This information comes from a press-cutting book that was compiled shortly after Geoffrey Syme’s death. The texts of the obituary notices and details of his funeral are available in newspapers on microfilm in the State Library of Victoria. See, for example, The Age, The Leader, The Herald, The Sun and The Argus circa 31st July 1942 to early August 1942.
Geoffrey Syme went to work at The Age office as usual on the day of his death, 30th July 1942. Some obituary notices say that he died after a short illness, but it wasn’t really a short illness; he had had a mild form of kidney disease for several years. Nevertheless his death in the Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne, was sudden and unexpected. He was 69 years old.
The first of his obituary notices begins “It is with the deepest regret that we announce the death of Sir Geoffrey Syme K. B. E., one of the proprietors and managing editor of The Age.” The Composing, Engineering, Stereotyping, Machine and Publishing staff and the Literary and Clerical staff of The Age all published “A tribute of respect to the late Sir Geoffrey Syme K. B. E.” in the classified section of The Age.
Geoffrey Syme was the fourth son of the late Mr. and Mrs David Syme. He was educated at Kew High School and at the University ofMelbourne. He had worked as an Age journalist for about eight years before he was sent overseas to gain further journalistic experience in England. In 1902 he became Editor of Every Saturday, a separate paper that was the forerunner of Saturday Age. He ceased to be its editor about the end of 1907, since he was virtually in charge of the editorial department of The Age during the last months of his father’s illness. He became Managing Editor and took charge of The Age and The Leader when David Syme died on 18th February 1908. It was said of him that “During the whole of the period that he occupied that position his activities and leadership were governed by his determination to maintain the position of The Age as an independent liberal newspaper, expounding progressive principles, seeking the uplift of the masses and the people as a whole. Like his father he displayed an intense devotion to his work and his close attention to his responsible duties undermined his health and contributed to the illness that culminated in his death.”
Geoffrey Syme took a great interest in pastoral and agricultural developments – his work on The Leader was always of especial interest to him. He was a member of the RoyalAgricultural Society and bred Dorset Horn sheep and Dexter Kerry cattle on his farm in the Yarra Valley. He was a keen sportsman, a footballer in his university days and a good golfer. He was Captain of The Age and The Leader golf team and a member of the Metropolitan Golf Club and the Kew Golf Club. He was also a member of the V. R. C. and the V. A. T. C. and, like his father, a member of the Athenaeum Club.
He is survived by Lady Syme and four of his five daughters, Mrs Geoffrey Haggard, Mrs John Hayne, Mrs Maxwell Clemons and Miss Veronica Syme. His second eldest daughter, Mrs Kenneth Peacock, died in 1926.
At the time of his death it was said of him “During the whole of the period of his control and more particularly since the war began, the influence of Sir Geoffrey Syme had been vigorously exercised through the columns of The Age. Although he eschewed public appearances, he was always very closely in touch with important events, and his wise counsel was freely available to leaders in all spheres, all of whom will readily testify to his devoted patriotism and single minded work on behalf of Australia.”
A large gathering of representative citizens, of newspaper interests and employees of The Age attended the funeral of Sir Geoffrey Syme. Some of those who were present at his funeral included The Premier (Mr. Dunstan) and the Secretary of the Premier’s department, (Mr Jungwirth). Mr N. R. Bennett represented the Lord Mayor. Also present were Sir Keith Murdoch, the Editor of The Herald (Mr R. Simmonds), the Manager of The Herald (Mr W. Dunstan), the Editor of The Sun (Mr. G. Taylor), the Manager of The Sun (Mr. H. Pacini), the Chairman of Directors of The Argus ,(Mr. J. B. Aitken), the Managing Director of The Argus (Mr. E. Knox), the deputy Managing Director of The Argus (Mr. E. A. Doyle), the Chairman of Directors of The Argus (Mr. E. J.Thompson), and Mr. E. Nixon Smith (Smith’s Weekly) Amongst others who were present were Mr. W. Edgar, M. L. C., Mr. A. W. Wynne (Secretary of Australian Associated Press), Mr. A. L. Pratt, (Secretary of the Newspaper Proprietors’Association), Mr. Norman Robinson, (Chairman of the V. A. T. C.), Mr. D. Henderson representing John Fairfax Pty. Ltd., Sir Charles Merrett, (President of the RoyalAgricultural Society and also representing the Chamber of Agriculture), Mr. F. Daniel, (representing the Macquarie Broadcasting Network,) Mr. John Tait, Mr. G. Sutherland and Mr. H. Harris (representing 3AW), Mr. P. J. Bennett (representing the Australian Journalists’ Association), Mr. A. Wolskei (representing the Victorian Historical Society), Dr. Clive Fitts, Dr. G. R. A. Syme, Mr. Peter Manifold, Mr. J. J. Liston (representing the Williamstown Racing Club), Mr. J. A. Norris (former State Auditor General), and Mr. O. E. Bowden and Mr. E. J. Kennon (Athenaeum Club). This list is incomplete and does not include the scores of Syme relations, male and female, who were present at his funeral service at Blythswood, but it does identify a number of Geoffrey Syme’s friends as well as those who formed part of his business and private interests.
