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Godfrey, George Fuller (1904–1989)

by Alex Mitchell

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

George Fuller Godfrey (1904-1989), journalist and union official, was born on 5 November 1904 at Battersea, London, third of five children of Francis George Godfrey, schoolteacher, and his wife Millie, née Fuller. George attended the Strand School, London, where he won a mathematics scholarship to Queens’ College, Cambridge (BA, 1926; MA, 1972). During Britain’s general strike in May 1926 he enlisted as a special constable in the emergency force to maintain order and essential services. He decided to migrate to Australia and landed in Melbourne in 1927 with £5 in his pocket.

After teaching mathematics for one term at Essendon High School, Godfrey was appointed a cadet reporter on the Melbourne Argus in May 1927. He moved to Sydney in 1930 to join the Sun, an afternoon broadsheet, where he revelled in the challenge of police, civic and parliamentary rounds; he was to become a sub-editor in 1943 and later relieving editor. On 21 June 1932 he married Phyllis Berenice Alethia Carling, a clerk, at St Augustine’s Church of England, Neutral Bay.

A member of the Australian Journalists’ Association from 1927, Godfrey was elected to the New South Wales district committee in 1934, and again in 1940; he served as president in 1941-44 and 1953-63. In 1943 he became a trustee of the State AJA benevolent fund and next year he was awarded the AJA’s gold honour badge. He held the federal presidency in 1963-74 and in 1971 he was made a life member. One of his legacies was the adoption of an AJA code of ethics federally in 1943. In a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 October 1942 he explained that the eight-point code was designed to `raise the Press and its members in public esteem’, to `eliminate criticism of Press standards’, to `protect the public against misrepresentation’ and to `justify confidence in the virtue of Press freedom’. He campaigned for twenty-five years for the establishment of the Australian Press Council; this occurred in 1976.

Godfrey’s prominence in the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party began in 1944 when he became president of the decidedly unproletarian Mosman branch. Editor (1945-46) of the Labor Digest, he attended his first party conference as a delegate in 1946 and served (1959-71) on the State executive. Abhorring the political extremes of left and right, he was an ardent member of the Fabian Society and in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 April 1957 described democratic socialism as `mankind’s nearest approach in the Western world to practical Christianity’. He captured a footnote in ALP history when in 1955 he provided the federal Labor leader Dr Bert Evatt with a valid party ticket from the Mosman branch, following a staff member’s failure to renew `the Doc’s’ party membership.

Early in the 1960s Godfrey wrote a pithy column, `Gloves Off’, for the A.L.P. News, the official paper of the New South Wales branch, and from 1960 to 1968 he published in the A.L.P. Journal a series of sixty-seven articles on `Paths to Democratic Socialism’ which the journalist-historian Clem Lloyd described as possibly `the longest sequence of articles ever written by a journalist anywhere on anything’. Opposed to censorship, Godfrey had campaigned, as president of the Australian Book Society, against the gaoling in 1948 of the author Robert Close for obscene libel over his bawdy novel Love Me Sailor (1945). Godfrey objected to Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies’ 1950 Communist Party dissolution bill and to the ban on the Russian journalist Vadim Nekrasov imposed by (Sir) Alexander Downer, minister for immigration, in 1963.

By the early 1970s Godfrey was out of step with the new wave of more militant journalists who opposed the clubby relationship between the union hierarchy and the media proprietors. In his 1972 presidential report he railed against the `illogical discontent’ and `organised spite against the A.J.A. administration’ that had `spread its tentacles virtually throughout Australia’. He claimed that outside forces were trying to `create dissension within the Australian community and to undermine unions that are making a success of the process of conciliation’. Although he retired from the Sun in 1971, he continued there on a casual basis and from 1976 worked for the North Shore Times for ten years. In 1972 he had been appointed CBE. A keen Freemason, he belonged to the Lodge Literature and the Mosman Lodge. Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 16 September 1989 at Mosman and was cremated; his wife had died in May. An obituary in the Journalist concluded: `He never did return to England and although proud to be an Englishman was prouder still to be a part of Australia and its history’.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lloyd, Profession: Journalist (1985)
  • K. Buckley et al, Doc Evatt (1994)
  • Journalist, Oct 1989, p 1
  • M. Pratt, interview with G. Godfrey (transcript, 1975, National Library of Australia)
  • G. Godfrey papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alex Mitchell, 'Godfrey, George Fuller (1904–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/godfrey-george-fuller-12548/text22587, accessed 23 September 2017.

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