Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Marks, Walter Moffitt (1875–1951)

by C. J. Lloyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Walter Moffitt Marks (1875-1951), lawyer, yachtsman and politician, was born on 6 June 1875 at Culwulla, Jamberoo, New South Wales, son of Sydney-born James Marks, farmer, and his wife Sarah Jane, daughter of William Moffitt. John Marks was an uncle and Theodore Marks a cousin. Walter was educated at Sydney Grammar School and after serving his articles was admitted as a solicitor in 1902. On 25 September 1901 at Darlinghurst he married Florence Sandford.

Inheriting substantial wealth in 1912, Marks partly financed the twelve-storey Culwulla Chambers in Castlereagh Street (the highest in central Sydney for more than forty years), which included his own chambers. He won most major Australian trophies in his yachts Culwulla I-IV, and in 1914 participated in the trials of Sir Thomas Lipton's America's Cup challenger, Shamrock IV. When war broke out he joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, served as a lieutenant in a drifter in the North Sea and English Channel, and later commanded a gunnery school in Wales. He returned to Australia in March 1918 and made a recruiting tour. In 1919 he won the Sydney Federal seat of Wentworth for the National Party.

Marks caused a sensation when in an extraordinary parliamentary speech on 3 November 1921 he predicted that Armageddon would be fought in 1934 when the British navy would collect the Jewish people to form a great nation in Palestine. Under some pressure from rumours that Marks might acquire the navy portfolio, Billy Hughes deftly created him honorary under-secretary in December, to assist the prime minister especially in the administration of the mandated territories and shipping. His salary was to be paid by the ministers and, though he answered questions in the House, Marks was not a member of Cabinet. Stanley (Viscount) Bruce abolished the post in February 1923.

Tall and athletic, Marks was called 'Douglas Fairbanks' by his parliamentary colleagues. He visited Hollywood several times on his frequent overseas trips. In 1924 he attended a session of the British parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and visited Germany and Japan, but was frustrated in his intention of going to Russia. He devoted himself to defence and promoted aviation, suggesting a detailed scheme for air force equipment and training in 1924. In 1927 he was chairman of a select committee and then of a royal commission in 1927-28 into the Australian film industry, negotiating references of powers between the Commonwealth and States for film policy, which along with his other recommendations were never taken up.

Marks voted unexpectedly with Hughes in 1929 to defeat the Bruce-Page government. He attacked Bruce for a 'form of Mussolini Government' and cited the John Brown case and arbitration as issues for which Bruce had 'no mandate'. But he also linked these issues with the government's unpopular amusement tax which vitally affected the film industry. Without National Party endorsement, Marks easily retained his seat at the October election. He joined the Australian Party in November but resigned in September 1930 after a quarrel with Hughes. When the United Australia Party was formed in May 1931 Marks was admitted as a member. He returned to his law practice when defeated in December by (Sir) Eric Harrison after the U.A.P. endorsed both.

Reputedly a member of forty-two clubs, Marks had extensive investments in city property and the coal industry. He was first chairman (1937) of the Papuan Apinaipi Petroleum Co. Ltd. During World War II he took a vigorous part in recruiting and victory loan campaigns. Commodore of the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club for seven years, he was a member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Sydney Amateur Sailing Club and the Royal Sydney Golf Club. In his later years he led several State bowling teams.

Marks died following surgery on 31 March 1951 at Paddington and was buried in Waverley cemetery after a state funeral. A son and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Wildavsky and D. Carboch, Studies in Australian Politics (Melb, 1958)
  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1921, p 12406
  • British Australasian, 4 June 1914, p 9, 25 June 1914, p 12, 28 Jan 1915, p 10
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4, 21 Nov, 22 Dec 1921, 27, 31 May, 19, 24 Sept 1929
  • Marks scrapbooks (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

C. J. Lloyd, 'Marks, Walter Moffitt (1875–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/marks-walter-moffitt-7492/text13059, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 April 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017