This second list is also incomplete, but those who sent flowers included The Lord Mayor and Councillors of Melbourne, the various departments of The Age and The Leader, the staff at Blythswood, the soldiers at Rockingham, (Herbert Syme’s house next to Blythswood had become a Red Cross hospital), the Victorian Broadcasting Network, the Directors of 3AW, (Geoffrey Syme was The Age representative on the 3AW Board). Mr. W. Fairfax and Mr. R. A. Henderson of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Directors of Messrs. JohnFairfax and Sons, the Directors of The Argus and The Australasian, the Directors of Australian United Press, the Directors of the Adelaide Advertiser, Newspapers Ltd., Adelaide, the Directors of The West Australian, The Herald and Weekly Times, Truth and Sportsman Ltd, The Sun News Pictorial, The Authorised Newsagents’Association, and the London Directors of Bowater’s Paper Mills.
Amongst many others who sent flowers were Mr. and Mrs R. G. Menzies, Mr. and Mrs Ken McDougall, Dr. and Mrs Clive Fitts, Mr. Arthur Baillieu, Mr. Norman Baillieu, Sir Keith and Lady Murdoch, Mr. and Mrs E. M. Sheedy, Mr. Norman Robinson, Sir James and Lady Elder, Mr. Ambrose Pratt, (an elderly ex-member of staff and the author of David Syme’s biography), Mr. C. J. Ahern of Gillott, Moir and Ahern. Flowers were also sent by The Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, the Manager of the Orient Line, the Royal Victorian Aero Club, the V. A. T. C., the Vacuum Oil Company, Messrs. Allan and Company, and the staff of the Melbourne Mansions, (a part of the David Syme Estate, then at 101 Collins Street, Melbourne).
Blythswood, Kew Melbourne
There was a brief service in the drawing room of Geoffrey Syme’s home, Blythswood, Kew, before the cortege left for the Boroondara Cemetery. At Blythswood the Reverend Hugh Kelly paid tribute to Sir Geoffrey. He said “We will all remember Sir Geoffrey Syme as a man of kindly heart. I have personal reason to know of that. We all know something of his great ability in the world of business and particularly in the world of journalism, his patent patriotism and his keen desire for the welfare of his country. We know how deep was his interest in the present struggle for freedom. He associated himself with those things for which the name of Syme stood. One thinks of the name of Syme as being identified with historic movements in Victoria and in the Commonwealth. That name will always be held in honour and Sir Geoffrey played no small part in upholding its honour and dignity. Our deepest sympathy flows out to the bereaved widow, who has lost a noble partner, and to the family who has lost a fond and devoted father. We think of our good departed friend and commend him to the care and keeping of God, to whose mercy we must all come at last. In the solemn presence of death let us, in the words written for our comfort, say “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place for generations.”
Hundreds of cars were filled with the men who went to the service at his graveside. The pall-bearers who carried his coffin were W. S. P. Godfrey, (The Age’s architect) and Dr. Stewart Cowan, Dr. H. M. Hewlett, Hamilton Fitts, his solicitor C. J. Ahern, H. A. M. Campbell, (Editor of The Age), L. V. Biggs, (former Editor of The Age) and G. S. Featonby, (business manager of The Age). The chief mourners at the graveside were his brother Oswald Syme, his grandson Geoffrey Haggard, and his nephews David Farnell Syme and Cecil Syme.
