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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dunbar, William John Hanley (Bill) (1903–1972)

by Frank Cranston

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

William John Hanley (Bill) Dunbar (1903-1972), publisher, publicist and journalist, was born on 30 April 1903 at Scone, New South Wales, eldest of four children of John James Dunbar, farmer, and his wife Clara Kathleen, née Hanley, both native-born. Bill attended primary school at Red Range, near Glen Innes, and was privately tutored before entering St John's College, Armidale, in 1922 to study for the Anglican priesthood. He left in 1925, returned to the college (by then relocated at Morpeth) in 1927, but was not ordained.

Encouraged by the warden (Bishop) E. H. Burgmann, in late 1927 Dunbar established St John's College Press. Burgmann envisaged a Church press, which would also nurture and advance Australian letters, and which would operate a printery able to produce material of technical excellence. From 1927 to 1934 the press published and printed the quarterly magazine, the Morpeth Review, 'bringing together much of the richest scholarship of our day and nation', as Dunbar later noted. In addition, it published works of theology, literary criticism, social research and biography, and undertook general printing. On 10 January 1930 at St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, Dunbar married a kindergarten teacher Helen May Longfield.

After the press closed in September 1935, Dunbar was employed by the West Maitland printers and stationers, Thomas Dimmock Ltd, and became the firm's travelling representative based at Newcastle. His interest in high-quality printing led him to collect the best examples of tourism advertising from around the world. In April 1937 he was appointed secretary (subsequently director) of the Canberra Tourist Bureau which was jointly administered by the Commonwealth government and the Canberra Chamber of Commerce. Within months Dunbar announced that tourism had become the city's biggest industry. In the first year of the bureau's operations, he and one staff member handled more than ten thousand inquiries. They made accommodation bookings, arranged means of travel and distributed brochures publicizing the national capital. The number of visitors to Canberra rose annually, reaching approximately 170,000 in 1949-50.

Involved in community affairs, Dunbar was a foundation member (1950) and sometime chairman of the Good Neighbour Council of the Australian Capital Territory; he was its delegate to Australian citizenship conventions in 1957-59. He was also an office-bearer in the Church of England Men's Society in Australia, the Canberra Film Centre (later Society), the local alpine and aero clubs, and the Rotary Club of Canberra (president 1949-50).

In 1960 Dunbar retired from the bureau and began a four-year government contract to lecture in Britain promoting Australia's immigration programme. He joined the editorial staff of the Canberra Times in 1964 and was variously bowls correspondent, community roundsman and the newspaper's librarian. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of cancer on 7 March 1972 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times, 8 Mar 1972
  • A431, item 1946/1036, 1950/415 and A601, item 175/1/37 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Dunbar's application to Canberra Tourist Bureau and Dunbar family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Frank Cranston, 'Dunbar, William John Hanley (Bill) (1903–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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