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McNulty, Clarence Sydney (1903–1964)

by Bridget Griffen-Foley

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

Clarence Sydney McNulty (1903-1964), journalist and editor, was born on 12 August 1903 in Perth, son of Thomas Sydney McNulty, accountant and public servant, and Caroline Hall. Raised by Thomas and his wife Maude, née Westhoven, Clarrie was educated at St Ildephonsus' College, New Norcia, and Scotch College, Perth. He began his newspaper career in Perth and moved to Sydney in 1920, working briefly on Truth and the Daily Mail. At Holy Cross Church, Woollahra, on 29 August 1924 he married with Catholic rites Winifred Thelma Attwood, a 21-year-old typist. Their son was born next year. Following a short sojourn on the Daily Telegraph, McNulty returned to Truth & Sportsman Ltd. A 'crack reporter', he became chief sub-editor of the Brisbane Truth and editor in 1929. From 1930 he was, in turn, editor of the Perth and managing editor of the New Zealand editions of Truth.

Back in Sydney in 1936, McNulty joined the Daily Telegraph which had been acquired by Consolidated Press Ltd, controlled by (Sir) Frank Packer and E. G. Theodore. As chief sub-editor he was part of the young and dynamic team which revitalized the ailing newspaper. In the rumbustious, bohemian atmosphere of the Telegraph office McNulty fraternized with journalists such as Syd Deamer, Cyril Pearl and Richard Hughes. He was appointed news editor in 1937 and editor in 1939. Under his leadership the Telegraph's progressive liberalism and patronage of modern art continued.

'Mac' was a devotee of the 'new journalism': all the publications with which he was involved were tightly edited and boldly laid out. Despite his Catholic associations, he was an agnostic. A keen student of international affairs, French and the classics, he admired the work of the Impressionists and of Van Gogh. His taste in music ranged from Beethoven to Gilbert and Sullivan, and his political sympathies lay with the left. Smith's Weekly described him as level-headed, good-humoured, cheerful and courteous, and as one of the fastest men ever to trim or head a story. Slim and of middle height, he had brown hair and heavy spectacles; his movements were quick, as if he were always in a hurry.

Editor-in-chief for Consolidated Press from 1941, McNulty supervised the vigorous forums and feature articles which characterized the wartime Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph. He joined an Australian press delegation to the Dutch East Indies and Singapore in August 1941, visited the United States of America in 1942 to investigate Consolidated Press's cable service, and played a vital role in the company's challenge to censorship authorities.

By this time, however, McNulty's private life was in turmoil. On 9 January 1943, after leaving a woman friend, he was arrested in a men's public lavatory at Lang Park, near Wynyard Station. He gave a false name and occupation to protect his family, but his identity was soon revealed. Packer intervened; W. J. MacKay, the New South Wales police commissioner, agreed to drop the charge; and an investigation was launched into the activities of the two arresting officers. The Police Association of New South Wales and some rival newspapers condemned MacKay's actions, and the State government ordered that a summons be issued against McNulty. The charge (obscene exposure) was dismissed on the ground that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. Although Consolidated Press executives and journalists gave McNulty unqualified support during the affair, his reputation had been dealt an irreparable blow. Late in 1943 he again visited the U.S.A. on business.

In January 1945 McNulty took charge of Consolidated Press's London bureau and co-ordinated the coverage of the last months of the war in Europe. In 1950 he suggested that a Consolidated Press subsidiary should purchase a London publishing firm, Frederick Muller Ltd; McNulty acquired a substantial shareholding and became chairman of the board. Despite his executive responsibilities, he remained a dynamic journalist. In reporting the death of King George VI in 1952, for example, he made the longest radio-telephone call between London and Sydney to that time.

Divorced in 1949, McNulty married Veronica Margaret Vousden, née Beswick, a 40-year-old divorcee, on 19 December 1952 at the register office, Chelsea. In the early 1960s, overweight and drinking heavily, he became increasingly anxious about making appropriate provision for his retirement. Financial concerns contributed to a falling-out with his employer. A few months after reluctantly succumbing to Packer's pressure to retire, McNulty died of a coronary occlusion on 3 June 1964 at his Chelsea flat and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and by the son of his first marriage, who was also a journalist.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Barcs, Backyard of Mars (Syd, 1980)
  • Journalist, 15 Mar 1926
  • Newspaper News, 1 Feb 1936, 1 Mar 1941, 12 June 1964
  • Bookseller (London), 10 Apr 1954
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 7 Oct 1939
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Jan, 2 Feb 1943
  • Truth (Sydney), 24 Jan, 7 Mar 1943
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 29 Jan, 7 Mar 1943, 4 June 1964
  • Cassidy papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • A472/1 item W10525, A1608/1 item AY65/1/1 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'McNulty, Clarence Sydney (1903–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcnulty-clarence-sydney-11023/text19609, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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