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Welch, Alexander Walker (1905–1982)

by Diana Brown

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Alexander Walker Welch (1905-1982), public servant and company director, was born on 11 May 1905 in North Sydney, youngest of eight children of Scottish-born parents John Welch, stonemason, and his wife Mary Wilson, née Walker. Educated at Naremburn Public and North Sydney Boys’ High schools, Alexander passed the Intermediate certificate in 1920. Later matriculating, he enrolled as an evening student at the University of Sydney (BA, 1930).

In 1921 Welch entered the New South Wales Public Service as a clerk with the police department, in the Chief Secretary’s Department. He qualified as a shorthand writer and typist, and in 1930 became the minute secretary for the Sydney Metropolitan Transport Trust. Working in the Premier’s Department in 1932-41 (assistant under-secretary, 1939-41), mainly under (Sir) Bertram Stevens, in 1934 he was secretary on the mission to the United States of America to report on President Roosevelt’s New Deal. He was an active member and assistant general secretary of the Presbyterian Men’s League of New South Wales during the 1920s. On 14 December 1935 at the Crow’s Nest Presbyterian Church he married Kathleen Jean Clark, an artist whose father was a Presbyterian clergyman.

Seconded to the Commonwealth Department of Defence Co-ordination in May 1941, Welch soon became assistant-secretary (1941-44), Department of Home Security, Canberra, under the minister, H. P. Lazzarini. In 1945 Welch was appointed to his first official post as a Commonwealth public servant. As director of housing (1945-52), Department of Works and Housing, he administered the 1945 Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement, whose purpose was to provide affordable housing for rent or ownership. In 1950 he visited eleven European countries, including Britain, as the Commonwealth representative on a housing mission to assess the possibility of importing prefabricated houses and the labour to erect the buildings. Although not an Australian Labor Party voter, he supported an ALP government, provided it kept to ‘reasonable moderation’.

Frustrated by the changing agendas of politicians, Welch was pleased to leave the public service in 1952. Successfully shifting his career to take a leading role in the coalmining industry, he moved to Sydney, where he held numerous company directorships, most notably as managing director (1952-58) of NSW Mining Co. Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of the Joint Coal Board, and as the general manager, administration (1960-69), and a director (1960-74) of Clutha Development Pty Ltd. He was proud of his contribution to the development of the coal export trade, particularly between Australia and Japan. Sometime chairman of the government charges committee, on which he represented colliery proprietors, he was also a member of the coal mine workers’ pensions tribunal.

Welch served as a president of the Canberra Girls’ Grammar School Parents and Friends Association, and as chairman of the school council. During the 1950s he was an alderman on the Ku-ring-gai municipal council in Sydney. In his later years he was an agnostic. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease in his final years. Predeceased by his wife and survived by their daughter and son, he died on 9 April 1982 at Terrey Hills, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Mar 1940, p 10, 14 Apr 1982, p 14
  • Coal Miner, Mar 1969, p 11, June 1969, p 21
  • M. Pratt, interview with A. Welch (typescript, 1974, National Library of Australia)
  • A. Welch papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Diana Brown, 'Welch, Alexander Walker (1905–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/welch-alexander-walker-15832/text27031, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 9 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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