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Glen William ('George') Warnecke (1894–1981)

by Bridget Griffen-Foley

This article was published:

Glen William (‘George’) Warnecke (1894-1981), journalist and editor, was born on 30 July 1894 at Armidale, New South Wales, third of seven surviving children of Victorian-born parents John Joseph Warnecke, blacksmith, and his wife Emily Jane, née Mapletoft. When forced by illness to miss a great deal of time at Armidale Superior Public School, Glen read and listened to his family of ‘Labor Party pioneers’ discussing political issues. By 1912 the family had moved to Sydney, where he served in the Senior Cadets and the Militia under the compulsory military training scheme. He joined the Australian Journalists’ Association in 1913 and worked for the Evening News and its offshoot, Woman’s Budget. When printers misread his badly scribbled initials as ‘Geo.’, he became known as ‘George’ in professional circles.

Wanting to leave behind the humdrum realities of life as a junior reporter, Warnecke enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 September 1915. With the 19th Battalion, he served on the Western Front. He was promoted to corporal in 1916 and kept an intimate, probing diary. Wounded in the back on 14 November 1916 in France, Warnecke convalesced at Hurdcott, near Salisbury, England. There he launched and edited a small review, the Hurdcott Herald. Returning to Australia in May 1918, he was discharged as medically unfit on 2 August. As honorary secretary of his old unit’s history committee, he endeavoured to improve the quality of the war diaries of both the 19th and 20th battalions, held by the Australian War Museum (later Memorial), Canberra.

Rejoining the Evening News, Warnecke interviewed the visiting Lord Northcliffe, ‘the awesome monarch of modern journalism, [who] haunted my daydreams’. Warnecke rose to senior government roundsman and found ‘potent friends’ in the Australian Workers’ Union. After serving as chief-of-staff on the labour-aligned Daily Mail, he concluded that any talents he possessed lay with journalism rather than with politics.

In 1923 Warnecke was lured to London to start a cable service for Smith’s Weekly and the new Daily Guardian. He was disappointed with Fleet Street journalism, describing it as ‘Granny Herald journalism’; ‘bright subbing’ was done only on the ‘stunt papers’. Through his involvement with the Irish nationalist cause he met Nora Hill, a gifted soprano and the daughter of a Dublin journalist. They travelled to Sydney and married on 18 October 1924 at St Anne’s Church of England, Ryde.

Chief sub-editor of the Daily Guardian from 1926, Warnecke became a protégé of its co-proprietor, R. C. Packer, who drove the staff hard. Concerned that first-rate people left journalism, Warnecke advocated increased pay for editors, news editors and chief sub-editors, and he was an active member of the AJA’s New South Wales district committee. Five ft nine ins (175 cm) tall, bespectacled, with blue eyes and brown hair, Warnecke appeared as Voltaire at a journalists’ ball during this period. Meanwhile, Nora became a regular concert and radio performer.

The shy, gentle and usually mild-mannered Warnecke was appointed editor of the new Sunday Guardian in 1929. Attractively laid out and lavishly illustrated, the newspaper, which became part of Sir Hugh Denison’s Associated Newspapers Ltd, also featured articles and editorials by Warnecke ‘in the didactic manner of the English Sunday editors’.

In 1932 Warnecke lobbied Labor members of the New South Wales parliament to vote against a bill designed by Premier J. T. Lang to bankrupt the controversial Packer and his son, (Sir) Frank. Later that year Warnecke told the Packers of a scheme he had developed to convert the AWU’s ailing daily, the World, into a one-penny afternoon newspaper. He anticipated a takeover offer from the voracious Associated Newspapers, whose Sun was retailing at 1½d.; however, if the offer did not eventuate, Warnecke would edit the newspaper himself and gamble on its success. When Frank Packer was presented with the idea, he and his business partner E. G. Theodore formed Sydney Newspapers Ltd and took a lease on the World. Associated Newspapers, of which Packer senior was managing director, took the bait, agreeing to pay Sydney Newspapers £86,500 in return for an agreement not to publish a daily or Sunday newspaper for three years. So Warnecke’s proposed newspaper, the Star, did not eventuate but nor did he receive any of this payment, a source of enduring resentment.

Warnecke then conceived of a women’s magazine with a national focus and a topical edge. Lacking the capital himself, he took to Sydney Newspapers the dummy he had developed with the help of Nora and her brother, a photo-journalist. The company launched the Australian Women’s Weekly in June 1933, with Warnecke as the editor. The title combined news stories with the traditional contents of women’s magazines, abundant fiction and sophisticated illustrations. The Women’s Weekly was staffed by outstanding contributors and vigorously promoted.

In 1934-35 Warnecke visited the printing centres of Europe and the United States of America. He wrote numerous signed articles for the Women’s Weekly, and Nora made her London début at the Royal Albert Hall. They returned to Sydney to find that many executives had been replaced, and that he was to be responsible for the relaunch of the morning Daily Telegraph, as well as installation of the technologically advanced colour press, whose purchase he had secured. As editor-in-chief of a new company, Consolidated Press Ltd, Warnecke felt alienated from his beloved Women’s Weekly. In April 1939 he resigned and, with Nora, went overseas.

