Kenneth Adolph Slessor, OBE
Date of birth: 27 March 1901
Place of birth: Orange, NSW
Date of death: 30 June 1971
Place of death: North Sydney, NSW
Kenneth Slessor, poet and official correspondent during the Second World War, was born on 27 March 1901 at Orange, New South Wales. Up until he was 13 his family's surname was Schloesser, but his father, Robert, changed it soon after the outbreak of the First World War. In the meantime the Schloesser's had moved to Sydney. Even as a child, Kenneth was a keen reader and had edited his school's magazine.
In 1918 Slessor gained employment as a cadet journalist with the Sun newspaper. Having already discovered a love of poetry, he had his first poems published in the Bulletin in 1919. Three years later, in 1922, he married Noela Myee. He continued to work in journalism, spent time editing several journals and published his first volume of poetry in 1924. In 1927 he began working for Smith's Weekly, becoming its editor in 1935.
After five years in that position, Slessor was appointed as an official war correspondent in February 1940 and he left for England in May that year. He followed the Australian campaigns in the Mediterranean until returning to cover the war in New Guinea in 1943. Having seen and described Australians in combat he developed an admiration for ordinary soldiers but fell foul of the authorities and lost his accreditation. He resigned in February 1944 in a protest against the Army's Public Relations Branch and returned to the world of newspapers as editor of the Sun.
Although his poetic output had slowed dramatically, the publication of his 100 poems in 1944, and subsequent reprints, ensured that this side of his writing would live on in the public mind. In the post-war years he wrote a series of books about aspects of life in Australia. His first wife having died of cancer in 1945, he married Catherine Wallace in 1951. The couple divorced after ten years together.
Slessor's journalistic and literary careers continued in parallel during the 1950s and 1960s. He edited magazines and anthologies as well as the Sun, and later the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. In 1956 he became president of the Journalist's Club in Sydney. A cultured man, whose early ubringing had instilled in him a cosmopolitan outlook and an appreciation of fine food and wine, Slessor was considered witty and urbane by those who knew him. On 30 June 1971 he suffered a myocardial infarction and died in North Sydney.