Whitton, aged 90, died in hospital on Monday night, and is survived by his wife Noela, 88.
Born in the NSW town of Muswellbrook in 1928, Whitton started his 50-odd year career in journalism at the Toowoomba Chronicle before moving to the Melbourne newspaper Truth, where he won his first Walkley Award for Best Newspaper Feature story in 1967.
Whitton, who was a member of The Australian Media Hall of Fame, went on to win five Walkleys in total – in 1967, 1970, 1973, 1974 and 1975. In 1983 he was named the Melbourne Press Club’s Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year for his coverage of the Street Royal Commission in NSW, also known as the Wran Royal Commission.
In Melbourne, he uncovered allegations of police extortion at abortion clinics, coverage which led to the Kaye Inquiry and won him his 1970 Walkley Award.
He left Truth for a brief stint at the Sunday Australian before joining Fairfax Media, first at the National Times as assistant editor and then editor, before moving to the Sydney Morning Heraldas chief reporter in 1981.
Known for his long-form, narrative journalism, Whitton dissected the Petrov Affair and the HMAS Voyager disaster, and also covered the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption in Queensland. He was also famous for his 26,000 word, three-part series on how Australia got into the Vietnam War.
In Whitton’s inductee video for the Hall of Fame, former Sun-Herald State Political Editor Alex Mitchell said Whitton was a “terrific gum-shoe journalist of the old kind”.
“He would traipse around and knew everyone from criminals to corrupt politicians – everyone, and wrote magnificent stuff”.
After retiring from the Herald, he became a Reader in Journalism at the University of Queensland and continued to cover legal affairs for online legal journal Justinian.
Whitton was married twice – although he first met his wife, Noela, as a child in Murgon, the pair married other people and had children before reconnecting years later.
In a 2015 interview with Good Weekend, Noela said they had a “wonderful, busy life together”.
“I’d love to be here to look after him at the end of his life because he’s someone worth looking after,” she said.
“He deserves a decent farewell and I’d like to be here to do that.”
This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald and has been republished with permission from Fairfax Media. It was written by By Rachel Clun.