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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cooper, Sir Walter Jackson (1888–1973)

by Margaret Bridson Cribb

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Walter Jackson Cooper (1888-1973), by unknown photographer, 1950s

Walter Jackson Cooper (1888-1973), by unknown photographer, 1950s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24205649

Sir Walter Jackson Cooper (1888-1973), soldier, grazier and politician, was born on 23 April 1888 at Cheetham, near Manchester, Lancashire, England, son of Joseph Pollitt Cooper, salesman, and his wife Sarah, née Jackson. Educated at Bedford Grammar School and Wyggeston Boys' School, Leicester, Walter served as a reservist in the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry and in the Royal Horse Artillery, Territorial Force. In 1910 he migrated to Western Australia and worked his way to Brisbane where he set himself up as an indent agent. Having helped to rescue bathers from the surf at Southport on 28 December 1912, he was awarded a certificate of merit by the Royal Humane Society of Australasia. At a land ballot in June 1914 Cooper drew a 28,000-acre (11,331 ha) block from Llanrheidol station in the Middleton district, 132 miles (212 km) west of Winton. He eventually acquired neighbouring properties to raise sheep on a consolidated holding which he named Brackenburgh and retained until 1950.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, Cooper was commissioned on 12 June 1915 and joined the 15th Battalion on Lemnos in October. He served at Gallipoli, moved to Egypt and was promoted captain in April 1916. Two months later he arrived in France. At Mouquet Farm on 10 August he was so badly wounded that his leg had to be amputated. After convalescing in England, in January 1918 he became acting-adjutant of No.6 Training Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. On 14 February that year he married Louie Dorothy Marion Crick at St Peter's parish church, Leicester; they were to remain childless. Cooper returned to France in September as recording officer of No.4 Squadron, A.F.C., and was appointed M.B.E. (1919) for his work in the unit. From early 1919 he attended textile classes at the University of Leeds. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Brisbane on 31 March 1921.

Cooper joined a number of service organizations, including the Brisbane Legacy Club and the Queensland branch of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. In seeking Country Party endorsement for the Senate in 1928, he made what (Sir) Arthur Fadden was facetiously to dub, 'the worst speech I ever heard', but was elected in November. Defeated in 1931, he was returned again in 1934. During a lengthy parliamentary career, he was a member of the joint standing committee on public works (1937-43) and of the joint committee on social security (1941-46); in 1947-49 he was leader of the Opposition in the Senate and in 1949-60 he led the Country Party in that chamber.

In 1949 he had been appointed minister for repatriation in the Liberal-Country Party coalition government of (Sir) Robert Menzies. Known as 'the diggers' friend', Cooper directed his efforts to improving conditions for ex-service personnel, especially through pensions, hospital benefits and housing; he even tried out the artificial legs developed in his department's factories. As minister, he maintained close, informal ties with leaders of the R.S.L. and was granted life membership in 1961. He was a member of the cabinet committee on ex-servicemen's affairs which Menzies had established in 1949 and to which the R.S.L.'s national executive alone had access. From 1949 to 1951 Cooper also sat on the interim council of the Australian National University.

Tall and slender, he was modest, unassuming and unfailingly courteous to all, qualities which earned him the sobriquet of cabinet's 'first gentleman'. Cooper was knighted in 1959. He resigned from the ministry in 1960 and retired from the Senate in 1968, the longest-serving parliamentarian of his contemporaries. Survived by his wife, Sir Walter died on 22 July 1973 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Greenslopes, Brisbane; following a state funeral, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Richards (compiler), Australian Airmen (Melb, 1918)
  • T. P. Chataway, History of the 15th Battalion A.I.F. (Brisb, 1948)
  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin, 24 Nov 1966
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 29 Mar 1967, 14 Sept 1968, 23, 25 July 1973
  • LAN/P510 (Queensland State Archives)
  • Cooper papers, 1931-68 (National Library of Australia)
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Margaret Bridson Cribb, 'Cooper, Sir Walter Jackson (1888–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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