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Jack Aikman (John) Hetherington (1907–1974)

by Sally A. White

This article was published:

Jack Aikman Hetherington (1907-1974), by unknown photographer

Jack Aikman Hetherington (1907-1974), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 000856

Jack Aikman (John) Hetherington (1907-1974), author and journalist, was born on 3 October 1907 at Sandringham, Melbourne, younger son of Victorian-born parents Hector Hetherington, grocer, and his wife Agnes, née Bowman. Educated at Sandringham State School and (on a chorister's scholarship) at All Saints Grammar School, St Kilda, Jack left at 16 to join the Evening Sun as a copy-taker. His first short story was published in the Australasian in 1925, the year in which he moved to the Herald & Weekly Times Ltd as a journalist; by 1934 he was writing a daily column and editing the Sun News-Pictorial's Saturday magazine. Next year he worked his passage to England. Based in London, he survived by writing stories about the Australian outback for popular magazines, and by working as a sub-editor and wire-service reporter. En route to Australia, he spent six months in the United States of America with Australian Associated Press.

Late in 1938 Hetherington returned to Melbourne and the Herald. In January 1940 he was assigned as a war correspondent and sailed with the Australian Imperial Force's first convoy for the Middle East. He covered the battles of Bardia and Tobruk (January 1941), and witnessed the enemy's surrender at Benghazi (February). His reports were published in newspapers in Australia, by The Times and the Manchester Guardian, and by the New York Times and the North American Newspaper Alliance.

In March 1941 Hetherington accompanied the Australian 6th Division on the abortive expedition to Greece. His was the first allied account of the Anzac Corps' withdrawal; its publication in The Times provoked trenchant criticism of the operation. The Greek campaign also generated his first book, Air-Borne Invasion (London, 1943), about the battle of Crete. Back in Melbourne, on 15 March 1943 at the office of the government statist he married Olive Meagher, née McLeish (d.1966), a 45-year-old divorcee. In that year he published The Australian Soldier (Sydney, 1943).

Early in 1944 the Herald sent Hetherington to cover the allied invasion of Western Europe. He landed in Normandy on the evening of D-Day, 6 June. After a short time with the British Second Army, he was invalided home where he wrote an unpublished account of the invasion. His only novel, The Winds Are Still, won the Sydney Morning Herald's competition for the best war story published in 1947. He had built a reputation as 'one of the outstanding correspondents of the war'. Profoundly respectful of ordinary people caught up in conflict, he wrote in 1956 that 'the courage of the unheroic is the most sublime courage of all'.

In 1945-49 Hetherington was editor-in-chief of the Adelaide News. Unhappy as an administrator, he returned to the Melbourne Herald as a feature-writer. In 1952 he joined the Argus as deputy-editor. Two years later he went to the Age to write the 'Collins Street Calling' column; he had recently published his first full biography, Blamey (1954). Finding the confines of a daily column too restrictive, he transferred to features and special articles, which encouraged his interest in biography and provided material for a steady stream of books: Australians: Nine Profiles (1960), Forty-Two Faces (1962), Australian Painters (1963) and Uncommon Men (1965).

He was gradually changing direction from Jack Hetherington, journalist, to John Hetherington, author, a shift manifested in 1956 when he registered his change of name by deed poll. In 1966 he published Pillars of the Faith, an anthology of biographies of Victoria's churchmen. At St George's Anglican Church, Malvern, on 25 July 1967 he married Mollie Roger Maginnis, a fellow journalist, and took leave from the Age to finish Melba with the aid of a Commonwealth Literary Fellowship; in 1968 it won the Sir Thomas White prize for biography. The autobiographical The Morning was Shining (London) followed in 1971. Hetherington was appointed O.B.E. in 1972. By that time he had left daily journalism, partly because he had suffered a heart attack, but mostly because he was challenged and content in writing more substantial work. In 1973 he completed an official biography of Norman Lindsay which he subtitled The Embattled Olympian.

Modest and cheery, Hetherington loved picnics and barbeques, wine and conversation. He was meticulous and hard working. Although racked with lung cancer, he spent his last weekend correcting page-proofs. Writing was his life and his careful craft. Predeceased by the son of his first marriage, he died on 17 September 1974 at Parkville and was cremated; his wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 13 May 1961, 18 Sept 1974
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 Sept 1974
  • Hetherington papers (State Library of Victoria and Australian War Memorial and National Library of Australia)
  • Hetherington letters and biographical notes (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sally A. White, 'Hetherington, Jack Aikman (John) (1907–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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