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Canberra's scribe from WA a journalist, author for 78 years

Date

Jack Waterford

ATHOL THOMAS

Born: May 12, 1924; Died: November 17, 2012

For more than 20 years from the mid-1960s, Athol Thomas was the West Australian columnist for The Canberra Times.

He wrote his first book, at the age of 10, on a roll of toilet paper in 1934. He regarded himself as a working journalist and author (he wrote 13 other books) for the next 78 years until his death on Saturday. He was one of five Australian journalists to win an inaugural Walkley award for journalism - in his case for feature writing - in 1956.

Born in Western Australia, a descendant of Alexander Thomas, who was British convict number 61 in that colony - Athol told the ABC only a few years ago that he had always been interested in writing and had never let a day pass in which he had not written at least several hundred words - even in an old age held back by Parkinson's disease.

He ''retired'' as a feature writer on The West Australian in 1987 - having written millions of words for them from the time he joined them to write a daily column in 1962.

But afterwards he wrote four novels, and an array of history, travelogues and even cook books, as well as continuing columns for fishing magazines.

He joined the RAAF at 18, and, after training as a wireless-air gunner, served in Papua New Guinea, and later, as the radio voice directing Catalina pilots along a clear path into Matilda Bay as they flew in from Ceylon. He used his campaign medals for fishing sinkers.

Demobilised, he attended the University of Western Australia, where he edited the student newspaper, the Pelican, and, he claimed, became captain of the Western Australian table tennis team. In his last year he failed history, but years later, subediting on The West Australian, had his revenge upon his history professor, who was to have his submission closely edited, and returned graded as C-minus.

After working with some farming papers, he went to Fleet Street, later joining the Fairfax bureau there. It was while there that he won his Walkley.

From the mid-1960s, he wrote an incisive fortnightly column on sandgroper politics and affairs for The Canberra Times.

Athol Thomas married thrice and had five children; he is survived by his wife Valerie and by children Jennifer, Tristan, Shawn, Athalie and Emma. 

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