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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Westacott, Godfrey (1888–1977)

by Rod Kirkpatrick

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

Godfrey Westacott (1888-1977), journalist, was born on 21 August 1888 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, third of eight children of William Westacott, an English-born joiner, and his wife Alice, née Jones, who came from Wales. 'George' spent his childhood and youth at Mount Morgan and was educated at the local state school. As a paper-boy he delivered the Rockhampton afternoon newspaper, the Daily Record, to Mount Morgan homes after dark. The round was long and he was glad to give it up when he was apprenticed to a printer on the Mount Morgan Herald. He was paid five shillings a week and taught shorthand by one of the paper's part-owners. Laid off after the Herald struck financial difficulties, he continued his apprenticeship with the Mount Morgan Chronicle.

After standing uncomfortably for hours by the bedside of the acting-editor of the Chronicle, Paul de Montalk (who was suffering from rheumatism), using a tray as a desk and scribbling page after page of copy, Westacott concluded that journalism might be 'a good way of earning a living without having to get out of bed'. He then joined the staff of the Daily Record as a local correspondent. His reports of the mine accidents at Mount Morgan in 1908 led to a full-time position at Rockhampton on the Record; he rose to become sub-editor under W. S. Buzacott, son of C. H. Buzacott.

In 1922 the Record became the Evening News; seven years later it was bought by the Dunn family, and Westacott was appointed editor. When that paper closed in July 1941 he shifted to the Morning Bulletin, as assistant to the managing editor Andrew Dunn and the associate-editor, Captain Fred Rhodes. Taking over as editor in 1954, he aimed to produce a first-class newspaper with good circulation which would attract advertisers. He fostered the correspondence page as a forum for discussion. Providing his cadet journalists with wise counsel and encouragement, he often quoted C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian: 'Comment is free, but facts are sacred'.

Westacott was best remembered by Central Queensland readers for his whimsical weekly articles on current affairs. In 1922 he had introduced a column, generally called 'Topics of the Day', and wrote it, or variations of it, until his death. In his light, mildly satirical style he poked fun at local authorities, politicians and pompous individuals, usually disguising his sting with subtle humour. His popular commentary on Rockhampton City Council meetings, appearing under the heading 'Guildhall Gallery Notes', provided a quirky, affectionate look at the council. One of his protégés was A. T. ('Bert') Hinchliffe, later editor of the Toowoomba Chronicle, who recalled that 'Topics' was always the best-read part of the paper and 'prominent citizens rated it an honour to get a mention in the column'. Another colleague, Denis Butler, chief leader-writer for the Newcastle Morning Herald in the 1970s, said that 'if ever there was a bloke who managed to touch the funny-bone of a whole city, it was George Westacott'.

Active in promoting district affairs, Westacott helped to form the Central Queensland Advancement League. In 1949, on behalf of the league, he compiled a book outlining the pastoral, agricultural and mining resources of Central Queensland and its tourist attractions. A life member of the Rockhampton Club, the Rockhampton Jockey, Rotary and Leagues clubs, and the Rockhampton Agricultural Society, he was closely involved with the local School of Arts and president (1956-58) of the Rockhampton and District Historical Society. He wrote two booklets, Revised History of the Port of Rockhampton (1970) and, with A. Gill, Chronological History of the Lakes Creek Meat Works (1971). Appointed O.B.E. in 1962, he retired as editor in 1964.

Westacott was highly regarded by political leaders. At a reception in Sydney for newspaper editors from around Australia, the prime minister (Sir) Robert Menzies spotted him on the other side of the room, ignored everyone else and walked across, grasped his hand and greeted him warmly. A gentle and courteous man, Westacott never married. He died on 9 January 1977 in the North Rockhampton home he shared with his sister Dorothy; his last column had appeared in the Morning Bulletin the day before. He was buried with Baptist forms in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton (Brisb, 1981)
  • Central Queensland Herald, 16 July 1936
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 1 Jan 1962, 11 Jan 1977
  • R. Kirkpatrick, Ghost of Caution Haunts House of Dunn (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1995)
  • G. Westacott, Autobiographical Notes and A. T. Hinchliffe's notes (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Rod Kirkpatrick, 'Westacott, Godfrey (1888–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/westacott-godfrey-12002/text21523, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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