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Edwards, Charles Augustus (Bill) (1905–1990)

by Vivian E. Edwards and S. J. Routh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Charles Augustus (Bill) Edwards (1905-1990), pharmacist, businessman and sports administrator, was born on 11 August 1905 at Copeville, Marian, near Mackay, Queensland, elder child of Queensland-born parents Arthur Codrington Edwards, farmer, and his wife Agnes Ouleva, née Gabriel. Educated at Devereux Creek and Marian state schools and Mackay State High School, he began a pharmacy apprenticeship at Mackay, and played Rugby League football. He moved to Brisbane to attend the Queensland College of Pharmacy, where he won a medal. He decided to call himself `Bill’ and, taking up tennis, was a competitive A-grade player, particularly in doubles, until he became a `nimble 17-stoner’ (108 kg). Six ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, he was eventually to weigh about 21 stone (133 kg) and to be known as `Big Bill’.

Registered in 1926, Edwards opened his first suburban pharmacy at Greenslopes next year, and added a city shop in 1930. For forty years from 1934 his base was at 236 Edward Street; with an adjunct lottery agency, he was said to dispense both `health and wealth’. During his career he acquired and sold other pharmacies. On 7 July 1934 at St Andrew’s Church of England, Lutwyche, he married Ruth Henrietta Barr (d.1983), a dressmaker. They had three sons and from late 1942 lived on 12 acres (4.8 ha) at Alderley.

In World War II, as well as running his by then well-known pharmacy, Edwards operated four motor launches in Moreton Bay as transport for the armed services. He came close to one theatre of combat: after vicious brawls in Brisbane between Australian and American soldiers in November 1942, a local woman wrote that her American husband, who was in danger of being kicked to death, was protected inside the pharmacy, by the chemist, `a very big man’. Edwards stood as the Labor candidate in two mayoral elections, in 1943 and 1946, but failed both times to unseat (Sir) John Chandler. He was also unsuccessful as a Queensland Labor Party candidate for State parliament in 1957, having stood `because of my friendship with Vince Gair’.

Edwards’s wartime purchase of two Jersey cows led to the formation of his Benvue stud at Samford. He also bought two established Jersey studs, Grasmere, near Kilcoy, and in 1953 the celebrated Trecarne, Lockyer, but sold his dairy cattle interests in 1954. A breeder of stud ponies, with Percy Skinner he revivified the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland’s annual exhibition of thoroughbred horses. He was a councillor (1954-81) of the association, and a hands-on ring committee chairman (1956-80). As ringmaster, he dwarfed the golf-cart in which he darted about the arena. In 1959-81 he was on the committee of the Queensland Turf Club; of his many racehorses, some owned in partnership, the best were probably Urgona and Refulgent.

From the 1930s Edwards was a committee-member of the Queensland Lawn Tennis Association and its constituent bodies. As vice-president (1946-51) and president (1952-65), he oversaw the transformation of the courts at Milton into a venue for international competitions. Gregarious, he was a man of wide acquaintance and superabundant energy. He planned carefully and then led, and at times drove, contractors, a few permanent staff, and large numbers of volunteers to the successful completion of projects. A succession of new stands and headquarters were built, and in 1955 the Queensland Lawn Tennis Club was issued with the first liquor licence for a principal sporting club in the State. Milton hosted Davis Cup matches from 1952, its first Australian championships in 1956, and the Davis Cup challenge round in 1958.

Edwards was elected president (1965-69) of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia, the first to come from outside Victoria. In 1966 he placed his casting vote against the introduction of open tournaments to Australia, but the recruiting power of professional promoters and the contradictions inherent in `shamateurism’ saw the Australian Open championship inaugurated in 1969. His vote had reflected his consciousness of the support that local tennis associations had given junior and regional tennis; the era of large television revenues and sponsorships had not yet arrived.

In the expansion of Queensland hospitals after World War II, Edwards was often on their boards, as deputy-chairman and chairman of works committees. He showed imaginative foresight and drive during the implementation and building stages. A member of the Brisbane and South Coast Hospitals Board from 1955, he resigned from the successor (from 1959) North Brisbane, South Brisbane and Redcliffe boards in 1967 `due to pressure of business’, but rejoined North Brisbane for 1970-76. Princess Alexandra, Chermside (Prince Charles), Royal Brisbane, Royal Children’s, (Royal) Women’s, Redcliffe and Southport hospitals were all built or much developed during his tenure. He was a committee-member (1976-87) of the Queensland Anti-Cancer Council.

Directorships in the hotel and entertainment industries became an increasing preoccupation for Edwards in the 1960s. From 1960 he was a director of Lennons Hotel Ltd, Brisbane, and of Lennons Broadbeach Hotel Ltd, which were taken over by The Federal Hotels Ltd in 1961. On the Federal Hotels board from 1964, he was chairman in 1967-69. He was also chairman of Northstate Tenpin Bowling Ltd (1963-77), the Crest International Hotel, Brisbane, the committee that organised Brisbane’s first Warana Festival (1962) and, in the early 1970s, of the Australian National Travel Association (Queensland council).

Appointed CBE in 1959, Edwards was voted many life memberships. In his spare time he enjoyed deep-sea fishing. Ill health, particularly diabetes, marred his later years and he became a gaunt `Big Bill’. Survived by his sons, he died on 8 August 1990 in Brisbane and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A Century of Queensland Tennis (1988)
  • F. Mills, The Ekka (1990)
  • J. H. Tyrer, History of the Brisbane Hospital and Its Affiliates (1993)
  • P. A. Thompson and R. Macklin, The Battle of Brisbane (2000)
  • Queensland Country Life, 19 Mar 1953, p 4, 9 Aug 1973, p 5
  • Australian Financial Review, 22 Dec 1960, p 18, 6 Nov 1967, p 8, 5 Aug 1969, p 15
  • Queensland Racing Calendar, 1 Apr 1961, p 477
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 24 Oct 1968, p 16
  • Sunday Australian, 15 Aug 1971, p 33
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 20 Nov 1977, p 26.

Citation details

Vivian E. Edwards and S. J. Routh, 'Edwards, Charles Augustus (Bill) (1905–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edwards-charles-augustus-bill-12454/text22399, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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