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Wade, Benjamin Martin (1883–1958)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Benjamin Martin Wade (1883-1958), building contractor, businessman and politician, was born on 12 July 1883 at Tenterden, New South Wales, eighth child of William Martin Wade, a blacksmith from England, and his native-born wife Anne, née Hogan. Educated at Stannifer and Inverell Superior public schools, Ben worked briefly for the Department of Lands at Narrabri, then tried teaching, before going to Sydney to learn the building trade.

Establishing a successful business at Inverell about 1907, Wade won building contracts there and in neighbouring towns. By 1909 he had bought a brickworks and later owned five timber-mills. After marrying Bertha Mathilde Oberle (d.1923) on 18 April 1917 at St Patrick's Catholic Church, Laidley, Queensland, he bought into F. & E. Thomas, cordial manufacturers, and began making ice-cream; by 1923 he held the controlling interest. He was a director of Kautz Pty Ltd, bakers and pastry-cooks, ran the Inverell picture theatre and an undertaking business, and held four grazing properties; in 1931 he began to grow tobacco as a share-farmer. On 10 January 1927 at the Sacred Heart Church, Randwick, Sydney, he had married a widow Claire Vaughan Reece, née Williams (d.1952).

Having unsuccessfully contested the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Barwon for the Country Party in 1930, Wade won it in 1932 and held it until he resigned in 1940. With the confidence of a 'self-made' man, in parliament he spoke often and on a wide range of issues, expressing the rural populism of the time. He frequently criticized the Stevens-Bruxner coalition, and opposed D. H. Drummond on technical education and on a new public library for Sydney. Engaging in heated exchanges with Labor members, he wanted all industrial awards cancelled, a 48-hour week, lower taxes, lower bank interest and lower solicitors' fees. Although attempts were made in the House to discredit him in 1934, he was appointed chairman of the 1936-37 select committee inquiry into the tobacco industry and in 1941 became a member of the Australian Tobacco Board.

Defeated for the Federal seat of Gwydir in 1940 and 1946, Wade also failed in 1944 to regain his State seat. By 1950, when he unsuccessfully sought endorsement for Bruxner's seat of Tenterfield, his outspokenness had left him with few friends in the party hierarchy. Standing as an Independent, he lost to Bruxner.

Wade had been chairman of the local railway league in 1923 and was a member of the North-West County Council (1940-51, 1954-58), the Better Communications League and the New England Regional Committee. An alderman on Inverell Municipal Council (1921-23, 1948-52, 1953-58) and mayor in 1956-58, he was a member of the local Chamber of Commerce and the Pastoral and Agricultural Association, as well as of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales.

Ben Wade was a big man with an 'open countenance'. He belonged to the New South Wales Rifle Association and regularly contested the King's prize; he also enjoyed bowling, fishing and gardening. A diabetic, on 21 May 1953 he married a nurse Lillian May Sanderson in the sacristy of the Sacred Heart Church, Inverell. Survived by his wife, and by a son and two daughters from each of his previous marriages, he died on 20 December 1958 at Inverell and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Aitkin, The Country Party in New South Wales (Canb, 1972)
  • E. Wiedemann, World of its Own (Inverell, NSW, 1981)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 27 June 1934, p 1350
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1937-38, 1, p 933
  • Australian Country Party, 1 Jan 1935
  • Inverell Times, 3, 22, 24 Dec 1958.

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Wade, Benjamin Martin (1883–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wade-benjamin-martin-8937/text15705, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 16 January 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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