare rubber-plantation in Papua. At St Monica's Catholic Church, Footscray, Melbourne, on 21 February 1920 he married Margaret Tunney (d.1926); they were to have one child. Kirke was employed by the New South Wales Department of Lands as temporary manager (from 1920) of the Mullumbimby Soldiers' Settlement and as an inspector (1922-23). He then farmed his own sugar-plantation at Condong, Tweed River.

In 1924 Kirke obtained a post with radio-station 2BL, Sydney. Full of energy and drive, he wrote all 2BL's advertising copy, filled the roles of chief studio announcer and sports commentator, and, as 'Uncle Bas', broadcast popular children's programmes. In June 1928 he and his engineer Ray Alsop stayed on air for eighteen hours to report the final leg (Fiji-Australia) of (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith's historic trans-Pacific flight.

Kirke moved to Western Australia in 1929 as manager of the national station 6WF, operated by the Australian Broadcasting Co. (Commission from 1932). On 6 November 1929 at Scots Church, Fremantle, he married with Presbyterian forms 24-year-old Jessie Craig Cahill. Disparagingly dubbed 'the wise man from the East', he soon won over his critics and attracted listeners with daring antics such as broadcasting from the seabed off Cottesloe and from inside Yallingup caves. Despite the Depression, he was credited with increasing the State's radio licences to almost 50,000. He was manager for Victoria in 1936-37, then manager for New South Wales. In the latter post he helped to found (1938) the A.B.C. Senior Officers' Association; he organized (1940) a short-wave service which broadcast in several languages; and he employed women announcers so that men could be released for the armed forces.

When the Papua and New Guinea service of the A.B.C. went to air on 9PA Port Moresby in July 1946, Kirke was its station manager and local controller. Disappointed at the service's slow development, he returned to Sydney and was inspector (from 1951) at head office. In 1953 he went back to Western Australia as manager, and lobbied tirelessly for new offices and studios. He fell seriously ill in 1957. Survived by his wife and their son, and by the son of his first marriage, he died of hypertensive heart disease on 8 January 1958 in Perth and was cremated with Congregational forms. A studio in the A.B.C.'s new building in Perth was named (1961) after him.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Broadcasting Co. Ltd, A Memento of the World's Greatest Achievement in Aviation and Broadcasting, June 9th 1928 (Syd, 1928)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • Wireless Journal of Australia, 29 Feb 1928
  • Wireless Weekly, 6 Apr 1928
  • Broadcaster, 13-20 Jan 1940
  • ABC Weekly, 22 Jan 1958
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 Dec 1919
  • West Australian, 9 Jan 1958
  • ABC Document and Radio archives (Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Marion Consandine, 'Kirke, Basil Everald Wharton (1893–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kirke-basil-everald-wharton-10751/text19059, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014