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Tipping, Edmond William (Bill) (1915–1970)

by Graeme Davison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Edmond William (Bill) Tipping (1915-1970), journalist, was born on 27 August 1915 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, second child of Victorian-born parents James Gregory Tipping, schoolteacher, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Walsh. Bill was educated at St Kevin's College, Toorak, where he became school captain (1933), and at the University of Melbourne, where he studied law, excelled as a debater, edited the student newspaper Farrago and became university correspondent for the Herald. His interview with Percy Grainger caught the attention of Sir Keith Murdoch who in November 1939 offered him a position on the Herald. A Catholic of radical and independent outlook, Tipping had been one of those who opposed the conservative group led by B. A. Santamaria in the battle for control of the Catholic Worker.

At St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne, on 28 February 1942 Tipping married a former fellow student Marjorie Jean McCredie, a public servant and a non-Catholic. Called up for full-time service in the Militia that month, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in November and joined the 3rd Division's headquarters. He reached Port Moresby in March 1943, but was repatriated next month with suspected tuberculosis. Discharged from the army on 28 March 1944, he was commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force in July as a public relations officer. He covered the war in the South-West Pacific Area for the service magazine Wings before being demobilized in November 1945.

That year Tipping returned to the Herald. His perceptive, even-handed reports on the 1946 coal strikes won praise and he rapidly rose to be chief of staff by 1950. 'You are in the direct line of succession', Murdoch told him. In 1951 Tipping was the first Australian to win a Nieman fellowship in journalism at Harvard University, United States of America. There he observed American styles of reporting and made enduring friendships. He would later work as Australian correspondent for Time magazine and the New York Times. Boston offered expert medical care for the Tippings' third child, Peter, the severity of whose intellectual disablement was confirmed.

In May 1952 Murdoch urgently recalled Tipping to Melbourne. He had been hand-picked to write a new American-style column. The Herald's circulation soared, and Tipping's column, 'In Black and White', became a fixture. His wry humour, common touch and pithy conversational style made him, as fellow journalist Keith Dunstan noted, the 'Mr Melbourne' of his time. Publicly apolitical, he was a confidant of both Labor and Liberal politicians. On Sunday mornings his family debated whether (Sir) Henry Bolte or Arthur Calwell would be first to ring after 'Tip' returned from Mass. With Marjorie, he was a friend and convivial host to many of Melbourne's liberal elite, the Zelman Cowens, Robin Boyds and Hector Crawfords.

Tipping was a passionate advocate for the underdog. In 1953 he described the plight of an intellectually disabled boy, 'Michael', whose parents tied him to a stake in the backyard rather than admit him to the government's run-down Kew Cottages. The story aroused widespread sympathy among readers unaware how closely the issue touched the columnist's own family. With support from the Herald and his friend Cunningham Dax, chairman of Victoria's Mental Hygiene Authority, Tipping became a vigorous campaigner for the mentally handicapped.

His relaxed style belied the stresses of a punishing workload. A self-confessed 'fifty cigarettes-a-day-man', Tipping often worked into the small hours. In addition to writing his daily column, he was a regular commentator on radio 3DB, a member of the popular 'Meet the Press' panel on television-station HSV-7, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Melbourne, an official of the Australian Journalists' Association and correspondent for a string of overseas papers. By the early 1960s the limitations of being 'Mr Melbourne' were beginning to chafe. He wanted 'to get out and report and investigate as much as possible'. Tipping's angry accounts of conditions in South Africa in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre (1960) won him a Walkley award. By 1968 he was back in the United States as the Herald's Washington correspondent, writing an acclaimed article on the riots outside the Democratic Party's convention at Chicago. After covering the launch of Apollo 11 in July 1969, he fell gravely ill and returned to Melbourne.

Friends rallied to the family's support, and established the E. W. Tipping Foundation to assist intellectually handicapped children. Tipping died of cancer on 29 April 1970 in East Melbourne and was buried in Burwood cemetery. His wife and two of their three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Tipping, Bush Teachers of Victoria (Adel, 1991)
  • C. Sampford and C.-A. Bois (eds), Sir Zelman Cowen (Syd, 1997)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Apr, 1, 2 May 1970
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1970
  • Washington Post, 3 May 1970
  • Tipping papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Graeme Davison, 'Tipping, Edmond William (Bill) (1915–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tipping-edmond-william-bill-11868/text21249, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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