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Mills, Frederick John (1876–1952)

by Peter Strawhan

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

Frederick John Mills (1876-1952), writer, broadcaster and welfare worker, was born on 14 November 1876 in Adelaide, one of four children of John Mills, a carter from England, and his South Australian-born wife Ellen Jessie Bruce, née Watson. Educated at Sturt Street and Yongala public schools, Fred left at the age of 13 and became a messenger-boy at the Yongala post office. He trained as a telegraphist and spent some years as a junior operator at Eucla, Western Australia, during the gold rushes. In 1913 he transferred to the administration branch at the General Post Office, Adelaide; he resigned in 1923 when he was appointed State secretary of the Boy Scouts' Association. At her father's home at Kadina on 23 January 1901 Mills had married Louisa Symons; they were to have a son and a daughter.

Undeterred by his limited formal education, Mills began to pursue his literary bent. By 1908 he was a committee-member of the South Australian Literary Societies' Union and a contributor to its journal. Using the pen-name, 'The Twinkler', he edited 'Sundry Scintillations' for the Saturday Evening's Journal. He was noted 'for his candour and incisiveness in attacking hoary superstition and advocating progressive ideas'. As vice-president of the St John's Young Men's Society, he was regarded as a 'humorist of no mean order'.

After World War I began, Mills was vice-president (1915) of the Cheer-Up Society, founded by Alexandra Seager and (Sir) William Sowden to provide 'general comfort, welfare, and entertainment' for soldiers. He served (1919-20) on the committee of the Rejected Volunteers' Association of South Australia, and founded and edited the magazine of the Returned Soldiers' Association of South Australia. In 1915 he had also helped to set up Violet Remembrance Day; he subsequently became executive-officer of the Wattle Day League. His first publication, The Cheer-Up Book (1915), was followed by Dinkum Oil (1917) and Square Dinkum (Melbourne, 1917); Mills donated the proceeds to the R.S.A.S.A. In 1917 he was awarded a certificate of merit by the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia.

In July 1926 Mill inaugurated the 'Twinkler's Boys' Club' on radio 5CL as an adjunct to the scouting movement; he was to manage the programme until 1945. The club boasted 7000 members, enjoyed vice-regal patronage and raised 'thousands of pounds' for the Adelaide Children's Hospital by 1933. Mills's relationship with 5CL was often stormy, but the loyalty of his youthful supporters—and their parents—was beyond doubt. They bought him a second-hand motorcar to use in his charitable work; the vehicle was duly named 'The Snodger or Invalid's Delight'. He retired from the Boy Scouts' Association in 1937: a public testimonial raised £600 and the Children's Hospital made him a life governor. In 1938 he was appointed M.B.E. Mills went on to publish The Bonzer Place (1942), The New Dinkum Oil (1944) and The Wisdom of Happiness (London, 1952). Survived by his wife and son, he died on 10 December 1952 at his Eden Hills home and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £469.

Select Bibliography

  • Literary Societies' Journal, 10 June 1908
  • Radio Programme Journal, 29 July 1932
  • Radio Call, 21 Oct 1937, 6 Jan 1938, 17 Dec 1952
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 11 Dec 1952
  • Personalities Remembered, ABC radio talk, (5CL, 7 Feb 1971, Hedley Cullen, State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Peter Strawhan, 'Mills, Frederick John (1876–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mills-frederick-john-11131/text19823, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 October 2019.

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

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