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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Skelton, Walter Peden Joyce (1883–1979)

by L. E. Fredman

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

Walter Peden Joyce Skelton (1883-1979), railway officer and politician, was born on 28 March 1883 at Boggabri, New South Wales, ninth child of native-born parents John Skelton, railway fettler, and his wife Margaret, née Seckold. Walter attended Boggabri Public School and received a stern religious upbringing from his parents. In 1898 he followed his father into the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways. At the Presbyterian manse, Hamilton, on 26 October 1904 he married Annie Porter Gray (d.1912); they were to have a son and four daughters.

Promoted to stationmaster in 1908, Skelton frequently moved with his family—to Matong (1911), Jerilderie (1912), Boggabri (1913), Carrathool (1916) and Cockle Creek (1919). He played Australian Rules football, joined the Jerilderie rifle club and became a member of the Loyal Orange Institution of New South Wales. On 8 March 1916 at the Methodist Church, Boggabri, he married Alexie Muriel Stewart.

In 1921 Skelton and fellow members of the New South Wales Protestant Federation were disturbed by the case of Sister Liguori, 'the escaped nun'. They interpreted enforcement of the 1908 ne temere papal decree as 'declaring mixed marriages adulterous and the children illegitimate'. Skelton founded and presided over the Protestant Independent Labour Party. At the 1922 Legislative Assembly elections he topped the poll for the five-member Newcastle electorate (ahead of the chief Australian Labor Party candidate, J. M. Baddeley). In parliament he vigorously supported free education and prohibition by referendum (without compensation for 'King Booze'). He frankly upheld the interests of all railwaymen and asked endless questions on their behalf. In 1924 he criticized the Catholic Church in debates over the marriage amendment [ne temere] bill, introduced by T. J. Ley. Skelton was re-elected in 1925, but stood unsuccessfully—with the resumption of single-member seats—for Wallsend (1927) and Hamilton (1928), and for the Federal seat of Newcastle (1928 and 1931).

A justice of the peace (from 1925), Skelton was a member (1922-31) of the New South Wales Government Railways Superannuation Board. In Sydney in 1927 he helped to establish the Railway and Tramway Employees and Associates' Agency, which in 1930 combined with two trade unions to form the Railway Service Association (National Union of Railwaymen of New South Wales from 1933), of which he was general president (1930) and assistant-secretary (1931-46). In 1928 he had founded the Agency. He continued to edit and write the paper (renamed the Railway Advocate) for the N.U.R. until 1957. As a Railways and Tramways Appeals Board advocate, he appeared for hundreds of appellants and represented the union in arbitration courts in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. From 1946 to 1957 he was both general and State secretary of the N.U.R.

Skelton was an authorized Methodist lay preacher. He had attended the general conference of the Methodist Church of Australasia in 1923 and 1926. In addition to serving as grand master of the L.O.I. of New South Wales (1930-31) and of Australasia (1931-32), he was a Freemason, an Oddfellow, and treasurer (1969-76) of the New South Wales Prohibition Alliance. He launched and managed (1946-74) the Eventide Homes Appeal which built accommodation for aged pensioners. In 1962 he was appointed M.B.E. Ten years later he was named 'Senior Citizen of the Year'. He died on 21 May 1979 at Greenwich and was cremated; his wife and their three sons and three daughters survived him, as did two daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 12 July 1922, p 269, 21 Aug 1923, p 318
  • Railway Advocate (Sydney), 20 June 1946, 20 Aug, 20 Nov, 20 Dec 1957, 20 Feb 1958, May-June 1979
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 6, 27 Mar 1922, 24 May 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Apr, 29 Sept 1922, 16 Dec 1931, 1 Jan 1962, 27 Oct 1972
  • W. P. J. Skelton, Autobiography (manuscript, 1970, National Library of Australia)
  • National Union of Railwaymen of Australia records (Australian National University Archives)
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

L. E. Fredman, 'Skelton, Walter Peden Joyce (1883–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 September 2020.

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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