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Mant, Gilbert Palmer (1902–1997)

by Malcolm Brown

This article was published online in 2022

Gilbert Mant, 1941 [detail]

Gilbert Mant, 1941 [detail]

Australian War Memorial, P00102.041

Gilbert Palmer Mant (1902–1997), journalist, was born on 20 July 1902 at Darling Point, Sydney, second of three sons of Queensland-born William Hall Mant, crown prosecutor, and his New Zealand-born wife Frances Gordon, née McCrae. Gilbert’s father died when he was eight. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, he left school at the age of sixteen to go jackerooing in western New South Wales, then worked as a rabbiter in the Monaro region. Several publications, including the Sydney Mail and Country Life, accepted his verse and short stories. He was also published in the Bulletin and the Australian Woman’s Mirror. In 1925 he began work as a reporter at the Sydney Daily Telegraph, mixing with the bohemian set that included Norman Lindsay, Christopher Brennan, and Kenneth Slessor.

Travelling to London in 1930, Mant found a job with the Australian Newspapers Cable Service and reported on the Australian cricket tour of England as a special representative of the Sydney Daily Guardian. In 1931 he joined Reuters and was assigned to travel with the Marylebone Cricket Club on its 1932–33 tour of Australia, which erupted into controversy over the English team’s ‘bodyline’ bowling tactics. Reuters restricted what he could write. Christopher Douglas, in his later biography of the MCC captain, Douglas Jardine, wrote that Mant’s ‘reports were comprehensive but strictly factual and impersonal, as was Reuters policy’ (Douglas 1984, 146–47). Mant nevertheless achieved a journalistic coup when he gave the English press early warning of the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket’s notorious cabled protest to the MCC that the English tactics were ‘unsportsmanlike.’ When, on 7 March 1933 at Hawthorn Presbyterian Church, Melbourne, Mant married Marion Dora (Molly) Carroll, a pharmacist and clergyman’s daughter, Jardine was the one member of the MCC touring party who did not congratulate him. Following a period as Reuters news editor in Canada, he accompanied the MCC on its 1936–37 tour of Australia.

Appointed Reuters news editor in Australia, Mant settled in Sydney. After World War II broke out, Reuters agreed to his plea to release him so he could enlist in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 July 1940. He was posted to the 2/19th Battalion and assigned to the intelligence section. In February 1941 he left for Singapore. He served in Malaya but Reuters wanted him back and, after serious deliberation, he returned to Australia to be discharged from the AIF on 3 September. However, when Japan entered the war two months later, he was sent at his own request back to Malaya as a war correspondent and reunited with his old battalion.

From 17 to 22 January 1942 the 2/19th was engaged in the battle of Muar. Mant saw much action but was frustrated by strict censorship of his reports. Recalling a Japanese bombing, he later wrote: ‘I was shaking at the knees when I stood up’ but ‘was glad I hadn’t panicked; but I was frightened’ (1944, 130). He was evacuated with other war correspondents from Singapore shortly before the Japanese landed on the island in February 1942, and survived the hazardous voyage home. Thereafter he would defend the Australian performance in Malaya. He wrote Grim Glory (1942) and You’ll Be Sorry (1944) about the war. On his return he became Reuters correspondent in Canberra, but in July 1942, without explanation, Reuters terminated his service, and he was subsequently appointed State publicity censor in South Australia.

In 1945 Mant returned to Sydney and to newspapers, starting with the Sunday Sun. He began a weekly column, ‘The Way I See It,’ later recalling that ‘there was plenty to write about in the Sunday Sun during the immediate postwar decade of victory euphoria and, ultimately, disillusionment’ (Mant 1994, 61). He was to continue this column for thirteen years, light-heartedly covering current topics and public figures. In 1953 John Fairfax & Sons Pty Ltd bought the Sunday Sun and merged it with the Herald to produce the Sun-Herald. However, in 1955 he fell out with Fairfax by participating in a strike, and the following year he took a position as chief public relations officer with the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, although continuing his newspaper column for two more years.

‘A gracious gentleman,’ Mant was ‘at times surprisingly shy, but with a wickedly subversive sense of humour’ (McDonald 1997, 13). Widowed in 1962, on 6 July 1963 he married Yvonne Bartlett Hawes, a secretary, at St Anne’s Church of England, Strathfield. He retired six years later, moved to Port Macquarie, and worked part time for the Land. In 1980, dismayed by the influence of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket on player behaviour, he wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘the Australian cricket season is nearly over and, for me, it is the end of all cricket after a lifetime of devoted watching and playing.’ ‘After 25 years,’ he said, ‘I intend to resign my membership of Sydney Cricket Ground’ (Mant 1980, 6). He published several further books, including Massacre at Parit Sulong (1995), on the Malayan campaign; A Cuckoo in the Bodyline Nest (1992), on the 1932–33 series; and a memoir, The 20th Century Off the Record (1994). Active and alert into his nineties, he died on 16 February 1997 at Port Macquarie and was cremated; his wife and the daughter and son of his first marriage survived him.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Douglas, Christopher. Douglas Jardine: Spartan Cricketer. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1984
  • Kogoy, Peter. ‘Bodyline: Sixty Years Later the Hate Lives On.’ Sun-Herald (Sydney), 31 January 1993, 64, 81
  • Mant, Gilbert. The 20th Century Off the Record. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1994
  • Mant, Gilbert. A Cuckoo in the Bodyline Nest. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1992
  • Mant, Gilbert. Letter to the editor, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 March 1980, 6
  • Mant, Gilbert. You’ll Be Sorry. Sydney: Frank Johnson, 1944
  • McDonald, Neil. ‘Writer’s Work Shaped by War.’ Australian, 27 February 1997, 13
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX55915

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Mant, Gilbert Palmer (1902–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mant-gilbert-palmer-31983/text39472, published online 2022, accessed online 29 September 2022.

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