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Scully, William James (1883–1966)

by Janice Boyle

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

William James Scully (1883-1966), farmer and politician, was born on 1 February 1883 in Sydney, fourth of fourteen children of native-born parents Thomas James Scully, a labourer who turned to farming, and his wife Sarah Lucy Rutherford. William was educated at a small school on Bective station, near Tamworth, until the age of 14. Between harvests, he and his brothers worked as contract labourers—building roads, sinking dams, erecting fences and ring-barking trees to clear the land. An enterprising young man, he tried share-farming at Nemingha. By the age of 21 he was a contractor; eight years later he was a justice of the peace. He served as secretary of the Tamworth Progress Association and became a founding member of the Primary Producers' Union of New South Wales.

Joining the Tamworth Political Labor League about 1903, Scully was soon elected president and sent as a delegate to annual State conferences. After thrice unsuccessfully standing for the Legislative Assembly, he won the seat of Namoi in September 1923 on the resignation of the incumbent, his brother Patrick. When dissension over economic policy split Labor ranks in New South Wales, he remained loyal to Prime Minister James Scullin and the Australian Labor Party, even though he sympathized with the views of Premier Jack Lang. In the 1932 election Scully was defeated. At St Nicholas's Catholic Church, Tamworth, on 15 June 1925 he had married 27-year-old Grace Myrtle Kilbride.

Before entering parliament, Scully had been a judge with the New South Wales National Coursing Association. He also raced horses throughout the State's north-west, as well as at Newcastle and in Sydney. His trotters won feature events at Harold Park. From 1932 he concentrated his efforts on breeding horses and selling them in and around the Tamworth district. On 8 May 1937 he won a by-election for the seat of Gwydir in the House of Representatives.

John Curtin appointed him minister for commerce on 7 October 1941. Scully held the expanded portfolio of commerce and agriculture (from 22 December 1942) under Curtin, Frank Forde and Ben Chifley. In this capacity he chaired the Australian Food Council which supplied Australia's armed services and allied forces throughout the South-West Pacific Area, and made large contributions to Britain. In 1942 the 'Scully Plan' was introduced to stabilize the wheat industry by guaranteeing farmers a minimum price of four shillings per bushel. After World War II ended, he arranged for surplus farm machinery to be distributed to producers' co-operatives at reduced prices; this practical assistance helped to lower capital costs on small holdings.

On 1 November 1946 Scully was appointed vice-president of the Executive Council. He held the post until 19 December 1949. Defeated at the general election that year, he retired to Tamworth, where he grew lucerne. He served on the Tamworth City Council (1950-56), on the council of the New England University College (1942-53), as president (1955-57) of the Tamworth and District Workmen's Club, and as vice-president and patron of the Tamworth Cricket Association. Continuing his interests in coursing and breeding horses, he was made a life member of the Tamworth Jockey Club.

A 'simple and a humble' man, a non-smoker and a teetotaller, Scully was renowned for his integrity, sincerity and directness. He died on 19 March 1966 in Tamworth Base Hospital. Accorded a state funeral, he was buried in the local cemetery; his wife and two of their three sons survived him. A park in West Tamworth was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941 (Canb, 1952)
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Mar 1966
  • Northern Daily Leader, 21 Mar 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

Janice Boyle, 'Scully, William James (1883–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scully-william-james-11644/text20799, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 October 2014.

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

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