Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Wilson, Alexander (1889–1954)

by Barry O. Jones and Tony Lamb

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

Alexander Wilson (1889-1954), farmer and politician, was born on 7 June 1889 at Whitespots, near Newtownards, County Down, Ireland, second son of Alexander Wilson, farmer and builder, and his wife Anna, née McGowan. Educated at the Clifton Street National School, Belfast, and Belfast Technical College, Alex migrated alone to Victoria in 1908. He worked for his cousin Hugh McClelland on his property in the Mallee then from 1914 grew wheat on his own farm at Speed. At the Presbyterian Church, Birchip, on 16 August 1922 he married 21-year-old Ivy Isabella Gould.

From 1928 Wilson worked diligently to build up the Victorian Wheatgrowers' (later Wheat and Woolgrowers') Association which sought to attain 'a stable and profitable price for wheat'. He was elected president of the organization and vice-president of the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation in 1937. With the support of the V.W.G.A., he stood that year as Victorian United Country Party candidate for the seat of Wimmera in the House of Representatives. His principal opponent was McClelland, the sitting member who was endorsed by the federal Australian Country Party. The federal party's participation in the Lyons government angered the Victorian party. Wilson won the seat on 23 October.

Considered by the V.W.G.A.'s newspaper to be the 'only friend of the Wheatgrower in federal parliament', Wilson advocated an orderly marketing scheme for the commodity in the bad seasons of 1938-39. He defeated McClelland again in the 1940 election which left him and another Victorian Independent, (Sir) Arthur Coles, holding the balance of power in the House of Representatives. They kept successive prime ministers (Sir) Robert Menzies and (Sir) Arthur Fadden in power until 3 October 1941 when Coles announced that he would vote to bring down the government. Wilson, who had often voted with the Australian Labor Party and who had been assiduously cultivated by Bert Evatt, followed suit.

In explaining why he intended to cross the floor, Wilson said in parliament that he had always had some sympathy for the A.L.P. and that the platform of his party in Victoria was similar to that of Labor. He believed that the government had provided too little relief for primary producers, and that its financial policy for prosecuting World War II would increase public indebtedness and risk a postwar depression. In his view, all credit should be created through the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, 'the people's bank'. He looked to Labor for 'stable and safe government' during and after the war. With his support and that of Coles, the A.L.P. under John Curtin gained power on 7 October.

Backing William Scully's wheat stabilization plan, Wilson won comfortably in the 1943 election. He resigned from parliament on 31 December 1945 and next day assumed office as administrator of Norfolk Island. Opposition politicians criticized the appointment as payment for 'services rendered' to the A.L.P. After returning to Victoria in 1952, he bought a farm at Ultima. He was an inactive Presbyterian and a lapsed Freemason with a keen interest in music. Survived by his wife and their four daughters and two sons, he died of cancer on 26 January 1954 at Richmond, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 3 Oct 1941, p 713, 6 Mar 1946, p 37, 11 Apr 1946, p 1481
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Oct 1937
  • R. F. I. Smith, 'Organise or be Damned': Australian Wheatgrowers' Organisations and Wheat Marketing, 1927-1948 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1969)
  • private information.

Citation details

Barry O. Jones and Tony Lamb, 'Wilson, Alexander (1889–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-alexander-12044/text21607, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018