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Stone, Walter William (1910–1981)

by Alan Ventress

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Walter Stone, by Alec Bolton, 1973

Walter Stone, by Alec Bolton, 1973

National Library of Australia, 14602418

Walter William Stone (1910-1981), bibliophile, bibliographer and publisher, was born on 24 June 1910 at Orange, New South Wales, eldest of five children of New South Wales-born parents Walter Phillip Stone, bookmaker, and his wife Maud Ellen, née Baker.  The family moved to Sydney, where Walter attended Parramatta High School.  For a few years from about 1930 he was a clerk in the solicitor’s practice of his uncle, James Baker.  He then worked as a rent collector and a door-to-door salesman, and at anything that was available.  These early years had a profound effect on his political views.  Socialist politics were always important in the Stone family and Walter had become a member of the Auburn branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1928.

Walter’s love of books and socialist philosophy reputedly started with visits to Bertha McNamara’s bookshop near Central Railway Station, Sydney.  It was a meeting place for socialists and political activists as well as literary and bohemian types.  There he bought Winwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man (1872), which espoused social justice and atheism.  In 1929 the Auburn & District News published Stone’s first article 'Australian Literature: History and Growth'.  Christopher Brennan read it and a friendship developed between them.

On 15 December 1932 at St John’s Catholic Church, Auburn, Stone married Mary (Mollie) Margaret Clare Jenkins (d.1944), a typist.  Rejected for military service in World War II on medical grounds, he worked for Australian General Electric Pty Ltd as a clerk.  After the war he was employed by Maxwell Porter & Son Ltd, building suppliers, until 1956.  In 1937-44 he was an alderman (deputy-mayor 1943) on Auburn Council.  He served as a delegate to the State council of the ALP.

Stone married Jean Elizabeth Saxelby, a stenographer, on 10 November 1951 at St Peter’s Church of England, Neutral Bay.  They had met at a meeting of the Book Collectors’ Society of Australia.  Stone published his first books using a hand press in a shed in the back yard of his Cremorne home, under the imprint of Talkarra (from the Arrernte word for stone) Press.  In 1956 he established the Wentworth Press, which was to be his source of livelihood and joy for the next twenty-five years.  His sons Walter and Peter worked with him at the press at 48 Cooper Street, Surry Hills, which was the former home of Kate Leigh, a notorious Sydney madam.  In all, ten titles were published under the Talkarra imprint and 160 under that of the Wentworth Press.

Founder and editor (1947-81) of Biblionews, the journal of the Book Collectors’ Society, Stone also contributed 117 articles, notes and reviews.  He printed and later published Southerly, and contributed articles to it.  From 1964 he was an active member of the Society of Australian Genealogists.  President of the State branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers for fourteen years, he helped to establish the Australian Society of Authors in 1963.  He was a foundation member of the Friends of the University of Sydney Library, the La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria, and the Fryer Library, University of Queensland, to which he helped to direct the (Edward) Hayes collection.  In 1976, as president of the Friends of the University of Sydney Library, Stone presented to the library the two-millionth item, the manuscript of John Le Gay Brereton’s Sea and Sky (1908).  Small, bespectacled and extremely generous, he gave freely of his time and knowledge.  He was named 'Bookman of the Year' by the National Book Council in 1975.

Stone was an obsessive collector of books.  His greatest interests centred on the Bulletin from the 1890s to the 1920s, Brennan, Andrew Barton ('Banjo') Paterson, Henry Lawson and Joseph Furphy.  He published bibliographies and selected works of these authors.  With (in Furphy’s phrase) an 'offensively Australian' bias Stone used his enormous energy to talk and plot, and played a role in the establishment of a chair of Australian literature at the University of Sydney, which G. A. Wilkes took up in 1962.

With a continuing involvement in the ALP, Stone, as president of the Mosman branch, chaired the meeting in Mosman Town Hall in June 1966 at which Arthur Calwell was shot.  He took the assailant, Peter Kocan, back into the hall to wait for the police.  In 1980 he was given life membership of the party for his contribution in over fifty years of membership.  The following year he was awarded the OAM.  He was a fervent and patriotic Australian, whose Australia Day parties, attended by the cream of Australia’s literary establishment, with a few ALP characters and the odd librarian thrown in for good measure, were legendary.

Survived by his wife and his daughter and three sons from his first marriage, Stone died on 29 August 1981 in his home at Cremorne and was cremated.  His poetry and reference books were retained by his wife Jean and the rest were sold through a series of catalogues between 1981 and 1985 by Peter Tinslay of Antique Bookshop & Curios.  This was Stone’s way of passing the baton of book-collecting on to a new cohort.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Stone, The Passionate Bibliophile (1988)
  • Bulletin (Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand), vol 5, no 4, 1981, p 121
  • Incite (Sydney), 2 October 1981, p 7
  • Southerly, vol 42, no 1, 1982, p 3
  • W. Stone papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • W. Stone papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Ventress, 'Stone, Walter William (1910–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stone-walter-william-15729/text26917, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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