Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Willmore, George Malcolm (1895–1978)

by Judith A. Nissen

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

George Malcolm Willmore (1895-1978), real-estate developer, was born on 24 September 1895 at Islington, London, son of George John Willmore, assurance agent, and his wife Daisy Annie Julia, née Holmes. G. J. Willmore was later a Salvation Army missionary. After migrating to Australia as an adolescent, young George became a salesman. On 1 November 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and in April 1915 landed at Gallipoli with the 4th Battalion. Suffering from shock, he was evacuated in August to England where he performed staff duties and rose to warrant officer (1919). On 23 September 1916 he married Annie Jane Helena Hall at the register office, West Ham, London. He was discharged from the A.I.F. in Sydney on 23 May 1920.

Employed briefly by the Bureau of Meteorology at Narrabri, New South Wales, Willmore returned to Sydney where he worked in advertising and met a salesman, Reginald Randell. Becoming business partners, the pair first manufactured non-slip floor polish which they sold to the Myer retail business. In 1925, having acquired an office in Bligh Street and a motorcycle with side-car, they established a real-estate agency, Willmore & Randell Ltd. They proclaimed the firm to be 'Sydney's largest and most progressive organisation specialising in the management and control of subdivisions', and claimed to have sold over £1 million worth of Sydney real estate in 1927-28.

Newspaper advertisements solicited business, offering to realize estates for landowners quickly. Willmore personally wrote the detailed marketing material which touted high capital growth at terms as low as a shilling a day, covenants to prevent 'the encroachment of undesirable buildings', and 'glorious breeze-cooled positions . . . of rare charm'. Free train fares or inspections by motorcar offered further incentive to prospective clients. The business expanded until there were almost fifty offices in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. The Willmore family lived at Vaucluse, in a home which boasted housemaids and gardeners, and a Buick motorcar in the garage.

The onset of the Depression in 1929 damaged business; within a year all offices had closed and Willmore & Randell was in liquidation. Willmore sold the Vaucluse property, and the family lived for a time in a house at Randwick; (Sir) Leslie Hooker personally collected the rent. Prospects remained poor until 1935 when Willmore and others formed a new real-estate company, and the Willmore & Randell name once again appeared in Sydney and Melbourne. The Willmores moved to Rose Bay. Property markets were sluggish after World War II because of government controls over land sales, but activity picked up about 1950. The firm began to specialize in subdividing large tracts of land outside cities, developing new suburbs with hundreds or even thousands of building blocks, and providing infrastructure and community facilities, ranging from halls and kindergartens to American-influenced resort-style features. During the mid-1950s the partnership was divided in all but name; Randell took over the Victorian and South Australian operations and Willmore controlled the business in New South Wales and Queensland. Willmore aimed to be the 'Woolworths of real estate'; eventually the company became one of the largest broad-acre subdivision firms in Australia.

In 1965 Willmore and his wife obtained a Mexican divorce, and on 11 March 1969 at Las Vegas, Nevada, United States of America, he married Gertrude Elizabeth Gardiner, a 37-year-old widow. In 1974 the company's major financier, Cambridge Credit Corporation Ltd, was placed in receivership. During the ensuing crisis, most of the firm's numerous subsidiaries received wind-up notices but the parent company survived. Next year Willmore moved to Queensland and managed the Brisbane office. In April 1978 his wife announced that she proposed to begin divorce proceedings.

Described by his son Ian as fiery-tempered, and a 'very complex man, full of ideas, impatient, commanding, and not at all pleased if anyone else seemed to be outclassing him even in a small way', Willmore was dynamic, autocratic and somewhat intimidating. Real-estate colleagues recalled an extravagant host, a natural risk-taker with breadth of vision, imagination, and a daring and ruthless approach to business. He had 'a remarkable ability to make money, and an equal ability to spend it'. A small dapper man, he was fond of fine suits, Rolls Royces and the bright lights of Sydney, New York and Hollywood. He 'tipped his manicurist and hairdresser with blocks of land, [and] spent lavishly in Sydney's night spots and on five-star travel overseas'. Particularly generous to his grandchildren, he was a dominant presence in family life. He died on 26 July 1978 at Buderim, Queensland, and was cremated with Christian Science forms. His wife, and the three daughters and three sons of his first marriage, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Willmore and E. Warburton, Willmore and Randell (Syd, 1994)
  • Brisbane Courier, 8 Jan, 6 Nov 1929, 5 July 1930
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 1 Aug 1978
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Aug 1978
  • private information.

Citation details

Judith A. Nissen, 'Willmore, George Malcolm (1895–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/willmore-george-malcolm-12040/text21599, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 December 2014.

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

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