Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Jenkins, Graham (1916–1997)

by Peter Putnis

This article was published online in 2022

Graham Jenkins (1916–1997), journalist and publisher, was born on 22 May 1916 at Canterbury, Melbourne, second of three children of Percy Northumberland Jenkins, accountant, and his wife Elsa Sarah, née Graham, both Victorian-born. In 1918 the family moved to Port Fairy, where his father had secured a management position with the Belfast and Koroit Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. Graham was educated at Port Fairy Higher Elementary School and Scotch College, Melbourne (1932–33). In July 1935 he joined the Camperdown Chronicle as a cadet journalist. He subsequently worked at the Sunraysia Daily at Mildura before securing a position on the Melbourne Argus in July 1938.

Enlisting in the Citizen Military Forces on 16 August 1940 for service in World War II, Jenkins trained part time with the 6th Battalion until 13 January 1942, when he began full-time duty at headquarters, Southern Command, Melbourne. In August he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and the following month was commissioned as a lieutenant, Australian Army Ordnance Corps. He served on the staffs of the Second Army (1942–44) and the 16th Ordnance Depot (1944) in Australia, and at headquarters, 4th Base Sub-Area, on Bougainville (1944–45), rising to captain (1945). Back in Melbourne, he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 28 June 1945 and appointed as a war correspondent with the Argus.

Jenkins reported from Batavia (Jakarta) on the conflict which followed the 1945 Indonesian declaration of independence, and established cordial relations with the future president, Sukarno. As a war correspondent, Jenkins was tough and abrasive, being said to have ‘barked’ orders at his staff (Nelson 2011, 39), but had the ability to establish rapport with powerful participants in the conflicts he covered. Although he supported the cause of the new republic, he expressed unease at the extremism of Sukarno’s demagoguery. He became an influential interpreter of Indonesian affairs, laying out a program of action for the Commonwealth government which he believed would ensure a strong relationship with the new country, including trying to ‘flood the country with information in the Malay language about our resources, democratic institutions and way of life’ (Jenkins 1946, 2).

In early 1947 Reuters and Australian Associated Press (AAP) recruited Jenkins for their new jointly operated wire service from the Asia-Pacific region. He covered British Army operations in Malaya and was posted to Nanking (Nanjing), China, with a brief to report on communist advances in the civil war. Soon after his arrival he was arrested by the Nationalist military, which objected to a story he had written, and sentenced to death. Although he and fellow journalist George Vine were beaten, and some accounts claim that they were forced to face a firing squad, the pair was released a day later thanks to the intervention of the head of the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Clyde Farnsworth. Jenkins went on in 1950 to become AAP-Reuters correspondent in Indochina, reporting on the conflict between French forces and the Viet Minh rebel government.

From 1955 Jenkins was Reuters manager for South-East Asia, based in Singapore. Regarded by his seniors in AAP as a ‘man of outstanding ability, dedicated to his job’ (Hooper 1958/59), he reorganised the Singapore office to make it a highly efficient Asia-Pacific communication hub for the company. However, citing insufficient remuneration and worries about his health, he resigned in 1958. After three years in Singapore as general manager of the Straits Times and brief stints managing dailies and magazines, he embarked on a new career in Hong Kong, beginning as general manager of the Hong Kong Standard. In 1965 he became inaugural editor of Hong Kong’s first afternoon tabloid newspaper, the Star. This brash and risqué publication became his passion for the next fourteen years. Its formula of ‘maximum photo projection’ with brief, snappy stories was an innovation locally, making him the ‘architect in Hong Kong of news through pictures’ (Correspondent 1988, 12).

Jenkins’s capacity for hard work was legendary, with sixteen-hour working days being usual for him. As an editor, he was thought of as a ‘tough man, mentally unbending’ who was prone to ‘irrational prejudices and flaming eruptions of anger’ (Sinclair 2007, 21), though he was respected for his acumen and total commitment to journalism. He was a sexually active gay man, something everyone at his paper knew but did not talk about. The reputation and the financial viability of the Star declined in the 1970s. Seeing the writing on the wall, he resigned as editor in 1979. For the remainder of his working life, he was publications officer for the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. In 1989 he was made an honorary life member of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong, and came to think of himself as a Hong Kong local. Having declared his intention to spend his final years on ‘Hong Kong soil’ (Jenkins 1984, 19), he died there on 3 March 1997.

Research edited by Nick Hoare

Select Bibliography

  • Correspondent (Hong Kong). ‘Jenkins, The Grand-daddy of Photojournalism.’ June 1988, 12
  • Harris, Margaret. ‘Obituary: Reporter Put His Life on the Line.’ Age (Melbourne), 15 April 1992, C2
  • Hooper, Duncan. AAP Management Meetings, 1958/1959. Fairfax Media Business Archive, 1795–2006, MLMSS 9894. State Library of New South Wales. Copy held on ADB file
  • Jenkins, Graham. ‘Things We Must Do about Indonesia: Relations with Our New Neighbour.’ Argus (Melbourne), 13 December 1946, 2
  • Jenkins, Graham. ‘Spirit of Star Will Live On.’ South China Morning Post, 23 May 1984, 19
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, Jenkins, Graham
  • Nelson, Michael. Castro and Stockmaster: A Life in Reuters. Leicester: Matador, 2011
  • Sinclair, Kevin. Tell Me a Story: Forty Years Newspapering in Hong and China. Hong Kong: SCMP Book Publishing, 2007
  • Sinclair, Kevin. ‘Warm Tribute to the Passing of a Star.’ South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 4 March 1997, 23
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Obituaries: Graham Jenkins.’ 7 March 1997, 31

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Putnis, 'Jenkins, Graham (1916–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenkins-graham-31629/text39102, published online 2022, accessed online 19 August 2022.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022