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Jungwirth, Sir William John (Jack) (1897–1981)

by F. J. Kendall

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

Sir William John (Jack) Jungwirth (1897-1981), public servant, was born on 10 August 1897 at Richmond, Melbourne, third child of Victorian-born parents Vincent John Jungwirth, labourer, and his wife Jane, née Thomson. Educated at Abbotsford State School, Jack—as he was known—worked as a junior clerk with Dalgety & Co. before joining the Department of Lands in 1915. He studied shorthand at Zercho’s Business College, qualified as a licentiate (1920) of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants, and in 1920 transferred to the premier’s office, in the Chief Secretary’s Department, where he became private secretary (1922) to the premier, (Sir) Harry Lawson. His high regard for the Presbyterian and teetotal premier reflected his similar outlook. On 22 December 1923 at North Richmond Methodist church he married Alice Ruth Powell.

Chief clerk from 1931, Jungwirth was appointed secretary of the newly established Department of Premier in 1936, the youngest first division officer in the Victorian public service. An outstanding administrator and organiser, he was calm in approach, unruffled in crises and firm in his advice to the thirteen premiers and twenty-three ministries he was to serve as private or official secretary. For these premiers he was a trusted constant through frequent periods of political change. He defined his role as `supplying political masters with information and advice on which to base policy, accepting the policy when made and working loyally to implement it’.

Between 1927 and 1959 Jungwirth played official roles in eight royal visits, including those of State director of Queen Elizabeth II’s 1954 national tour and organiser of the Duke of Edinburgh’s official opening of the 1956 Olympic Games. Appointed CMG (1948) and knighted in 1957, by his retirement in 1962 he was Victoria’s senior and pre-eminent public servant, his department having replaced the Treasury and Chief Secretary’s Department as the originator of new activities. A shrewd observer, he reflected in his unpublished memoirs that, over forty years, close association with politics had convinced him that the efficient functioning of democratic government required that members of the Executive should be `responsible to parliament and not to their respective parties’.

Jungwirth was a man of strong faith and an active member of the Methodist Church; his personal qualities, coupled with his knowledge of government and legislation, drew him into extensive community service. He had joined the Independent Order of Rechabites in 1913 and was secretary of the Richmond Tent (1923-37), district chief ruler (1931) and a trustee (1940-81). A board-member (1940-76) and president (1966-73) of Prince Henry’s Hospital, he was also president (1954-56, 1964-65) of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Melbourne, and a committee-member of Orana Children’s Home and Overton Homes for the Aged. He joined the Rotary Club of Melbourne in 1954 (director, 1962-64; president 1964-65) and remained an active member until 1978. Colleagues recalled his keen sense of humour coupled to firm convictions, resolutely defended.

In retirement Jungwirth served on the Victorian Tourist Development Authority (1962-64); chaired the board of inquiry (1963-64) into the State Library of Victoria that recommended major reforms in library services in Victoria, including the replacement of the Board of Trustees and the Free Library Service Board with a single body, the Library Council of Victoria; and was a member (1973-79) of the executive of the Patriotic Funds Committee of Victoria. In 1949-79 he served on the board of management for the Sir Colin Mackenzie Sanctuary, Healesville, which he chaired for fifteen years.

Of trim build and average height, with short-cropped black hair and neatly trimmed moustache, Jungwirth favoured a black bowler or homberg hat. He rose early, often collecting newspapers from the shop opposite his home in pyjamas and gown so as to brief himself before leaving for the office. A keen sportsman, he played football in his youth, cricket into his fifties (with a slow left-hand delivery), and then bowls, becoming president of the North Balwyn Bowling Club. Recalled as `a mad, one eyed Richmond supporter’, he was a frequent visitor to the team’s rooms after games. His first wife had died in 1938, and on 28 March 1942 at the Methodist Church, South Camberwell, he had married Annie Edna Tamblyn. A devoted family man, he stimulated discussion across all topics with his children and was an inveterate practical joker. Sir John died on 25 January 1981 at Kew, and was cremated. His wife survived him, together with a son and daughter of his first marriage and the two sons of his second.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1956, p 27
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 19 Sept 1959, p 9
  • Rechabite, May 1981, p 98
  • Jungwirth papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

F. J. Kendall, 'Jungwirth, Sir William John (Jack) (1897–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jungwirth-sir-william-john-jack-12712/text22921, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 3 September 2014.

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

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