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Lockwood, Rupert Ernest (1908–1997)

by Rowan Cahill

This article was published online in 2021

This is a shared entry with Frank Wright Lockwood

Rupert Lockwood, by Hazel de Berg, 1981

Rupert Lockwood, by Hazel de Berg, 1981

National Library of Australia, 48381154

Rupert Ernest Lockwood (1908–1997), journalist, orator, and author, and Frank Wright Lockwood (1919–1997), typesetter, newspaper proprietor and manager, and community worker, were half-brothers. Their father, Victorian-born Alfred Wright Lockwood (1867–1956), was a journalist and proprietor of the West Wimmera Mail. Rupert was born on 10 March 1908 at Natimuk, Victoria, third of four children of Alfred and his first wife Alice Ellen, née Francis, a Victorian-born former schoolteacher and temperance campaigner. Alice died in 1913 and Alfred remarried in 1916. Rupert’s elder brother, Lionel (1902–1997), became a decorated naval medical officer. Like all the Lockwood children, Rupert was inducted during childhood into the worlds of printing and newspapers as an unpaid worker on the family’s newspaper, setting type at the age of ten, and reporting local news at fourteen. Educated at Natimuk State School (dux 1922) and later as a boarder (1924–26) at Wesley College, Melbourne, he was employed at the Mail until 1930 when he gained a cadetship on Sir Keith Murdoch’s Melbourne Herald.

Due to his prior experience, Lockwood’s progress through his cadetship was accelerated. By 1933 he was a member of the Canberra press gallery. A roving Herald assignment beginning in 1935 took him to Asia and Europe, and in 1937 he reported the Spanish Civil War from the loyalist front lines. Radicalised by his experiences abroad, he returned to Melbourne in 1938 and involved himself in leftist causes, resulting in friction with Murdoch. He left the Herald in 1939, moved to Sydney, and joined the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s newly created ABC Weekly magazine as foreign editor and feature writer. That year he also joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).

Owing to the suspicions of military intelligence officers, Lockwood’s contract with the ABC was not renewed in 1941. He thereafter earned his living in the extensive labour movement and communist press. His longest association (1952–85) was as a part-time editor or associate editor of the Maritime Worker, the newspaper and later journal of the militant Waterside Workers Federation. On 4 November 1944 at the district registrar’s office, Chatswood, Sydney, he married a fellow communist activist, Ethel Beth Mitchell, née Wilson (later Betty Searle), an English-born secretary and divorcee.

During the Cold War Lockwood became one of the best-known communists in Australia. ‘Highly intelligent, articulate, and gutsy’ (McKnight 1994, 66), he was a gifted orator, prolific pamphleteer, and broadcaster. His activities were the objects of intense scrutiny by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. In 1954 he was an unwilling and hostile witness when subpoenaed to appear before the royal commission on espionage as the author of the notorious ‘Document J,’ a rambling account of Japanese interests in Australia prior to World War II, and postwar American interests, laced with anecdotes and, at times libellous, political gossip.

Following a stint (1965–68) as Moscow correspondent for the Tribune, Lockwood left the CPA after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, but he did not abandon his leftist sympathies. He subsequently wrote three well-received histories: Black Armada (1975), on the Australian labour movement’s role in Indonesian independence; War on the Waterfront: Menzies, Japan and the Pig-Iron Dispute (1987); and Ship to Shore: A History of Melbourne’s Waterfront and its Union Struggles (1990). His last piece of significant journalism was filed from the Tiananmen Square uprising in Beijing in 1989 and published in the Australian.

Lockwood had separated from his wife in the early 1970s. Betty subsequently sued for divorce and adopted the surname Searle. She remained a member of the CPA until it dissolved in 1991. After a succession of smoking-related health problems, including the amputation of his left leg in 1992, Lockwood returned to Natimuk. Survived by his three daughters, he died there on 8 March 1997 and was buried in the local cemetery.

Frank Wright Lockwood was born on 30 July 1919 at Natimuk, second of three surviving sons of Alfred Lockwood and his locally born second wife Ida Dorothea, née Klowss, of German immigrant and Lutheran backgrounds. His elder full brother, Douglas Wright Lockwood (1918–1980), became a prominent journalist and author, based mainly in Darwin. Frank left Natimuk State School at the age of twelve and joined his father’s West Wimmera Mail. In 1937 he convinced his father to purchase a new linotype typesetting machine, which he operated. On 9 May 1939 he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces and in 1941, during World War II, served in Victoria with the 19th Machine Gun Regiment. After his younger brother Allan Wright (1922—2013) enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in October, Frank was released, becoming the mainstay of the business for the remainder of the war. Accomplished in cricket, golf, and rifle shooting, he was a Victorian Rifle Association medallist in 1937 and president (1950–52) of the local golf club. On 9 July 1942 at the Lutheran Church, Horsham, he married Lila May Kroker. They were to have no children.

When Alfred Lockwood retired at the end of 1950, aged 83, Frank and Allan took over the newspaper and turned it into a bi-weekly. With financial support from Rupert Murdoch, they moved the business to Horsham in 1957, competing directly with the Horsham Times. The papers merged in 1959 and the brothers formed the Wimmera Mail-Times, with Frank as manager and Allan as editor. It became the largest circulation tri-weekly in Australia. An executive member (1957–93) and president (1965–67) of the Victorian Country Press Association, Frank believed that the rural press was a vital part of the fabric of rural life. He retired in 1984.

In the Wimmera region, Lockwood was active in many organisations including the Horsham Rotary Club and the Wimmera Base Hospital appeals committee. He was an elder of St Paul’s Lutheran Church, Natimuk, and for many years variously a church councillor and congregational secretary. A foundation member of the Wimmera Woodturners Guild, he was highly skilled in the craft. He was also a champion lawn bowler, serving as secretary (1970–78) and president (1987–89) of the local club. Survived by his wife, Lockwood died on 26 October 1997 at Natimuk and was buried in the local cemetery. His nephew described him as a ‘loving, forgiving, generous man … who practised his Christianity, though he never preached it’ (Lockwood 1997, 66).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Cahill, Rowan. ‘Rupert Lockwood (1908–1997): Journalist, Communist, Intellectual.’ PhD thesis, University of Wollongong, 2013
  • Kirkpatrick, Rod. The Bold Type: A History of Victoria’s Country Newspapers. Ascot Vale, Vic.: Victorian Country Press Association, 2010
  • Lockwood, Allan. Ink in His Veins. Horsham, Vic.: Wimmera Mail-Times, 1985
  • Lockwood, Kim. ‘Frank Lockwood: Devotion to Newspapers.’ Herald Sun (Melbourne), 4 November 1997, 66
  • Lockwood, Rupert. Interview by Hazel de Berg, 15 July 1981. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Lockwood, Rupert. ‘Wimmera Boyhood.’ Overland 82 (December 1980): 8–12
  • McKnight, David. Australia’s Spies and Their Secrets. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1994
  • Manne, Robert. The Petrov Affair: Politics and Espionage. Sydney: Pergamon, 1987
  • Marr, David. Barwick. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1980
  •   National Library of Australia. MS 10121, Papers of Rupert Lockwood, 1851–2012
  • Wimmera Mail-Times. ‘Souvenir Edition: Celebrating 50 Years of the Wimmera Mail-Times, 1959-2009.’ 25 September 2009
  • Wimmera Mail-Times. ‘Wimmera Obituaries: Mr F.W. Lockwood.’ 27 October 1997, 4.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rowan Cahill, 'Lockwood, Rupert Ernest (1908–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lockwood-rupert-ernest-27609/text35009, published online 2021, accessed online 1 October 2022.

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