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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Courtney, Victor Desmond (1894–1970)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Victor Desmond Courtney (1894-1970), journalist, was born on 27 May 1894 at Raymond Terrace, New South Wales, seventh child of Henry Courtney, a newspaper proprietor from England, and his native-born wife Katie, née O'Connor. The family moved to Western Australia where Henry was managing editor of the Greenbushes Advocate and the short-lived Sunday Press (Perth). On leaving school in 1909, Victor entered the State public service before taking a cadetship in 1911 with the Sunday Times. In 1918, in partnership with John Joseph Simons, he became managing editor of a sporting weekly, the Call, soon gaining publicity from a libel suit brought by the lord mayor of Perth, Sir William Lathlain. The partners also acquired a struggling Saturday-evening paper, the Mirror, and built its circulation during the 1920s to over 10,000, largely through racy reporting of scandals and divorces.

By 1935 Courtney and Simons were able to take over Western Press Ltd, publishers of the Sunday Times. They abandoned its crusade for Western Australian secession, but retained most of its other populist features, including the bush balladry of Edwin (Dryblower) Murphy. On 8 February 1937 Courtney married Thela Pearl Richards (d.1962) in St Patrick's Catholic Church, West Perth. When Murphy died in 1939, Courtney took over as topical versifier, writing under the pen-names 'The Hobo' and 'Veecee'. He published Random Rhymes (1941) and Cold is the Marble (1948). Although few have stood the test of time, Courtney was pleased enough with his verses to name his only child Veecee.

Politically, Courtney favoured many Labor attitudes and denounced capital punishment, conscription and knighthoods. In July 1942 he stood as endorsed Nationalist candidate at a by-election for the Metropolitan-Surburban province in the Legislative Council: his views caused disquiet among members of the National Union who funded the anti-Labor coalition parties. Defeated by the unendorsed Nationalist (Sir) Frank Gibson, Courtney vigorously attacked the National Union and prominent Nationalist politicians at the 1943 Federal and State elections. Despite Courtney's personal friendship for John Curtin, his newspapers never explicitly supported Labor and backed the Liberals under (Sir) Robert Menzies.

Managing editor of the Sunday Times, Courtney also assumed the roles of chairman and managing director after Simons died in 1948. He built up a chain of thirty country newspapers, and successfully developed the Sunday Times as an advertising medium which enjoyed monopoly Sunday circulation. Yet, its format appeared increasingly old-fashioned and, in 1955, he sold Western Press to the young Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd.

Following his retirement to North Beach, Courtney published a biography of Simons and two books of reminiscences, All I May Tell (1956) and Perth—and All This (1962). These works present the Perth of the 1920s and 1930s as an easygoing, largely consensual community, free from many of the class or sectarian rancours of eastern Australia. This image is consistent with the tone of the Sunday Times under Courtney, though it is harder to reconcile the salacity of the Mirror with his sober, Catholic, family principles. Survived by his daughter, Courtney died on 1 December 1970 in St Anne's Hospital, Mount Lawley, and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • West Australian, 2 Dec 1970.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Courtney, Victor Desmond (1894–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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