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Gibson, William Gerrand (1869–1955)

by L. Lomas

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

William Gerrand Gibson (1869-1955), by Talma & Co., 1920s

William Gerrand Gibson (1869-1955), by Talma & Co., 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23431748

William Gerrand Gibson (1869-1955), storekeeper, farmer and politician, was born on 19 May 1869 at Gisborne, Victoria, second son of David Gibson, farmer, and his wife Grace, née Gerrand. His parents had migrated to Victoria from Scotland in 1860 to pioneer land at Riddells Creek, Wild Dog Valley and Tarnagulla before settling at Gisborne. 'Billy' worked with his father, then on his own land, before turning to trading. On 4 November 1896 at Riddells Creek he married Mary Helen Young Patterson with Presbyterian forms. For thirteen years he kept general stores at Romsey and Lancefield, returning to the land in 1910 when he bought a substantial subdivision of J. C. Manifold's Gnarpurt estate near Lismore in the Western District for cropping and grazing. A younger brother, David Havelock (Harvey), bought a subdivision in the neighbouring Cressy district.

Gibson was typical of a small group of men who united farmers to gain political and financial recognition in keeping with their increasing numbers and their contribution to national development. Though of slight build and gentlemanly mien, he had a lively, inventive and determined disposition. To minimize settlers' costs for their machinery and supplies, he organized and managed the Cressy Co-operative. In 1911 he became secretary of the Lismore Branch of the People's Party but although its original purpose was to represent the farmers' interests it fell under the domination of the city-based Liberal Party. In 1916 price-fixing under the War Precautions Act caused farmers to suspect that merchants in the Liberal Party were manipulating the price of wheat at the growers' expense. Farmers' Union branches were raised up in protest and Gibson was elected secretary of the Lismore branch and a councillor of central executive. His brother, president of the Cressy branch, was the successful candidate for the assembly seat of Grenville when Farmers' Union men stood for State parliament in 1917.

In 1918 Gibson became the first member of the Farmers' Union Party (Country Party from 1921) to be elected to Federal parliament when he defeated J. H. Scullin on preferences at a by-election for Corangamite. Both dairy and wheat growers benefited from Gibson's influence over price-fixing processes until the return of the open market in 1921; their gratitude enabled him to hold his seat. However, even during this period, Gibson's commitment to individual enterprise led him to lean noticeably towards Nationalist Party policies.

A member of the select committee appointed to inquire into the proposed agreement with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd in 1921-22, and deputy leader of the Country Party from January 1923, Gibson made his most positive contribution to the welfare of country people as postmaster-general in the Bruce-Page government of 1923-29. It was a role in which he could combine his interest in technology with his commercial and political skills. Viewing the post as a mission to decrease the isolation of country dwellers, he pursued four different approaches: construction of more telephone lines; extension of the network of roadside mail deliveries; building of post offices in country districts; and encouragement and regulation of the infant radio broadcasting services. The appointment of the able (Sir) Harry Percy Brown as a member of the Postal Advisory Committee in 1922 and next year as head of the department contributed to Gibson's success. Gibson represented Australia at the International Postal Convention in Stockholm in 1924 and from December 1928 he was also minister for works and railways.

Gibson's defeat in 1929, though part of the general rout of the Bruce-Page government, may have reflected his lack of support for the marketing control favoured by many Corangamite farmers. He returned to his property, Cluan, and applied his ingenuity to developing a Corriedale sheep stud, harvesting subterranean clover seed, and experimenting with charcoal-powered tractors. He was returned again for Corangamite in 1931 but Prime Minister Lyons reserved the postmaster-general's portfolio for J. E. Fenton. In 1934 Gibson stood for the Senate. Consistent with his political beliefs, he joined a combined United Australia Party-Country Party team, so preventing the Country Party candidate, R. D. Elliott, from being elected. As a sanction he was excluded from the federal party rooms for some time. In spite of failing health Gibson remained a senator until 1947 when he retired to Cluan. In 1941-42, possibly in belated recognition of his work for radio broadcasting in the twenties, he chaired the parliamentary committee whose major recommendations were embodied in the Broadcasting Act of 1942.

Gibson died on 22 May 1955 at Lismore and was buried in the local cemetery. He was survived by a son and daughter; his wife and his daughter Grace, who acted as his secretary, predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • U. R. Ellis, A History of the Australian Country Party (Melb, 1963)
  • B. D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties (Canb, 1966)
  • A. W. Thomas, Broadcast and be Damned (Melb, 1980)
  • L. G. Lomas, The Western District Farmer 1914-27 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1979)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. Lomas, 'Gibson, William Gerrand (1869–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-william-gerrand-6313/text10889, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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