Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Funnell, William (1891–1962)

by Anthea Kerr

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

William Funnell (1891-1962), public servant, was born on 8 June 1891 at Goulburn, New South Wales, son of native-born parents William Funnell, railway employee, and his wife Jessie Anne, née Worchurst. Educated at South Goulburn Public School, young William joined the local office of the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways in 1906 as an apprentice clerk in the traffic branch. From July to November 1912 he worked, on detachment, as an instructor with the railway and tramway ambulance corps in Sydney; on his return he was promoted clerk. At St Aidan's Anglican Church, Annandale, Sydney, on 3 April 1915 he married Gladys Evelyn Walsh.

Transferred next year to head office, Sydney, in 1921 Funnell was appointed special staff officer, first class, and liaised between the railway commissioners and Walter Edmunds, the royal commissioner who inquired into the administration of the State's railway and tramway services, and into the repercussions of the 1917 transport strike. After giving evidence for thirty-three days in the witness-box, Funnell was praised by Edmunds for his ability, energy, impartiality and knowledge. As chairman of the railway strike adjustments board, in 1925 Funnell began the difficult task of restoring the seniority of workers who had been dismissed in 1917 and subsequently re-employed in lower grades. He was a member (1927) and chairman (1931) of the staff board before becoming chief staff superintendent (in 1932).

In February 1942 he was released to take the Commonwealth post of assistant director-general of manpower and controller of national service offices, under W. C. Wurth. A few months later Funnell reported on the use of manpower in the departments of air and the army. To meet wartime labour shortages, he recommended the extensive employment of women in traditional male occupations. He succeeded Wurth as director-general in October 1944. Funnell assured the premiers' conference in August 1945 that demobilization would be speedy. Prime Minister Chifley commended his work and asked that he continue in office with the new duty of assisting the Public Service Board to establish the Commonwealth Employment Service.

Resigning from the railways, Funnell was appointed secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Labour and National Service in March 1946. He attended the thirtieth session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva in 1947 and visited the United States of America on his journey home. From 1951 he was chairman of Commonwealth Hostels Ltd, a post he held until his death. Faced with a succession of protests from British immigrants who were discontented with their accommodation and increased tariffs, he resolved the rows and settled the related disturbances. In 1954 he was appointed I.S.O. Funnell was 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, with brown hair, brown eyes and 'Mephistophelian' eyebrows; he enjoyed chess, gardening and tennis. His genial manner, humanity and mental acuity equipped him to settle all manner of disputes. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, he died on 25 October 1962 at Castlecrag, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Sept 1922, 13 Sept 1944, 27 Apr, 21, 24 Aug 1945, 6 Mar, 2 May 1946, 23 Nov 1952, 10 May, 12, 15 June 1953, 10 June 1954, 26 Oct 1962
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 23 Sept 1944
  • railway staff personal history cards, employees born before 1900, 11/16552-745 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Use of Manpower in the Department of Air. The Funnell Report, May 1942, A5954, items 468/5-6 and Mr W. Funnell to I.L.O. Conference Geneva, 1947-48, A1068, item T47/134 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Anthea Kerr, 'Funnell, William (1891–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/funnell-william-10261/text18147, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

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