Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Joseph (Bill) Jenkings (1915–1996)

by Andy Carr

This article was published online in 2023

William Joseph Charles Jenkings (1915–1996), journalist and crime reporter, was born on 8 March 1915 in Sydney, eldest of four sons of New South Wales-born parents William Thomas Trevarthon Jenkings, debt collector, and his wife Mary Gertrude Lucy, née Mullett. Bill attended the Catholic secondary schools Waverley College, Sydney, and St Kevin’s College, Toorak. He had boarded privately for a time in Sydney, with his family making the shift to Melbourne before him. At school his flair for writing and desire for a career in journalism emerged. Back in Sydney, during the Depression he worked as a salesperson for Dayton Moneyweight Scale Company Ltd, an American-based company that employed his father. Writing for the company newsletter and submitting articles to Sydney newspapers, he honed his journalistic skills. He secured short-term employment with the Bondi Weekly and Catholic Press, then worked as press secretary for the minister for the army, (Sir) Percy Spender, and—moving to Melbourne—his successor Frank Forde. In 1944 he accepted a position with Ezra Norton’s Sydney afternoon newspaper the Daily Mirror. Following a stint as a political correspondent in Canberra, he returned to Sydney in early 1946 as the paper’s crime reporter.

In an era when daily newspapers were the major source of news, Sydney’s tabloids—the Daily Mirror, Sun, and Daily Telegraph—competed fiercely to break important news stories and thereby increase sales. Personable and persuasive, Jenkings developed close relationships on both sides of the law. On frequent visits to Sydney’s Criminal Investigation Branch, he received tip-offs from figures such as lift operators and receptionists. His friendships with high-ranking police officers included Frank Farrell (who worked at Darlinghurst police station with Jenkings’s brother Harry), Fred Krahe, and Raymond Kelly. Their bonhomous liaisons in pubs slaked a thirst as well as facilitating Jenkings’s crucial intelligence-gathering for his Mirror scoops. Not all his relationships were cordial, and his newspaper articles frequently earned the wrath of the criminal underworld. During his career he crossed paths with the robber and serial escapist Darcy Dugan, with a series of articles in 1971 that culminated in Dugan attempting to sue for defamation. He received threats of harm from criminals such as Raymond ‘Ducky’ O’Connor and Richard Gabriel ‘Big Dick’ Reilly. Believing that gaol was not a deterrent, he proposed the reinstatement of flogging as a punishment.

Jenkings captured the public imagination in his coverage of long-running criminal investigations. His daily reporting of unsolved cases—including the discovery of the bodies of Gilbert Bogle and his lover Margaret Chandler in Lane Cove National Park on 1 January 1963, and the murders of the teenage girls Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock at Wanda Beach in January 1965—gave the Daily Mirror a boost in the competition with its rivals. He and his team were the first to reveal that the disappearance of the eight-year-old boy Graeme Thorne in 1960 was a kidnapping, later found to be a murder by Stephen Leslie Bradley. Rupert Murdoch, having acquired the Daily Mirror, christened Jenkings’s crime reporting team ‘The Unbeatables.’ In 1966 Jenkings published Crime Reporter about his high-profile cases. He remained chief crime reporter until 1979, then continued as the paper’s part-time crime consultant (including for its October 1990 successor, the Daily Telegraph Mirror) until retiring in 1991. The following year he published his memoirs, As Crime Goes By: The Life and Times of ‘Bondi’ Bill Jenkings, written with Norm Lipson and Tony Barnao.

Having joined Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club in January 1935, Jenkings was awarded life membership in 1971 and received a fifty-year service award in 1986. He chaired its social committee for a period during World War II, raising funds for the club and for patriotic activities at Bondi, and contributed to its magazine, Bondi Surfer, initially edited by his brother Frank. In 1938 he was on patrol during ‘Black Sunday,’ when five people drowned and around 240 were rescued after large waves and the resulting backwash swept a sandbank away.

‘Jenko’ to Daily Mirror colleagues, ‘Ace’ to Sydney’s police and criminal milieu, and ‘Bondi Bill’ to members of Bondi Surf Club, Jenkings was a well-built, permanently suntanned, and ruddy-faced man who kept fit by boxing and swimming. On 30 March 1940 he had married Noreen Cecilia Simpson, an art jewellery salesgirl, at St Anne’s Shrine, North Bondi. He died on 12 May 1996 at Darlinghurst, and was cremated following a service at St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Coogee. His wife and their daughter and two of their three sons survived him. At his request, his ashes were scattered on Bondi Beach.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club. ‘In Memoriam: William Joseph (Bill) Jenkings.’ In Annual Report, 71–72. Bondi, NSW: The Club, 1995–96
  • Brawley, Sean. The Bondi Lifesaver: A History of an Australian Icon. Sydney: ABC Books, 2007
  • Lipson, Norm, and Tony Barnao. ‘Matchless Scribe of the Mean Streets.’ Australian, 24 May 1996, 14

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andy Carr, 'Jenkings, William Joseph (Bill) (1915–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenkings-william-joseph-bill-32719/text40671, published online 2023, accessed online 4 March 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

8 March, 1915
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

12 May, 1996 (aged 81)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (pancreatic)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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