Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Queale, William (1889–1951)

by Martin Shanahan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

William Queale (1889-1951), manufacturer, was born on 15 September 1889 at Snowtown, South Australia, third of ten children of Thomas Queale, an Irish-born railway inspector, and his wife Mary Eleanor, née Jane, who came from England. William attended school at Burra before moving with the family to Adelaide in 1902. From an early age he was afflicted with a hearing defect, but he later claimed that it prevented him from being distracted and gave him greater powers of concentration. At the Adelaide Shorthand and Business Training Academy he achieved a shorthand speed of 150 words per minute. In 1905 he passed the State civil service examination with honours. He worked for a firm that imported porcelain and glassware from Germany and then for a small electrical business.

About 1908 Queale and a number of his brothers attempted to establish a farm near Pinnaroo, but a succession of droughts led to the venture's failure. Prevented by deafness from enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force, he went to New South Wales to take up the post of secretary of the Broken Hill Junction Lead Mining Co. In 1915 he became its general manager. On 19 September 1918 he married 20-year-old Dorothy Griffiths with Methodist forms in her father's house at Broken Hill.

Returning to Adelaide in 1924, Queale founded Mechanical Supplies Ltd (Mechanical Products Ltd from 1932), which sold engineering supplies and held agencies for imported appliances. In 1934 the firm was renamed Kelvinator Australia Ltd after he gained the distribution and manufacturing rights for Kelvinator electric refrigerators. He remained its managing director until 1951. In addition, he was chairman of River Murray Broadcasters Pty Ltd (1935-51), Hume Broadcasters Ltd (1930-51) and Power Plant Pty Ltd (1935-51).

Queale encouraged his employees to continue their education beyond school. A widely read man, he established a technical library at Kelvinator. With other businessmen, he persuaded the State Library of South Australia to set up (1942) a research service for industry and helped to raise funds for the project. He urged Kelvinator's senior staff to travel abroad to gain new ideas and see new technology. His company adopted a number of innovative practices, including a programme of technical training for employees and incentive schemes for workers.

Chairman (1931-33) of the Citizens' League of South Australia, Queale was also a member (1930-31) of the Emergency Committee of South Australia, an anti-socialist organization chaired by (Sir) Grenfell Price. In 1932 he was appointed Commonwealth representative on the South Australian Unemployment Council. He worked closely with both sides of politics to further the industrial development of the State.

Premier (Sir) Thomas Playford regarded Queale as one of South Australia's leading industrialists. Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies later described him as 'dogged'. Queale was president of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures (1941-44) and of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia (1945). While usually working behind the scenes in matters involving governments, he took a more public role during World War II when his views were sought on topics ranging from taxation and manpower issues to postwar reconstruction. He emphasized the importance of scientific management and the need for better employee-employer relations. A founder (1941) of the South Australian branch of the Australian-American Co-operation Movement and subsequently vice-president of the Australian-American Association, he was vice-president (from 1940) and president (1951) of the Metal Industries Association, South Australia, and president of the Adelaide division of the Institute of Industrial Management (1944-51) and the Australian Institute of Management (1951).

Queale took delight in his family, and in simple pleasures such as tending his garden, outings in his motorcar, and summer holidays at Victor Harbor. He had a gift for telling imaginative children's stories. Survived by his wife, their three daughters and three of their four sons, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on Christmas Day 1951 at his St Georges home and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £78,896. The Australian Institute of Management named a library and an annual lecture after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of Industry, Jan 1947, p 3
  • News (Adelaide), 26, 27 Dec 1951
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 Dec 1951
  • private information.

Citation details

Martin Shanahan, 'Queale, William (1889–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/queale-william-11469/text20449, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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