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Apthorp, John Victor (1904–1992)

John Victor Apthorp. Birth: 28 March 1904, Perth, W.A.  Married Doreen -, 1936. 1 daughter. Died: June 1992, Katoomba, NSW.

Though born in Perth, he grew up on the Kalgoorlie goldfields. At the age of 16 joined the navy and spent several years on the training ship HMAS Tingara. Left the navy in 1929 and purchased a grocery business in Annandale, Sydney. His business suffered during the Depression and, following an unsuccessful attempt at gold prospecting in the upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River, he rejoined the navy in 1932. His naval career ended when he contracted TB and was invalided out of the service. Underwent treatment at Boddington Red Cross Sanitorium, Wentworth Falls, then settled in Katoomba in 1939. A passive interest in politics (Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was a major influence) developed into an active one, most notably following discussions with local postman and ALP activist Tom Butterfield who persuaded him to join the local branch. Here friendships developed with a number of left wing activists, including Dr. Eric and Eleanor Dark, Bruce Milliss and Peter Carroll. When Milliss established a branch of the Communist Party in Katoomba in the early 1940s, he joined. When the government cracked down on the Party in June 1940 he hid Communist Party and other left-wing literature in the ceiling of his Katoomba home.  He and his wife Doreen (Dorn) were active in various movements for local social improvements including a childrens’ library, provision of healthy ‘Oslo’ school lunches, and a day nursery for the children of the town’s many women munitions workers. 1943-1947, managed the left wing Current Affairs Library & Reading Room in Katoomba, a lively centre of political discussion in the town. He developed contacts with many of the popular writers of the time, such as Fred Thwaites and William Hatfield, who visited the Mountains during reading tours. Katherine Susannah Prichard often stayed at the Apthorp home and local writers like Eleanor Dark, Osmar White and Eric Lowe were also counted among his friends. Supported the Lithgow coalminers during the 1949 strike by assisting in getting food and other provisions through the army lines. During the 1960s, following his recovery from a recurrence of TB, he worked as an accountant in Katoomba. A prolific and knowledgeable letter writer to both the local and metropolitan newspapers, he became one of the few to achieve a hundred publications in the Sydney Morning Herald. He invariably made his point with brevity and humour. In his later years he served on the inaugural Board of the Eleanor Dark Foundation, and oversaw the establishment of the Darks’ former home, ‘Varuna’, as a national Writers’ Retreat. A popular man who worked hard for the causes he embraced and became something of a mentor to many younger people in his later years. ‘I’m still a socialist’, he told the local newspaper not long before his death.

Stanmore, Ray. “John Victor Apthorp: A Tribute From a Friend”. Unpublished eulogy, 2nd July 1992; Low, John. “Obituary: John Victor Apthorp (1904-1992)”, The Hummer, No.35 January-June 1993; Low, John. “The Salt of the Katoomba Earth: A Series on Blue Mountains Labour Identities No.2”, The Hummer, No. 15 February-March 1987; “John Apthorp Casts Radical Gaze on Mountains Communists”, Blue Mountains Gazette, 21st February 1990, p. 5; clipping file on John Apthorp in Blue Mountains City Library Local Studies Collection.

Original Publication

  • Biographical Register of the Australian Labour Movement 1788-1975, 2012

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Citation details

'Apthorp, John Victor (1904–1992)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/apthorp-john-victor-25525/text33869, accessed 16 December 2019.

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