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Whitington, Bertram Lindon (Don) (1911–1977)

by John Farquharson

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

Bertram Lindon Whitington (1911-1977), by Australian Photographic Agency, 1966

Bertram Lindon Whitington (1911-1977), by Australian Photographic Agency, 1966

State Library of New South Wales, Australian Photographic Agency - 23504

Bertram Lindon (Don) Whitington (1911-1977), political journalist, was born on 31 January 1911 at Ballarat, Victoria, third child of Australian-born parents Bertram Whitington, metallurgist, and his wife Hilda Eleigh, née Carkeet. 'Don', as he was always known, grew up in Tasmania and was educated at the Friends' High School, Hobart. He completed a two-year woolclassing course at the Gordon Institute of Technology, Geelong, Victoria, which involved some work as a rouseabout at shearing sheds in New South Wales and Tasmania. In the Depression he did odd jobs before he was taken on by H. R. Munro as a jackeroo, assistant bookkeeper and chauffeur at Keera station near Bingara, New South Wales. He began contributing articles to the Bingara Telegraph, Northern Daily Leader, Bulletin and Walkabout, and in December 1933, with £5 in the bank, set out for Sydney determined to become a journalist. The wool-shed ethos—a strong sense of mateship and solidarity with fellow workers—would nonetheless remain with him for the rest of his life.

After working as a casual reporter for the Melbourne Star and other newspapers, Whitington accepted a cadetship on (Sir) Frank Packer's Daily Telegraph in September 1936. At St Matthew's Church, Manly, on 5 November that year he married with Anglican rites Victorie Daphne Teasdale, a sales-assistant who used her stepfather's surname, Stansfield; separated in 1961, they were later divorced. Following brief stints on the Labor Daily and the Brisbane Courier-Mail, he was appointed head of the Telegraph's Canberra bureau in 1941. His career thereafter centred on Federal politics and he became one of Australia's best-known political journalists. In 1944 he was selected to join a government-sponsored press delegation to study the war effort in Canada and the United States of America. On his return, he supported the striking printers and journalists involved in the Sydney newspaper dispute of October. He was removed from his Canberra post, despite his reputation as a discerning and clear-eyed political correspondent.

For the next three years Whitington worked as a feature writer on the Sunday Telegraph. Quitting daily-newspaper journalism, he formed a partnership with Eric White, a Liberal Party publicity officer, and in January 1948 launched the subscription newsletter Inside Canberra. After a shaky start, Inside Canberra increased steadily in circulation and prestige. Two other newsletters followed—Money Matters and Canberra Survey. A few years later Whitington and White founded the Northern Territory News and the Mount Isa Mail. The sale of both papers to Rupert Murdoch saw the partners end their association in 1957. That year Whitington established Australian Press Services Pty Ltd with Inside Canberra as the principal operation.

Politics had become a consuming passion for Whitington and he wrote a series of books on the subject, most notably The House Will Divide (1954), Ring the Bells (1956), The Rulers (1964), Twelfth Man? (1972) and The Witless Men (1975). He also wrote several novels, including Treasure Upon the Earth (1957) and Miles Pegs (1963), and a play, God Bless the Browns. His unfinished autobiography was to appear in 1978 as Strive To Be Fair.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam described Whitington as 'one of the ablest and most honourable men in Australian journalism', while a colleague, Bob Walker, suggested he had been born with the '3-H Factor'—humour, humanity and humility. He had a craggy face, crooked grin, jaunty air, twinkling eye, and lifelong stutter. Ever ambivalent about his political allegiances, he recognized the shortcomings of both sides. Politicians of all persuasions respected him. The touchstone of his journalism was fairness, coupled with astute political judgement.

Whitington listed his recreations as bird-watching, carousing and Australian Rules football. On 26 February 1974 at Inverloch, Victoria, he married with Presbyterian forms Helen Elizabeth Scott, a 29-year-old secretary. Survived by his wife, and by the two sons and daughter of his first marriage, he died of a cerebral embolism on 5 May 1977 in Canberra Hospital and was buried with Anglican rites in Canberra cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. J. Lloyd, Profession: Journalist (Syd, 1985)
  • C. J. Lloyd, Parliament and the Press (Melb, 1988)
  • D. Bowman, The Captive Press (Melb, 1988)
  • P. Buckridge, The Scandalous Penton (Brisb, 1994)
  • H. Myers, The Whispering Gallery (Syd, 1999)
  • Journalist, June, July 1977
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Apr 1967
  • Whitington papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Whitington, Bertram Lindon (Don) (1911–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/whitington-bertram-lindon-don-12019/text21557, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 May 2019.

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

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