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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Spooner, Sir William Henry (1897–1966)

by Graeme Starr

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

William Henry Spooner (1897-1966), by unknown photographer, 1952

William Henry Spooner (1897-1966), by unknown photographer, 1952

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L15003

Sir William Henry Spooner (1897-1966), accountant and politician, was born on 23 December 1897 at Surry Hills, Sydney, fifth child of native-born parents William Henry Spooner, compositor, and his wife Maud Ann, née Dubois. Eric Spooner was his elder brother. Educated at Christ Church School, Sydney, Bill overstated his age to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force on 8 June 1915. He served with the 5th Field Ambulance at Gallipoli in December, and on the Western Front in 1916-17. For attending to a wounded man while under heavy shell-fire at Bellewaarde Ridge, Belgium, on 20 September 1917, he was awarded the Military Medal. Next month he was wounded at Polygon Wood. He transferred to the Australian Flying Corps in 1918 and was promoted second lieutenant in April 1919. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Sydney on 14 August 1919.

In 1922 Bill and Eric helped to found the firm which was to become Hungerford, Spooner & Co., one of the most successful accountancy businesses in Sydney. Bill studied part time at the University of Sydney (Dip.Econ., 1923). At St James's Church of England, King Street, on 30 April 1924 he married Catherine Frier Vera Bogle. After joining the Legacy Club of Sydney in 1935, he chaired (1941-42) its finance committee and had one term as president (1942-43).

Like his brother, Bill Spooner was attracted to the United Australia Party. He took a leading part in gathering together the various competing groups and factions left in the wake of the U.A.P.'s collapse and was prominent in the formation of the Liberal Party of Australia in 1944-45. He became the party's first New South Wales president, federal treasurer and chairman of the federal finance committee in 1945. In his view, the success of the new party depended on avoiding internal factionalism and on accepting donations only when given without conditions, thus ensuring 'complete freedom' from outside influence or control. When he relinquished his offices in 1949, the federal president (Sir) Malcolm Ritchie acknowledged that 'the principles and standards which he set have been a sure guide in developing the financial policy of the Party and have, in no mean degree, contributed largely to the stability which exists today'.

Heading the New South Wales Liberal ticket, Spooner was elected to the Senate on 10 December 1949. Nine days later he was appointed minister for social services in the Menzies government. Thus, when he took his seat in the Senate on 22 February 1950, he already held a portfolio. In January 1951 he was given responsibility for war service homes. On 11 May he became minister for national development. He retained this portfolio for the next thirteen years, overseeing the reorganization of the coal industry, the development of uranium and iron ore deposits, the search for oil, and the work of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the River Murray Commission, the Joint Coal Board and various development projects, especially in northern Australia. In addition, he was a member (1951-64) of the Council of Defence, vice-president (1958-64) of the Executive Council and acting prime minister, briefly in 1962. He had become deputy-leader of the government in the Senate in 1956 and leader on 17 February 1959.

In 1963 Spooner was appointed K.C.M.G. He resigned from the ministry in June 1964 and from the Senate in July 1965, and was appointed a privy counsellor in 1966. Resuming his business interests, he was chairman of the Mutual Acceptance Co. Ltd and Duly & Hansford Ltd, and a director of Mercantile & General Reinsurance Co. of Australia Ltd. He was a snowy-haired, bespectacled, firm-jawed and friendly man, who enjoyed playing golf. Survived by his wife, and their son and two daughters, Sir William died of cancer on 14 July 1966 at Manly District Hospital, Sydney; he was accorded a state funeral and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $203,419.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Hilmer Smith, History of the Legacy Club of Sydney, vol 2 (Syd, 1950)
  • K. West, Power in the Liberal Party (Melb, 1965)
  • G. Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia (Melb, 1980)
  • S. McHugh, The Snowy (Melb, 1989)
  • G. Barwick, A Radical Tory (Syd, 1995)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 16 Aug 1966, p 6
  • Australian, 16 July 1966
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 July 1966
  • Bulletin, 23 July 1966.

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Citation details

Graeme Starr, 'Spooner, Sir William Henry (1897–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 October 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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