A keen reader and collector of books from an early age, Kirtley wanted to print his own fine books. A meeting with Jack Lindsay (son of Norman Lindsay) (qq.v) in a Sydney bookshop in the early twenties led to the foundation of the Fanfrolico Press. The first publication was a collection of Jack Lindsay's verse entitled Fauns and Ladies (1923). Limited to 210 copies, it included three woodcuts by Norman Lindsay. The book appeared under the imprint of 'The Handpress of J. T. Kirtley', as did Kenneth Slessor's (q.v.) first book, Thief of the Moon (1924). This was followed by two further books of verse, Seven Songs of Meadow Lane by Raymond McGrath (q.v.), and Dora Wilcox's (q.v.) Seven Poems. Kirtley's next publication was far more ambitious, a de-luxe limited edition of Jack Lindsay's translation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata under the imprint of the Fanfrolico Press.
Kirtley and Jack Lindsay, with support from Norman Lindsay, decided to transfer the Press to London. The first English publication from the press was another edition of Lysistrata, followed by Kenneth Slessor's verse collection Earth Visitors, and a de-luxe edition of The Complete Works of Gaius Petronius, translated by Jack Lindsay. Kirtley returned to Australia after he and Jack Lindsay had a quarrel, one partly orchestrated by Jack and his friend P. R. Stephensen (q.v.) to enable the latter to join the press, which he did immediately after Kirtley's departure.
Kirtley planned to write fiction and he worked intermittently for Stephensen when the latter returned to Australia in 1932 to run the Endeavour Press. Because of his association with Stephensen, Kirtley was linked to the right-wing nationalist Australia First movement and interned along with others, including Stephensen, for almost two years during the Second World War. In 1947 or 1948 Kirtley lived near Melbourne in a house at Ferntree Gully owned by the book collector, J. K. Moir (q.v.). With Moir's encouragement, he took up printing again, establishing the Mountainside Press. He planned to leave 20 great books to Australia but the effort of printing R D FitzGerald's (q.v.) Heemskerck Shoals (1949), one of the finest books ever produced in Australia, was too much for the perfectionist Kirtley. In the late fifties, encouraged by Harry Chaplin (q.v.), the Sydney book collector, Kirtley wrote a detailed and at times vituperative history of the Fanfrolico Press that remains unpublished.