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Selle, Walter Albert (1883–1968)

by Ursula Bygott

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Walter Albert Selle (1883-1968), schoolteacher and university registrar, was born on 24 February 1883 at Albury, New South Wales, son of Henry Selle, German coachbuilder, and his wife Rosetta, née Brumm, from Albury. He was educated at Albury Superior Public School and for three years was a clerk in the local military office and also to the district school inspector. Moving to Sydney in 1902, Selle completed a one-year course at Fort Street Training School. After a short time at Croydon Public School, he taught junior classes at Fort Street Model School (Boys' High School from 1911). He married Elizabeth Rose, a 33-year-old nurse, at Newtown Presbyterian Church on 11 April 1905.

Promoted by the headmaster, A. J. Kilgour, to teach mathematics, Selle obtained a first-class certificate and became assistant mathematics master. For several years he was assistant examiner for the departmental qualifying certificate, superintendent of all examinations conducted by the Commonwealth Public Service, presiding officer at several Federal elections and clerk to the returning officer. He enrolled in 1907 at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1913; M.A., 1924) and although an evening student was involved in student affairs: in 1913 he was elected a vice-president of the undergraduates' and president of the evening students' associations.

Supported by testimonials from E. R. Holme and F. A. Todd Selle was appointed clerk of examinations at the university in December 1913. His administrative ability and tact in dealing with staff and students did not go unnoticed by the senate: he was appointed assistant registrar (1922), acting registrar (1923) and registrar (1924). He was acting vice-chancellor in 1932-33 and again in 1948.

Continuing his involvement in university life, Selle was a director of the union (1916-17), and for over fifty years associated with the swimming club. A staunch Freemason, he was a founder of Lodge University in October 1924 and its first director of ceremonies. He was 'most advantageously placed to introduce young, aspiring and worthy men into Freemasonry'. In 1938 he was appointed past district grand inspector of workings. Selle for many years represented the university on the Bursary Endowment Board (1924-61) and the Soldiers' Children Education Board. Among his many interests after his retirement in 1947 were bowls and Epping Heights Public School, of which he was first patron.

Even during his lifetime Selle became a legend. Holme claimed that 'of his prodigious memory perhaps some exaggerations may become current, but nobody will ever be able to say that Selle could not quote to him or to her the full name recorded in the baptismal register, however difficult or copious that naming may have been'. Kind and considerate, with unfailing goodwill, he was greatly esteemed by his colleagues, students and parents. His wise counsel and almost encyclopaedic knowledge of university matters were invaluable to the senate and professorial board. A fellow of the university senate (1944-64), he was appointed C.B.E. in 1960 and in 1967 was awarded an honorary LL.D.

Selle died in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on 18 January 1968 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his second wife Elvie Jean, née Spier, whom he had married on 17 February 1934, and by their son. His portrait by William Dargie is held by the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • The History of Lodge University of Sydney no. 544 U.G.L. of N.S.W. 1924-74 (Syd, 1974?)
  • Fort Street Girls' High School Magazine, 5, no 6, May 1949, p 51-52
  • University of Sydney Union, Union Recorder, 29 Feb, 26 Oct 1968
  • Senate and Professorial Board minutes (University of Sydney Archives).

Citation details

Ursula Bygott, 'Selle, Walter Albert (1883–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/selle-walter-albert-8384/text14719, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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