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Tribute to Athol Thomas (1924-2012)

Posted by ken On November - 29 - 2012

The passing of Athol Thomas (12/5/1924 – 17/11/2012)

Athol Thomas was a journalist and popular columnist in Western Australia and also TVW’s first Publicity Officer in 1959.

Athol Thomas in 2009 at the TVW Reunion

He joined the RAAF at 18, and, after training as a wireless-air gunner, served in Papua New Guinea, and later, as an air controller directing Catalina pilots along a clear path into Perth’s Matilda Bay at Crawley, where they operated during the second world war until September 1st, 1944.


Catalina Flying Boats in Matilda Bay during the Second World War

While studying at the University of Western Australia, he edited the student newspaper, Pelican and, in 1948, was on the board of the student magazine Black Swan. After working with some farming papers, he went to Fleet Street and joined the Fairfax bureau in London, England before returning to Western Australia where he wrote for the Western Mail a number of quirky articles such as “(womens’) Legs Don’t Count With Perth Men”, another story was on the propriety of advertising ladies underwear, and the Queen’s Royal Tour of 1954, and her laying a wreath at the Kings Park War Memorial.

Writing for the Western Mail
(not to be confused with Robert Holmes a’ Court’s 1980s newspaper)


“The Western Mail” was a weekly that later became “The Countryman”

He won an inaugural Walkley award in 1956 for journalism, in the category of feature writing. Athol and Allan Nicholls, of The Age, shared the £200 prize for newspaper feature story.

1956 was the year that television arrived in Australia and the Melbourne Olympics. There were only five categories in the first year of the Walkley Awards… They soon became Australia’s most prestigious media accolades, established by Sir William Gaston Walkley (1896-1976), a founder of the Australian oil company Ampol. Today, the Awards now attract more than 1300 entries each year, culminating in 34 awards presented every November.

The presentation of the first awards was a modest affair that took place at the Journalists’ Club in Sydney on December 19, 1956. Sir William Gaston Walkley as the awards’ benefactor, presented the prizes. He was grateful for the Australian media’s support of his oil exploration efforts and subsequently brought the awards to life. He gave £10,000 to start the awards but, unlike many sponsors, did not ask for Ampol’s name to be attached to them.

At the dawn of television in Western Australia in 1959, Athol joined TVW Channel 7 as the Publicity Officer, whilst also working with the Seven News Department as a discussion chairman, golf commentator and documentary producer until 1962, before joining the West Australian newspaper. He wrote for the newspaper until he retired in 1987.

Athol told the ABC Stateline program in 2007 that he never let a day pass in which he had not written at least several hundred words. He advised the television interviewer that,

“I wrote my first book as a ten year old on a roll of toilet paper. I was always interested in writing for as long as I can remember.”

Athol became the prolific author of a variety of book subjects… including a cookbook of fish recipes.

On a trip to Europe many years ago, Athol and his wife Valerie were staying at a hotel in Norway, opposite a lake, where the locals were adamant that it contained no fish. As Athol always carried a small collapsable fishing rod in his suitcase, he ventured out to the lake to fish. To the astonishment of the locals, Athol performed the impossible and landed a couple of fish, which the hotel chef cooked for them.

Catching fish in Norway Photo courtesy of Valerie and Emma Thomas

No doubt that was soon added to his many anecdotes, for Athol had a fine wit and was a great story teller.

Athol’s books included…

The English family Brown

by Athol Thomas

About Western Australian social life and customs.

Illustrated with maps Perth Government Printer

[Book : 1965-1966]

Forgotten Eden: A View of the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean

by Athol Thomas

ISBN 058264156X (0-582-64156-X)

[Book : 2 versions : 1968-1973]


Journal articles included…

Blue-sky country: Tourism in Western Australia by Athol Thomas …

West Australian

[Article : 1981]

New hope for the Ord: sugar by Athol Thomas …

Canberra Times

[Article : 1982]

Journal Article by Athol Thomas …

Perth’s life style: a personal view from Athol Thomas

[Article : 1982]

This was followed by more book writing…

Bulls and Boabs: Kimberley People and Places

by Athol Thomas

Deals with Broome, Halls Creek, Cambridge Gulf, Cape Leveque, Derby, etc.

