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Weaver, Reginald Walter Darcy (1876–1945)

by Helen Bourke

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

Reginald Walter Darcy Weaver (1876-1945), by unknown photographer, 1932

Reginald Walter Darcy Weaver (1876-1945), by unknown photographer, 1932

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 03127

Reginald Walter Darcy Weaver (1876-1945), real estate agent and politician, was born on 18 July 1876 at Kickerbill station, Murrurundi, New South Wales, twelfth child of English-born parents Richard Weaver, grazier, and his wife Fanny Seymour, née Weaver. Educated at Newington College, Sydney, Reg joined two of his brothers in a stock and station agency at Forbes before setting up on his own at Condobolin and Narrandera in the mid-1890s. On 19 April 1899 he married Gertrude Susan Bond Walker at St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, Sydney. During the South African War rumours about his horse-trading deals in that country earned him the nickname 'Red Reggie', one much favoured by his opponents.

An alderman on Condobolin (1898-1900) and Narrandera (1902) Municipal councils, Weaver was active in the Farmers and Settlers' Association. By 1910 he was living at Dubbo. Defeated as a Liberal for the State seat of Ashburnham in 1910 and for Macquarie in 1913 (after a temporary bankruptcy), he attributed Labor's victory in the latter election to manipulation of the rolls.

An inquiry exonerated Labor, but found Weaver's own organizers guilty of fraudulent roll-stuffing. Moving to North Sydney in 1916, he established his real estate business and in 1917 entered the Legislative Assembly for Willoughby. Re-elected (for North Shore) in 1920, he briefly retired from politics in 1925, citing business reasons.

Engaging passionately and resolutely in the causes he espoused, Weaver was a fervent Imperialist and pro-conscriptionist. He was rejected as medically unfit for the Australian Imperial Force in 1916, but eventually enlisted in August 1918. Demonstrating his talent for rhetoric, he recruited sixty men to his own platoon and even campaigned on the waterfront for members of the 'one big union on the Western front'. He raised over £25,000 for the War Loan and was discharged from the A.I.F. in December.

An implacable foe of socialism, Weaver earned the unremitting hostility of the trade unions for reporting militant strike leaders to the railway commissioners in 1917; for the next decade he opposed their re-employment, while defending the reinstatement of the 'Loyalists'. At the trial of Donald Grant and other members of the Industrial Workers of the World, Weaver was accused of helping to procure the evidence of a key police witness. In 1923 he denied that he had tried to bribe W. J. Thomas with £500 to inflame violence on the coalfields and implicate the Communist Party of Australia in a conspiracy that he hoped to use for his own political ends. As suspicious of Catholicism as he was of Communism, Weaver was a leading spokesman of the Australian Protestant Defence Association; he railed against Sinn Feiners and Irish prelates like Daniel Mannix and Michael Kelly, and feared an invasion of Catholic immigrants.

In politics Weaver was admired for his independence of mind. More than once he crossed the floor and was often in severe conflict with his own premier. His debating flair was legendary: he could demolish members of Jack Lang's Opposition with satirical verse, delighting both parliament and press. Weaver was vice-president of the National Party (1919-32) and a councillor of the United Australia Party (1932-38). Representing Neutral Bay in 1927-45, he served as secretary for mines and minister for forests in the Bavin government from April 1929. Taking over the worsening dispute on the northern coalfields, he believed the struggle to be communist-inspired and made possible by unemployment relief and child endowment. By December, when the miners refused to accept reduced wages, Weaver opened the mines with volunteer labour and police protection. Violent clashes occurred at Rothbury, resulting in death and injury; unemployment relief was stopped, confirming Weaver as Labor's arch-enemy.

In Opposition from 1930, Weaver was elected deputy leader of the United Australia Party in New South Wales in 1932. A member of the Sane Democracy League, he was believed by Naval Intelligence to be a covert leader of the New Guard (with which he explicitly sympathized). In 1932 Weaver became minister for health and public works in (Sir) Bertram Stevens' cabinet. Abandoning larger political themes, he travelled extensively and concentrated on the expansion of hospitals. His determination to exert more control over hospital administration and his banning of honorary doctors from local hospital boards brought him into conflict with the State branch of the British Medical Association. He decreed that new doctors would henceforward be required to have a year's hospital residency, but an unfortunate reference to the few who lacked this qualification as 'duds' was interpreted by outraged doctors as a slur on the medical profession. In the ensuing fuss in 1935 Stevens found him 'too extreme in personal independence' and possessing a 'needlessly sharp tongue'. Weaver refused to back down. Stevens and his cabinet resigned on 21 August. A new government was reconstructed without Weaver who again resigned from parliament.

In 1937 he was returned for Neutral Bay and was elected Speaker; he held firm sway over the House until the McKell government swept to power in 1941. Weaver was cleared in 1938 by (Sir) Percival Halse Rogers' inquiry into Lang's allegations of fraud and corruption in the sale of state enterprises in 1933 when Weaver was responsible minister. As controller of salvage in 1940-41, he was diligent but controversial.

Elected leader of the new Democratic Party in 1944, he was now leader of the Opposition. Efforts to merge with the Liberal Democratic Party of Australia were deadlocked over questions of party organization and by acrimony between the leaders, Weaver and E. K. White. Discord existed within the Democratic Party and, although Weaver resigned as its president, he remained leader of the parliamentary Opposition. In December both parties agreed to enter the new Liberal Party formed by (Sir) Robert Menzies.

Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, Weaver died in Hornsby Hospital of a coronary occlusion on 12 November 1945 and was cremated with Christian Science forms. His estate was sworn for probate at £1114. A man of powerful convictions, he had lived, as he said, 'in an atmosphere of contention, criticism and condemnation', but had served the State with energy and dedication.

Select Bibliography

  • W. J. Thomas, A Red Revolution for £500! An Account of the Weaver-Thomas Conspiracy Case (Syd, 1923)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 30 Aug 1923, p 565
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1938-39-40, 6, p 747
  • Fighting Line (Sydney), 19 July 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Dec 1913, 9 Oct, 13 Sept 1918, 17, 21 June 1921, 22 May, 14 July 1922, 19 Nov 1923, 21 Sept 1928, 28 May, 21, 22 Nov, 11, 13, 17 Dec 1929, 11 Mar 1930, 12, 14, 25 May 1932, 6 Aug, 5 Dec 1934, 1, 12, 14 Feb 1935, 11 Jan, 12 Feb, 3 Mar 1938, 10 Feb, 5 Aug, 6 Sept, 18 Dec 1944, 13 Nov 1945
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Aug 1923
  • intelligence reports, SP 1141/1/13, MP 1049/9 file 1887/2/35 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Bourke, 'Weaver, Reginald Walter Darcy (1876–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/weaver-reginald-walter-darcy-9022/text15887, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 December 2014.

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

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