Arriving in the United States later that year to study printing and magazine methods for the Herald & Weekly Times Ltd, Warnecke impressed Sir Keith Murdoch with his ‘deep and sound criticism of newspaper matters’. Warnecke also contributed articles to the Herald on topics including US foreign policy. In 1940 he became a foreign correspondent for the McLure Newspaper Syndicate in New York. He maintained a close friendship with Dr H. V. Evatt, reporting to him ‘hush hush’ about public opinion on the progress of the war in the Pacific.

Warnecke joined the US Office of War Information as a special writer in 1943 and many of his articles were syndicated in Australian newspapers. From 1944 he was also head of the New York office of David Yaffa’s Australian trade publication, Newspaper News, continuing his friendship with his former assistant, John Briears. In 1945 Warnecke visited Australia to confer with Murdoch about printing developments and plans to expand the HWT, although he refused to work full time for another newspaper, Knight.

In 1947 Warnecke again returned to Australia to consult with Murdoch. Consolidated Press agreed to transfer to Warnecke, who maintained he was entitled to a one-third share of Packer’s press interests, half of its shares in the Yaffa Syndicate Pty Ltd and to pay him £9000 over six years. Warnecke had to warrant not to compete with Consolidated Press interests. His ‘expert and detailed’ views on the fledgling Woman’s Day were sought by Murdoch, however, and he contributed regularly to Newspaper News. Warnecke rejected Evatt’s offer to participate in an ‘Asiatic mission’ in 1949 because Nora was suffering from depression.

Warnecke dabbled in various Australian publishing enterprises — which he sheepishly described to friends as the ‘Intelligent Young Man’s Guide to Capitalism’ — in this postwar period. With Jack Bellew and Clive Turnbull he formed Atlas Publications Pty Ltd, which published the Atom Man comic, and he was frequently in Canberra lobbying for concessions for newsprint and imported comics. He continued to consult for Murdoch, and in 1950 even agreed to advise Frank Packer on his magazine interests. When he and Bellew bought out Packer’s interest in Family Circle in the mid-1950s, Warnecke wrote that it was ‘good to feel free, even if slightly tattered’. He also toyed with the idea of establishing an eponymous public-relations consultancy.

In 1957 Warnecke, who had become ‘rather bored by the events and persons’ on the Australian stage, fulfilled his long-standing promise to return to Ireland with Nora. Living comfortably in Dublin as a result of her singing income, he became the ‘resident patriarch’ of the Irish-Australian Society, while keeping an eye on Australian political and media developments. After writing Poems of Exile and Love (1968), Nora died in 1969. Refusing to ‘leave her lonely’, Warnecke stayed in Dublin; as he wrote in an article on Australian expatriates in 1970, ‘there are no expatriates from love, but there is Exile’.

Although his ties with the Packers had been severed for two decades, he was delighted to be contacted in 1977 by Ita Buttrose, the head of women’s publishing at Consolidated Press, asking him for his recollections of the Australian Women’s Weekly. Increasingly deaf, he worked on his memoirs, poignantly entitled ‘Miracle Magazine’, and a book about ‘Australianism, as identified by Press, Politics and Religion’. The Literature Board of the Australia Council awarded him, aged 86, a $2000 grant. He was also writing ‘The First Australian’, a biography of John Macarthur. None of these books was completed before Warnecke died on 2 June 1981 at Meath. After a funeral service at St Mobhi’s Church of Ireland, Glasnevin, he was buried in St George’s cemetery, Dublin. He was childless.

‘I have walked with Kings, and indeed been a partner with Frank Packer and Theodore; an intimate with Evatt’, Warnecke had marvelled a decade before his death. Although long preoccupied with the role of capital in the newspaper industry, Warnecke had never become a media baron himself. Instead, he was the creative genius behind the Australian Women’s Weekly, the country’s leading magazine for women and later its best-selling monthly, and an astute publishing and printing strategist and critic. His own top quality, he realised, was initiative; the ‘kind of immature simplicity’ he recognised in himself was probably the reason why he was cast in the role of kingmaker rather than of ‘King’.

Select Bibliography

  •   D. O’Brien, The Weekly (1985)
  • B. Griffen-Foley, ‘A Biographical Profile of George Warnecke’, Australian Studies in Journalism, no 3, 1994, p 67
  • Newspaper News, 1 May 1939, p 1, 1 Nov 1944, p 2, 1 Sept 1947, p 14
  • Nation (Sydney), 22 Aug 1970, p 13
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1981, p 8
  • C. Lawe Davies, New Women, New Culture: The Women’s Weekly and Hollywood in Australia in the early 1930s (MPhil thesis, Griffith Univ, 1988)
  • B2455, item WARNECKE GLEN WILLIAM (National Archives of Australia)
  • Warnecke papers and Briears papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • H. V. Evatt papers (Flinders University of South Australia Library)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Warnecke, Glen William ('George') (1894–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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