Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kirwan Ward, Edward Bernard (Bernie) (1909–1983)

by Ron Davidson

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

Edward Bernard (Bernie) Kirwan Ward (1909-1983), newspaper columnist, was born on 2 April 1909 at Shotover, near Oxford, England, one of eight children of Norman Francis Kirwan Ward, electrical engineer, and his wife Bertha Marie Thomas, née Van der Heyden. He was educated locally. After migrating to Western Australia with his family at age 18, he worked in agricultural jobs, and as a shoe salesman and insurance clerk, and struggled with Australian slang as part of a rampant literary ambition. He wrote under the name Kirwan Ward (which he sometimes hyphenated in everyday life), but was known to friends as Bernie Ward. At Perth College chapel on 12 November 1938 he married with Anglican rites Helen Curtis Inkpen.

Mobilised in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve as a paymaster sub-lieutenant on 30 November 1942, Kirwan Ward was promoted to provisional lieutenant (special branch) in March 1943. In Darwin Jim Macartney, the editor of the Perth Daily News, asked him, over a bottle of gin, what he would do after the war. Kirwan Ward was unenthusiastic about his prospects in insurance. When his RANVR appointment terminated on 2 May 1946, Macartney offered him a job as writer and illustrator of `Peep­show’, a daily column with a 9.30 a.m. deadline. His first stylish sentence read: `If you’re looking for a simple recipe for success, here it is: Find out what people want and then give it to them’. He was writing about the proprietor of a roadside café, but it could have been his own motto. He tapped, with increasingly wry humour and polish, the attitudes and interests of the people of small-town Perth.

Travellers on public transport turned automatically to the back page of the afternoon tabloid for the exploits of Kirwan Ward’s politically incorrect character Clueless Chloe or the letter sorters, the Postal Pixies. Readers saw him as one of them, but this was not altogether true. He was a serious reader, with a touch of David Niven, the English gentleman, and of the `oddball’; he was an impeccable dresser who would wear a silk cravat to the local foot­ball. But he was a sports fanatic: a welterweight boxer noted for a `terrible right hand’, a golfer, and a fan of the Claremont Football Club and of soccer in Britain.

Macartney employed the illustrator Paul Rigby as a cartoonist in 1952. Kirwan Ward and Rigby were a perfect match, although the older Kirwan Ward and the often outrageous Rigby were opposites in personality. Macartney sent them on assignment throughout Australia and overseas, including a visit to China in 1958 during the Great Leap Forward. With their favourite city pubs in Perth being demolished, and to avoid being `buttonholed’, Kirwan Ward, with Rigby, moved over the railway line to the Victoria Hotel in James Street. In the front bar—where he mixed easily with detectives, criminals, reporters, magistrates and magnates—was born many a story for his column as well as the Lager Lovers’ League.

Kirwan Ward wrote six columns a week for twenty-eight years until he retired in 1974, and another two a week for the next nine years. His columns remained non-judgmental of individuals but critical of institutional interventions such as censorship and `archaic liquor laws’. He could be critical of the media: his last column pondered whether the sexiness of R. J. L. (Bob) Hawke was really the election issue. His skill as a raconteur made him a `natural’ for Australian Broadcasting Commission talks, and he wrote ten books on history, travel and old buildings. In 1978 he was appointed MBE. He died on 5 March 1983 at Fremantle and was cremated. His wife and their daughter and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Tom’s Weekly (Perth), 9 June 1973, p 6
  • Western Mail (Perth), 1 May 1982, p 18
  • West Australian, 7 Mar 1983, p 4
  • Daily News (Perth), 7 Mar 1983, p 3
  • series A6769, item Ward B E K (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ron Davidson, 'Kirwan Ward, Edward Bernard (Bernie) (1909–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kirwan-ward-edward-bernard-bernie-12743/text22987, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

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