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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Smith, Charles Patrick (1877–1963)

by John Hurst

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Charles Patrick Smith (1877-1963), journalist and war correspondent, was born on 3 October 1877 at Dundas, Ontario, Canada, son of Thomas Smith, moulder, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Rosselle. While he was still a boy the family came to Bendigo, Victoria. Educated privately and at state schools, he matriculated (1893) at Wesley College, Melbourne. At 17 he became an assistant proofreader on the Melbourne Sportsman, writing on athletics and swimming and occasionally contributing to the Herald, the Bulletin and the Australian Journal. Frustrated in attempts to join the Argus, he returned to Bendigo where he joined the Typographical Society.

The Argus eventually employed him as a sub-grass hand in its composing room where he worked for nine years. On 3 September 1902 he married Margaret Bradbury at the Australian Church, Melbourne. Smith's big chance as a reporter came in 1910 when he was present at an explosion in Fitzroy and returned to the office to set his own copy in type. Articles written while on holiday in Sydney earned him a job on the Argus reporting staff early in 1911.

Smith distinguished himself as a political reporter, becoming closely acquainted with prime ministers Reid, Deakin, Cook, Fisher and Hughes and Justice Higgins. He accompanied visiting General Sir Ian Hamilton, on his nation-wide inspection of the defence forces, and was with Fisher at Bacchus Marsh in August 1914 when Fisher learned that war had been declared. In December Smith was attached as Argus war correspondent to the 4th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier General (Sir) John Monash. After monotonous weeks with troops training in Egypt, he came back to Australia in April 1915, but returned to Egypt in May, and rejoined Monash's headquarters at Gallipoli in July.

As a witness of the battles in August Smith chose to describe the feelings and experiences of average front-line soldiers. His style of reporting, blending grim fact with cheerful anecdote, contributed to the legend of Anzac stoicism, seemingly unquenchable good humour and optimism. Invalided to Egypt in September, he later covered the war in the Balkans, journeying through Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania.

From 1916 Smith was chief of the literary staff of the Argus, and in 1921 accompanied Prime Minister Hughes to the Imperial Conference in London, representing the Australian Press Association. That year he was appointed assistant general manager of the Argus, which under his direction acquired new printing plant. By 1923 its classified advertisements outstripped those of the Age and it began the move to larger premises in Elizabeth Street.

Smith was appointed managing editor of West Australian Newspapers Ltd in 1927 and director in 1931. C.P.'s 'sense of mission', dynamism, and his radical changes to the style and content of the West Australian caused some of his staff, like (Sir) Paul Hasluck, to sigh for the club-like calm and stuffiness of the old days. 'Gusts of energy scattered the dust of ages'. Smith retired in 1951, retaining a keen interest in journalism. He was a director of West Australian Broadcasters Ltd. Forthright yet friendly, Smith felt no reserve about voicing his own opinions and would never willingly accept defeat. His many interests included literature, the theatre and all sports, especially basketball.

He died at home at Subiaco, Perth on 5 August 1963 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife, son and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. G. Knox (ed), The Advertisers' and Publishers' Guide of Australia and New Zealand (Syd, 1935)
  • H. Gordon, An Eyewitness History of Australia (Adel, 1976)
  • P. Hasluck, Mucking About (Melb, 1977)
  • D. McCarthy, Gallipoli to the Somme (Syd, 1983)
  • Theatre Magazine, 1 Feb 1918
  • Newspaper News (Perth), 1 Jan 1931
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Aug 1963
  • West Australian, 6 Aug 1963.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Hurst, 'Smith, Charles Patrick (1877–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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