Rohan Rivett

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Rohan Deakin Rivett (16 January 1917 – 5 October 1977) was an Australian journalist, author and influential editor of the Adelaide newspaper The News from 1951 to 1960. He is chiefly remembered for accounts of his experiences on the Burma Railway and his activism in the Max Stuart case.

Early years[edit]

Rohan was born in Melbourne, Victoria the elder son of Sir David Rivett and his wife Stella née Deakin. He was a grandson of the former Prime Minister of Australia Alfred Deakin.

He was educated at Wesley College and in 1935 went on to study history and politics at the University of Melbourne, earning a B.A. with first class honours in 1938. With classmate Manning Clark, he enrolled to study at Balliol College, Oxford, arriving in October 1938. When World War II began, he and Clark abandoned their studies and returned to Australia with the intention of joining the AIF.[1]

World War II[edit]

Unable to enlist, he joined The Argus as a cadet journalist. He visited Moscow in 1939 and on return received his first byline.[2] On 2 January 1940 he married Gwyneth Maude Terry, a student, at St John's Church of England, Camberwell. On 7 June he successfully enlisted in the AIF.

In August 1940 he was recruited by the Department of Information to read news bulletins for broadcast over Radio Australia. In December 1941 he volunteered to work for the Malayan Broadcasting Commission (or Corporation), which had been set up in Singapore to counter Japanese propaganda,[3] and was discharged from the AIF. He also continued to write for The Argus.[4]

Burma Railway[edit]

On 9 February 1942 he broadcast the news that Japan had invaded the island, then escaped Singapore. The refugee ship was bombed, but he was one of those who survived. However, after several weeks of evasion, around 4 March 1942 he was captured by the Japanese on Java and sent to work on the Burma Railway.[1][5]

He returned to the Australia in 1945 and a series of articles on his experiences were published in the Argus and elsewhere.[6] In October and November 1945 he "vividly" described his experiences in Behind Bamboo – the book was first published in Sydney in 1946, and was subsequently reprinted eight times, selling more than 100,000 copies.[1]

Post war[edit]

In January 1946 he joined the Melbourne newspaper The Herald. He was sent to China in July 1947 to report on the Civil War, then to London for the Herald-owned[7] Adelaide Advertiser and Brisbane's Courier Mail in 1948, from where he reported on French, German and English post-war reconstruction and the lifting of the Berlin blockade and also cricket, for which Rivett had a lifelong love (he and Sir Don Bradman kept up a regular correspondence 1953–1977).[8] He returned to Australia in 1951 to take up an appointment as editor-in-chief of the Adelaide paper The News, Sir Keith Murdoch's evening tabloid newspaper and the foundation of what was to become News Limited.

He was a popular commentator on radio, and once had the distinction of having a scheduled broadcast censored.[9] He was a regular commentator on the ABC's Notes on the News programme.[1]

One campaign for which Rivett is particularly remembered was the "Stuart Case". Max Stuart, an aborigine, was convicted of rape and murder of a child at Ceduna, South Australia and sentenced to death. The News had been critical of the handling of the case, arguing that Stuart was not getting a fair trial, and urged the Playford government to set up a Royal Commission. The Commission on 3 December 1959 found the case against Stuart wholly justified, and seven weeks later The News and Rivett were tried on nine charges including seditious libel. The jury trial was held over ten days from 7 March 1960 with Dr. John Bray representing the accused, who were found "not guilty" on all but one charge. At this stage the Government dropped the case, perhaps because of the adverse publicity it was giving Playford's Liberal and Country League government.[1] Stuart's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and he was released on parole in 1973.

In 1960 he was sacked, on generous terms, by Sir Keith Murdoch's son Rupert, who considered him unreliable and uncontrollable.[1] He soon found employment at the International Press Institute in Zurich but returned to Melbourne in 1963, where he worked as a freelance journalist, featuring in The Canberra Times and Nation Review.[1]

In 1973 he was elected president of the Melbourne Press Club and was succeeded in 1976 by Keith Dunstan.[10]

He died at his Camberwell home, of a heart attack, on 5 October 1977 and was cremated.


On 2 January 1940 he married Gwyneth Maude Terry. Their only child, a son who lived only a few hours, was born while Rohan was a prisoner on Java. They were divorced.

On 17 October 1947 he married actress Nancy Ethel "Nan" Summers. They had three children:

  • (Katherine) Rhyll (June 1948 – ) commenced but never completed a biography of her father.[11]
  • David Christopher (June 1948 – )
  • Keith Rohan (12 February 1953 – )



  • Rivett, Rohan D., Behind Bamboo Sydney, 1946
  • Rivett, Rohan, The Listener in Test Cricket 1948[12]
  • Rivett, Rohan, Australian Citizen: Herbert Brookes, 1867–1963 (1965)
  • Rivett, Rohan, David Rivett: Fighter for Australian Science (1972)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Inglis, K. S., 'Rivett, Rohan Deakin (1917–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 2 June 2012.
  2. ^ "Red Demi-god of the Kremlin.". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1956). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 20 December 1939. p. 8. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "Axis Propaganda". Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909–1954). Qld.: National Library of Australia. 1 December 1941. p. 1. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Enemy Dominance in Air Again". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1956). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 11 February 1942. p. 3. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  5. ^ "Journalist Safe on Java". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1956). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 27 March 1942. p. 3. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Articles written by Rivett on his return to Australia in 1945:
  7. ^ "Newspaper Fight Is One of Keenest". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1956). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 29 July 1954. p. 26. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  8. ^ Letters reveal the real Don – Cricket –
  9. ^ "A.B.C. Talk Censored". The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848–1956). Melbourne, Vic.: National Library of Australia. 2 November 1956. p. 5. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  10. ^ Chapter Two: Lunch at $5 a head | Melbourne Press Club
  11. ^ Family papers of Rohan Rivett, [manuscript]. – Version details – Trove
  12. ^ The Listener In (1930–1950) was a weekly magazine devoted to radio programmes analogous to TV Week , and the ABC's TV Times some 25 years later. News Limited had Radio Call (1937–1954) and the ABC had its own magazine "A.B.C. Weekly" (1939–1950).