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Macartney, James Edward (Jim) (1911–1977)

by T. E. Austen

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

James Edward (Jim) Macartney (1911-1977), newspaper editor, was born on 15 July 1911 at Coolgardie, Western Australia, son of Melbourne-born parents Edward Hussey Burgh Macartney, surveyor, and his wife Constance May, née Griffith. His great-grandfather was Archdeacon Hussey Burgh Macartney. Educated at the High School, Perth, Jim joined the staff of the West Australian in 1928 and was employed as a cadet reporter in the following year. While at the University of Western Australia in the early 1930s, he edited the student newspapers, Pelican and Sruss-Sruss, antagonized the authorities and was sent down.

On 14 December 1932 at St George's Anglican Cathedral, Perth, Macartney married 19-year-old Edith Violet Flanagan; they were to be divorced ten years later. In 1934 he was appointed editor of the new weekly, Broadcaster. After West Australian Newspapers Ltd bought the Daily News, he became its editor in 1936. Within four years his journalistic candour, business acumen and eye for brighter format lifted the paper's standing and almost doubled its sales. Macartney served (1942-45) in the Royal Australian Air Force; he rose to flight lieutenant, and flew Ansons with No.67 Squadron and Catalinas with No.42 Squadron in the South-West Pacific Area. When World War II ended he resumed his post as editor and in 1951 was promoted managing editor of the company. At John Knox Presbyterian Church, Gardenvale, Melbourne, on 15 February 1946 he had married Margaret Cosson Bessell-Browne, née Bennett, a 29-year-old divorcee.

For some ten years the firm's pyramidal management was guided by what it believed 'J.M.' wanted. The weaknesses inherent in this system were largely obscured by his sagacious and usually compassionate administration. Macartney's dailies wielded significant influence in Western Australia. He circumvented British restrictions by having his reporters cover nuclear tests in the Monte Bello islands; he dispatched expeditions to promote northern development; and he was a driving force behind the introduction of commercial television. Strenuously anti-communist, his newspapers backed Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. They also supported free enterprise, while advocating a better deal for the less fortunate. Macartney was respected for his ability to select and train staff, among them the cartoonist Paul Rigby and the journalist Kirwan Ward.

In March 1960 Macartney was awarded a grant by the government of the United States of America to promote an exchange of ideas between the two countries. Elected president (1960) of the Australian Newspapers Council, he chaired the press, publicity and public relations committee for the Commonwealth Games (1962) in Perth. Yet, in essence he remained a shy man, virtually banning from his publications information about himself. In 1962 Macartney was appointed managing director of West Australian Newspapers. His continuing tussles with directors, penchant for calling governors and premiers to task, autocratic tendencies and chronic alcoholism exacerbated the pressures. Despite five months sick leave in 1968, he left the company in May 1969.

Macartney worked intermittently as a consultant for newspapers, journals, television and radio, and found more time to enjoy golf at the Lake Karrinyup Country Club. Throughout his life he remained something of a rebel, relishing tilts at sacred cows, humbug and hypocrisy. He died of cancer on 21 September 1977 in Perth and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife and their two sons survived him, as did the son and two daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Radical (Perth), 2, no 3, 1959
  • WA Newspapers Ltd, Quarterly Bulletin, Sept 1969
  • West Australian, 17 May 1969, 22 Sept, 22 Oct 1977
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 18 May 1969
  • private information.

Citation details

T. E. Austen, 'Macartney, James Edward (Jim) (1911–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macartney-james-edward-jim-10893/text19341, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2018.

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

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