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Ingram, Kenneth Ross (Ken) (1913–1999)

by John Farquharson

Ken Ingram, who died in Canberra aged 85 on March 12, after a long illness, was one of the earliest reporters on the Canberra Times as well as being a veteran of Federal Parliament’s Hansard service.

He was also one of the dwindling number of those who grew up in Canberra and saw the city transformed from a dusty sheep paddock, studded with a few scattered houses, into a national capital rated as among the world’s most gracious and beautiful.

As a first-year Telopea Park High School boy, he was at the opening of Old Parliament House by the Duke of York (later George Vl) in 1927. He could remember Dame Nellie Melba singing from the steps of the new House and an old Aborigine, ‘dressed in a ridiculous costume, very politically incorrect by present-day standards’ giving a demonstration of boomerang throwing.

He was present too when famous Australian aviator Bert Hinkler flew his Avro-Avian over the Hotel Kurrajong to land at York Park in March 1928 after completing a record-breaking flight from England.

But at the opening of Parliament on that 1927 May day, 13-year-old Ingram had no inkling that he would come to know Parliament House intimately and that almost his entire working life would be spent there. His association with the building began in 1932 after he began work as a cadet journalist for the Canberra Times. Though he was not the paper’s parliamentary roundsman, he soon became the local roundsman and found the paper’s room in the press gallery a convenient place to drop in and write his copy rather than going back to the Mort Street office. Before leaving the paper, however, he did fill in there as parliamentary roundsman.

When in 1936 Ingram succumbed to the appeal of Hansard, it meant that his work would be at Parliament House full-time and it was there that he was to spend the remaining 42 years of his working life. Before taking up his new duties, he had learnt a good deal about the service from Hansard reporters who, apart from living nearby, had become family friends. While on the Canberra Times the work he had found most congenial was reporting the courts, so Hansard was something of a natural progression.

The opportunity to join the Parliamentary Reporting Service came when, with the supply of newspaper-trained shorthand writers drying up, Hansard decided to train its own. So the young Ingram joined as one of the first two cadets to be taken on under Hansard’s new in-house training scheme. He began at the bottom, reported his first parliamentary debate in the Senate chamber in 1939, went on to become a supervisor and retired in 1978 after two years in Hansard’s top job - principal parliamentary reporter. 

The Ingram family moved to Canberra from Sydney in December 1926, having emigrated from Dundee, Scotland, earlier that year. They settled into a house his father, who had come to Canberra ahead of the family, had had built in Rous Crescent, Forrest. It was one of the early houses designed by Ken Oliphant who became a well-known Canberra architect.

His father, a tiler by trade, came to Canberra a few months after the family arrived in Sydney by ship in March 1926. The building industry was booming in Canberra and his father had a few prosperous years before the Depression began to bite in the early 1930s. One of his early jobs was on the construction of Parliament House, where he was responsible for tiling some of the washrooms. Thus began the Ingram family’s long connection with the Parliament.

Apart from working on many houses, Ken’s father, with his brother Tim as apprentice, tiled all the Manuka shops and fixed the marble facings to the Sydney and Melbourne buildings in Civic. His father also did the tile work for the Manuka swimming pool.

Having rounded off his primary years at Drummoyne public school, where he spent about nine months, Ken was enrolled at Telopea in the high school where, at the beginning of the 1928 school year, a future Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, joined him as a classmate. They remained friends throughout Ken’s life.

Students beginning high school at Telopea had a choice of two courses - Latin and art or business principles and shorthand. The young Ingram opted for business principles and shorthand. It was a lucky choice for, as he once observed, shorthand was to earn him an ‘exciting and comfortable’ living.

By the time he left school Canberra was in the grip of the Depression and the only job he could get, with the Public Service having halted recruiting, was tending wheat experiments at the CSIR (later CSIRO). But another lucky break soon came his way when the Canberra Times managing editor, A. T. Shakespeare, offered him the chance of filling a vacancy for a cadet journalist. The family are not sure whether this came about through A. T. (as he was always known) contacting Telopea headmaster Mr Filshie to ask if he knew of any likely candidate or whether his eye lighted upon a contribution of Ken’s in the school magazine, which the paper printed. However it happened, Ingram started at the Canberra Times on Boxing Day 1932 at the princely sum of 25 shillings a week.

In those days whether the staff got paid was often a close-run thing, with the revenue from the cinema advertisements not infrequently ensuring cash in the pay packets. There were no sub-editors or proof-readers in those penny-saving days and Ken did his share of reading in whatever spare time he had. He enjoyed journalism, but felt that going to Hansard would be a good move. It wasn’t just that the pay was better - four pounds a week. There was the challenge of reporting Parliament for what was essentially an historical record - and its appeal never waned.

During his time with Hansard, he reported every Prime Minister since 1917 with one exception, Bob Hawke, who came and went after he had retired. Among those was the redoubtable Billy Hughes who was in his declining years when Ingram came to report him but, in Ken’s words, ‘still had a unique turn of phrase and an impish sense of humour’.

According to the present head of Hansard, Bernie Harris, Ken Ingram was a superb mimic who could portray Billy Hughes brilliantly. Discussing his work in an oral-history interview in 1996, with Canberra journalist Ken Begg, Ingram rated Whitlam and Menzies as Parliament’s best speakers in his day. He told Begg, ‘If I was before a court in front of a judge alone, I would choose Whitlam, but if I was going before a jury I would pick Menzies. Whitlam could lay out his facts beautifully - everything clear and precise. Menzies would never send you flying to a dictionary but he was persuasive. He was good’.

In his view Billy Snedden was the best Speaker. He knew ‘when to hear an interjection and kept order without ever raising his voice’. Universally regarded among Hansard reporters as the fastest speaker, and the most difficult to take in shorthand, was former journalist Les Haylen with his tendency to spike his speeches with unusual words.

Bernie Harris recalls that Whitlam as Prime Minister would often pop up to Hansard to talk over issues with the then principal reporter Bill Bridgeman and his deputy, Ken Ingram. On one occasion in the midst of the 1975 Supply crisis, Whitlam went to Ingram to complain about the binding of the bound volumes of Hansard and suggested a redesign along lines that he had drawn up.

In the early war years, Ingram and Bridgeman volunteered for the RAAF, Ken having earlier been in the Militia. However, ill-health cut short his RAAF service resulting in his recall to a short-staffed Hansard. He married in 1940 Margaret (Peg) Blair, originally from Camberwell, Victoria, whose family had come to Canberra when the Taxation Department, where he father was employed, was moved from Melbourne. Their marriage in St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, was the first performed there by Hector Harrison, long-serving minister of that church who had arrived only three weeks before.

One of Ingram’s major tasks while he was at Hansard was a complete revision of the history of the service. With his unassuming professionalism, he was highly esteemed by both colleagues and parliamentarians alike.

Outside his work, his abiding interest and form of relaxation was wood turning in which he became highly skilled. The pride and joy of his home of 45 years in Dominion Circuit, Forrest, was his workshop. A comparably fine workshop was his great delight when he and wife Peg moved to a unit in Holder some 14 years ago.

He was a warm family man who bore bravely the ill-health that dogged him without letting it dominate or suffuse his enjoyment of life. And he remained ever proud of having been a Hansard man.

He is survived by his wife, three daughters, three grandsons and a granddaughter.

Ken Ingram, born Dundee, Scotland, 19 December 1913; died Canberra 12 March 1999.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 4 May 1999

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Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Ingram, Kenneth Ross (Ken) (1913–1999)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/ingram-kenneth-ross-ken-517/text518, accessed 24 October 2017.

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