ISBN 0727001469 (0-7270-0146-9)

[Book : 2 versions : 1976-1980]

[Audio book : 2 versions : 1985-1986]


A Snapping of Carrots

by Athol Thomas

illustrated by Dave Gaskill

A collection of stories from his regular newspaper column “Here and Now”.

Category: Sociology ISBN 0867780290 (0-86778-029-0)

Softcover, Saint George Books [Book : 1986]


90 golden years : the story of the Perth Mint

by Athol Thomas

Western Australia Perth Mint history gold coinage coins

[Perth, Gold Corporation Book : 1989]


Guide to Restaurant Menus of Perth and WA

Arthur Johns & Athol Thomas

ISBN: 073167491X (0-7316-7491-X)

[Book : 1989]

Trembling horizon: the story of an important place – the Fitzgerald Biosphere Project area

By Athol Thomas

illustrated by Ray Seddon

ISBN 0731667956 (0-7316-6795-6)

[Book : 1989]

A Terrace Walk & Half-A-Rood: A History of Real Estate in Western Australia since 1829

by Athol Thomas

ISBN 0646125346 (0-646-12534-6)

Hardcover, Real Estate Institute of Western Australia

[Book : 1993]

The Western Angler Simple Seafood Cookbook

A neat small spiral bound cookbook by Athol Thomas

ISBN 0646218409 (0-6462184-0-9)

[Book : 1994]

A Toast to the Kimberley

by Athol Thomas

Takes the reader on a tour of unforgettable ancient landscapes.

ISBN 0958710600 (0-9587106-0-0)

Darlington Publishing Group

[Book : 1997]

Second Simple Seafood Cookbook

by Athol Thomas

ISBN 0957920407 (0-9579204-0-7)

[Book : 2001]

Whilst in Broome to launch of his second travel book on the Kimberley, he found his hand stiff and unworkable when signing his book.

In 1992, when Athol was in his seventies, he was told that he had Parkinson’s disease, and not only that, but he was also diagnosed with prostate cancer, type two diabetes, and sleep apnoea.

From that point he decided to write fiction to keep his mind alive and fight depression.

In 2006, at the age of 82 he self-published his first novel, an adventure story involving a World War aircraft in “A Catalina Called Matilda”.

A Catalina Called Matilda

by Athol Thomas

Novel, set in Perth, based around the Consolidated Catalina Flying Boat.

ISBN 978 0 646 47005

[Book : 2007]

This is but a small sample of the many words crafted for print by Athol right up to recent times.

In 2009, Athol attended the TVW 50th anniversary reunion, when on registering said, “I’m glad to see it happen, I won’t be at the 100th”.

Assembling the TVW veterans from 1959 for the group photo
Athol was wearing the blue cap


The posed photograph of 1959 TVW Veterans – 50 years on

Now sadly, this fine gentleman of an era which is now gone, has also sadly passed away. People of his ilk are few and far between and he will be missed.

He was the much loved husband of Valerie, proud father of Jennifer, Tristan, Shawn, Athalie and Emma, grandfather of 11 and great-grandfather of six.

Athol’s memorial service will be on Saturday December 1st, 2012, at 11am at the Manners Hill Park pavilion in Peppermint Grove.

One Response to “Tribute to Athol Thomas (1924-2012)”

  1. Pat Heal says:

    Dear Athol, I tried to find you to give you my book, launched when I was 90, entitled, “The Late Miss White”, but you had gone fishin.
    Thankyou for that lovely West Australian Tour of Europe in 1972 and for the 20 or so reunions of our group, that followed. We cherished your frienship. Margaret Utting, Pat Heal and Joan Blackburn.

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