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Game, Sir Philip Woolcott (1876–1961)

by W. G. McMinn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Sir Philip Woolcott Game (1876-1961), governor, was born on 30 March 1876 at Streatham, Surrey, England, son of George Beale Game, a merchant of Broadway, Worcestershire, and his wife Clara, née Vincent. Educated at Charterhouse and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in November 1895. Promoted captain in 1901, he was mentioned in dispatches during the South African War. He served in India and Ireland and passed through the Staff College at Camberley in 1910. On 11 August 1908 he married Gwendolen Margaret, daughter of Francis Hughes-Gibb of Dorset.

In 1914 Game went to France as a major. In the war he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the Légion d'honneur and the Order of the Crown of Italy and was five times mentioned in dispatches. In 1916 he was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps, subsequently transferring to the Royal Air Force on its inauguration. Game's ability in staff work led to his appointment as director of training at the Air Ministry and, after a tour of duty as air officer commanding, India (1922-23), as air member for personnel on the Air Council. Appointed K.C.B. in 1924, he retired at the beginning of 1929 with the rank of air vice marshal. Later in the year he was promoted G.B.E. and next year was appointed governor of New South Wales.

The new governor arrived in Sydney in May 1930. The problems of the Depression were compounded by bitterness arising from the desire of the Labor Party, led by Jack Lang to abolish the nominated Upper House, and from Lang's radical socio-economic views. These seemed to Game to be highly dangerous. When the election of 25 October returned Lang, the governor privately expressed his regret to the Nationalist Party leader (Sir) Thomas Bavin, but for the next eighteen months his official and even personal relations with Lang were not unfriendly. Game was conscious that it was very difficult for him to get an unbiassed point of view, his social engagement bringing him in contact with 'ninety-nine Nationalists for every one Labor man'.

On 5 November Game demurred when asked for a number of appointments to the Legislative Council, in order to abolish that chamber. The Bavin government had in 1929 obtained an act providing that the council might not be abolished without a referendum. Game urged the premier to wait until the council had rejected an abolition bill; but when Lang pressed him he agreed to appoint twenty-five new members. Lang, however, presented a much larger list to which Game refused assent, and the premier dropped the matter. Lang was by now aware that the council was prepared to pass a bill for abolition, relying on the 'entrenchment' of its position under Bavin's act.

The issue arose again in March 1931 when the council blocked two of Lang's most controversial legislative proposals, an arbitration bill and the reduction of interest bill. Game refused to swamp, and was accused by some of Lang's supporters of acting in the interests of bond-holders. There is, however, no evidence of pressure from London, and Game quite properly ignored approaches from people in New South Wales hostile to Lang. He rejected a similar request in June after the political situation had been further complicated by a split between the premier and the Federal Labor Party and the economic situation aggravated by the closure of the Government Savings Bank. By this time the council had built up a formidable list of bills rejected or blocked, and political tension had increased amid growing economic depression. Lang was particularly concerned about his emergency taxation bill. The secretary of state in London refused Lang's request to intervene.

But the question whether the governor was entitled to discretion in the matter of advice concerning Upper-House appointments remained unresolved. In September Lang, standing on the principle that such advice should be followed, refused an offer of twenty-one new council members because he wanted seventy. But Game was becoming alarmed by the activities of Eric Campbell's New Guard and the reactions of some of Lang's supporters to it. When the premier asked for a modest twenty-five appointments in November he assented. Game was attacked by the press, accused of accepting bribes from Lang and subjected to a snubbing campaign by some of the leaders of Sydney society for giving way. There seems little likelihood that he was influenced by such unjust and improper treatment. Circumstances, rather than pressure of this kind, were pushing him unwillingly into confrontation with his premier.

The most important of these circumstances was the confrontation which had already developed between Lang and the Commonwealth government. Lang effectively defaulted in the payment of overseas debts. The Commonwealth sought to ensure payment by passing a series of Financial Agreement Enforcement Acts, which in April 1932 were found valid by the High Court, and the Commonwealth proceeded to seize the State's balances at the banks. Lang resisted, and Game, who up to this time had refused to take any action against the government, believing, properly, that such action would be unconstitutional, now felt that the situation had changed and demanded Lang's compliance with the law or resignation. Lang refused and on 13 May Game dismissed him. Parliament was dissolved and in the election which followed Lang's party was heavily defeated. The bitterness of the controversy was lessened by a split in the Labor Party which isolated Lang from much of his natural support. The furore died down rapidly and the rest of Game's term was uneventful. He had some sympathy for Lang's position, and remained unhappy that he had felt forced to dismiss his premier, whose humanitarian instincts he sincerely admired.

In January 1935 Game left Sydney and in December became commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police. There was considerable discontent in the force over some of the changes made by his predecessor; and he was forced to deal with Fascist and Communist demonstrations, an Irish Republican Army bombing campaign, and, a little later, the organization of the police role in air-raid precautions and relief. He dealt effectively with those problems and the consequent improvement in police morale was an important factor in the survival of London during the concentrated German air attack of 1940-41.

Game retired in 1945; he had been appointed K.C.M.G. on his departure from New South Wales and G.C.V.O. for his organizational work at the 1937 coronation, and was now promoted G.C.B. He died at his home, Blackenhall, Sevenoaks, Kent, on 4 February 1961, survived by his wife, daughter and by his elder son, who had married Vera, daughter of Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn. His second son had been killed in action at Taranto, Italy, in 1943.

Few Australian governors were asked to solve the kind of problems which faced Game. His English liberal background, the clear-headedness which made him a first-rate staff officer, and a sympathy for human misery which prompted him to return one-quarter of his gubernatorial salary to a hard-pressed Treasury and spend a significant part of the rest on private charity made it possible for him to surmount them. Few even of Lang's strongest supporters really hated him. Perhaps his qualities were best summed up in the weeks following the dismissal of Lang. While the Opposition rejoiced and the electors approved he lamented the fate which made him strike what he called 'my assassin's stroke'. A real success as both staff officer and police commissioner, he was far from a failure as a governor.

Select Bibliography

  • H. V. Evatt, The King and his Dominion Governors (Lond, 1936)
  • B. Foott, Dismissal of a Premier (Syd, 1968)
  • H. Radi and P. Spearritt (eds), Jack Lang (Syd, 1977)
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 6 Feb 1961, p 17
  • A. H. Chisholm correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Game papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

W. G. McMinn, 'Game, Sir Philip Woolcott (1876–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/game-sir-philip-woolcott-6272/text10807, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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