Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Waters, John Carl Anthony (1900–1983)

by Bridget Griffen-Foley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

John Carl Anthony Waters (1900-1983), newspaper editor, was born on 27 April 1900 at Charlton, Victoria, seventh surviving child of Victorian-born parents Frank Louis Waters, farmer, and his wife Georgina, née Foss. Jack joined the Melbourne Herald as a copyboy, before completing three arts units towards a diploma of journalism at the University of Melbourne in 1921-22. He was one of (Sir) Keith Murdoch’s ‘young men’, rising to become deputy chief-of-staff and then chief sub-editor.

On 24 January 1928 at St Anthony’s Catholic Church, Glenhuntly, Waters married Anne Theresa O’Connor (d.1945), a telephonist. The next year he accompanied the Australian war graves pilgrimage to Turkey and France, which inspired him to write Crosses of Sacrifice (1932). Waters was still defending the legend of Gallipoli — ’our one great tradition’ — decades later. He served as president of the Victoria district of the Australian Journalists’ Association during the lean years of 1930-31. In 1933 he was awarded the AJA’s gold honour badge.

That year Waters agreed to join the Star, launched by Wilson & Mackinnon, owners of the Argus, to challenge the Herald’s afternoon-newspaper monopoly. Refusing to serve out his notice for the Herald in Darwin, he was sacked. He lured other Herald journalists to the Star and proved an audacious news editor. Before the Duke of Gloucester’s 1934 tour, Waters successfully placed a call to him at Buckingham Palace. This led to an edict that no member of the royal family should give exclusive interviews. He also assigned a Jewish reporter the task of trying (unsuccessfully) to speak to Adolf Hitler on the telephone. Although the Star enlivened Melbourne’s newspaper market, it suffered from a parsimonious management and a vicious turf war with the Herald. In 1935-36 Waters, now editor, was ill for some months. He returned to the Herald in March 1936 as associate editor; the Star collapsed soon after.

The Herald & Weekly Times Ltd despatched Waters in 1937 to Brisbane, where he became editor and then editor-in-chief of the Courier-Mail and Sunday Mail. In April 1942 he enlisted as a gunner in the Australian Imperial Force but was discharged on being commissioned in the Royal Australian Air Force on 30 September as a public relations officer. He was promoted to flying officer in March 1943. That year he established No.9 Operational Group’s Public Relations Field Unit in New Guinea and flew on combat missions with men half his age. His RAAF appointment was terminated on 19 May 1944 for medical reasons. He wrote Valiant Youth (1945), immortalising the deeds of distinguished RAAF flyers.

In 1946 Waters was appointed editor of the HWT’s Sun News-Pictorial, a popular morning tabloid in Melbourne that thrived in his hands. On 29 October 1949 at St Joan of Arc Catholic Church, Brighton, he married a widow Sylvia Baumgartner, née Garton. Even as editor-in-chief of the HWT from 1953 to 1962, he sometimes worked into the night writing his own stories and editing those of others. He travelled overseas often and still loved a scoop, including an interview with Nikita Khrushchev. Waters never lost his sense of wonder at the marvels of modern communications, in 1954 cabling a story to the Sun from the Queen Mary in the mid-Atlantic. A big, genial man, he was famous for his rich baritone rendition of Some Enchanted Evening at parties around the world.

Waters studied television in England and the United States of America in 1955, in preparation for the HWT’s investment in HSV-7. He was a director of the HWT (1959-73) and of Rothmans of Pall Mall (Aust.) Ltd (1962-72). Having long insisted on the need for community involvement by newspapers, he enthusiastically led charity and disaster appeals. In 1964, the year he was appointed CBE, Waters chaired the committee responsible for raising funds to build the Mercy Public Maternity Hospital in East Melbourne. A keen quail shooter and racegoer, he was a member of Melbourne’s three racing clubs and, in partnership with his wife and friends, raced a number of horses.

‘The happy warrior of journalism’ (in the words of Sir John Williams) died on 10 October 1983 at Armadale, survived by his two daughters from his first marriage; his wife had died the previous year. He was buried in the Catholic section of North Altona cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Edwards, The Editor Regrets (1972)
  • B. Griffen-Foley, ‘The Battle of Melbourne: The Rise and Fall of the Star’, Journal of Australian Studies, no 69, 2001, p 89
  • Journalist, 31 Aug 1933, p 58
  • Newspaper News, 1 Dec 1937, p 1
  • Smith’s Weekly, 7 Oct 1939, p 8
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 Nov 1973, p 22, 29 Dec 1973, p 6, 8 May 1978, p 4, 10 Oct 1983, p 5
  • Sun News-Pictorial, 10 Oct 1983, p 5, 11 Oct 1983, p 7, 12 Oct 1983, p 2
  • B883, item QX31305, A9300, WATERS J C A (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bridget Griffen-Foley, 'Waters, John Carl Anthony (1900–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/waters-john-carl-anthony-15852/text27051, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017