Geoffrey Syme did not want to be buried with his parents in the place allotted for him in their Egyptian temple in the Boroondara Cemetery. He chose a site several hundred yards away. It has a simple granite gravestone on which are the words “Blessed are they who rest from their labours, for their works do follow them “. It is an interesting insight into character that three of the people present at his graveside did their best to remove his name from the history of The Age and from Victorian and Australian history.
Canon Roscoe Wilson, the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Kew, conducted the service and gave the panegyric. He said, “Standing here almost in sight of the memorial to that great man, Sir Geoffrey Syme’s father, we should remind ourselves that the first thing in our friend’s life was the inspiration of a great father. It was the supreme motive in his life. In our own early days those who did not know this family personally knew the name of Syme. It was one of the few names which, almost alone, spoke to us and influenced a generation. With this great name came a cause which at the time was not realised by all. It was the cause of democracy, freedom, the rights, duties and privileges of the people. The memorial standing in this cemetery reminds us of David Syme and the part he played.” The Archdeacon’s words are at times somewhat misleading. Geoffrey Syme was in no way a pale copy of his father. He went on to say of Sir Geoffrey “Here is a man who did much good without ostentation. One who went to him in trouble and received the help he needed was warned not to tell others what had been done for him. He was a man of strong character. We need that astringent type of character, that almost ascetic devotion to public duty and commercial life, God grant us more men like that to go on carrying this lamp of service to another generation.”
Public tributes came from many people. The Prime Minister, Mr. Curtin, expressed deep regret at the death of Sir Geoffrey Syme, who had been, he said, an outstanding figure in Australian journalism for many years. The leader of the Opposition, Mr. Fadden, paid tribute to the work of Sir Geoffrey Syme in journalism and on behalf of Australia. Other Federal Ministers also paid tribute to him. The Minister of Supply, Mr. Beasley, said that ‘the industrial development of Australia, which had occurred largely as a result of advocacy of The Age, had served Australia well during the present war. If it had not been for those, who like Sir Geoffrey Syme had stood by Australia’s protective policy and fostered the development of our secondary industries, the plight of Australia today in a war in which we had to depend materially upon our own resources, would have been a sorry one. This not only applied to the material side but also to the human factors involved in industry. Unless regard had been paid to that aspect we would have lost a generation of artisans who, in our manpower problems today, were as vital in the issues involved as those who manned the operational posts.”
The Premier of Victoria, Mr. Dunstan, referred to Sir Geoffrey as a fearless journalist and a constructive and helpful critic. ”People in all walks of life would sincerely regret the passing of such a great figure in journalism. He had successfully and ably carried on the grand traditions of The Age laid down by its founder David Syme” (Here Mr. Dunstan was slightly misleading. David Syme wasn’t the founder of The Age. Perhaps he just meant its traditions). Dunstan went on to say ”He had not spared himself in the fulfilment of the traditions laid down by his father. He had proved himself a champion of the cause of democracy, at all times maintaining a fearless outlook and giving expression to the ideals for which The Age had so consistently fought. A sense of fair play, an unassuming manner, a sincere desire to help in the uplift of the masses and a fine sense of loyalty to all those associated with him in this work were sterling characteristics of a great newspaper man.”
R. G. Menzies’ tribute is a moving one. He begins by saying he is sorry to hear the news of Sir Geoffrey’s death. “Sir Geoffrey Syme was a man of considerable reserve, but with great strength of mind and with a most definite viewpoint. His name, like that of his father, will always be associated with that of the development of The Age as an organ of great independence and vigour and with a traditional liberal policy which always marked its columns. He was not only a personal friend; he was a relatively near neighbour of my own. In common with a great many people who not only admired him, but who also had great affection for him, I shall miss him more than I can say.”
One cannot but question the motive why a life that is very well documented has been eliminated from the history of The Age newspaper.
"In September 2005 The Age web site describes Geoffrey Syme as an 'editorial manager.' Why not be precise and say Managing Editor? That is what he was, a journalist who became Managing Editor of The Age and The Leader. He, not his editors, Schuyler, Biggs and Campbell, had the power to direct the policy of The Age, and he was knighted for his services to journalism in Australia. The words 'editorial manager' are misleading with regard to Geoffrey Syme's career, and they indicate lack of research on the part of whoever wrote them."n the part of whoever wrote them."
|Sir Geoffrey at "The Age" a few days before his death.|
Copyright © 2012 Dr Veronica Condon. All rights reserved.