Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Charles (Bill) Andrews (1908–1988)

by Judy Poulos

This article was published:

William Charles (Bill) Andrews (1908-1988), engineer, surveyor and town planner, was born on 20 November 1908 at Roslyn, Dunedin, New Zealand, eldest of six children of Sydney-born parents William Charles Andrews, printer, and his wife Claribelle Elsie, née Boaz. Bill spent his formative years in Sydney, matriculating in 1924 from Sydney Technical High School with an outstanding academic record. He qualified in local government engineering at Sydney Technical College while serving his articles with Dobbie & Foxall. Licensed as a surveyor in 1929, he was appointed assistant-engineer to Ku-ring-gai Municipal Council, and in 1934, from among sixty-two applicants, named as assistant-engineer and general inspector with the Tenterfield Shire Council, rising to shire engineer (1936). He gained certification from the Royal Sanitary Institute, London, the town clerk’s certificate and the first diploma of engineering surveying in the State. On 20 February 1937 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Tenterfield, he married Lurline Patricia Ross.

In 1941 Andrews was seconded to the New South Wales Department of Public Works to provide essential engineering assistance and supervision for civilian and military projects. Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 29 March 1943 and commissioned in May as an engineer officer, he served at Tadji, New Guinea, and on Noemfoor Island, where he displayed outstanding ability in co-ordinating the construction of an airfield. He was mentioned in despatches and demobilised in 1945 as a flight lieutenant. Having returned to Tenterfield Shire as consulting engineer, Andrews was appointed senior planning officer (1946-50) with Cumberland County Council Regional Planning Authority headed by Sidney Luker. Andrews held responsibility for the analysis and design phases of Australia’s first statutory metropolitan plan. As city engineer and town planner with Parramatta City Council in 1950-58, he then designed and implemented a central traffic system and laid the foundations of the Parramatta Planning Scheme. He also lectured for the Sydney University Extension Board.

Growing status in his profession earned Andrews the first travelling scholarship in 1956 awarded by the New South Wales Foundation for the Technical Advancement of Local Government Engineers, enabling him to undertake a four-month study tour in North America. The substantial report he produced on his return, incorporating the latest and most innovative practices in all aspects of city and regional planning, further enhanced his reputation, and brought him to the notice of (Sir) John Overall, first head of the national Capital Development Commission, who, seeking proven professionals, recruited Andrews and Grenfell Rudduck as associate commissioners in 1958. Andrews took special responsibility for all engineering design and construction work, which included such major projects as the construction of Lake Burley Griffin and its associated dam and bridgeworks; two further dams for Canberra’s water supply (Bendora and Corin); Lake Ginninderra; major roads, including Anzac Parade; notable buildings such as the National Library of Australia; Russell and Campbell Park defence group offices; (old) Parliament House extensions; the Cameron offices, Belconnen; and the Canberra College of Advanced Education. His remit included planning and constructing the associated infrastructure for the new town centres of Canberra.

During these years when the commission experienced friction among government and non-government bodies in Canberra concerning areas of overlap and division of responsibilities, Andrews, with his equanimity and extensive background in local government, defused conflict and soothed competitive feeling and hostility. These qualities also proved invaluable inside the commission, his even temperament recalled by Overall as `effective in moderating the wilder enthusiasms of people like myself’. Andrews took regular study tours to keep abreast of the latest and best overseas practices, which he incorporated into NCDC projects. He also provided professional advice at urban conferences in Hawaii and the Territory of Papua New Guinea. In November 1972 he succeeded Overall as commissioner. Although his period at the helm was brief, it was characterised by increased community consultation. On retiring in February 1974 he expressed disappointment that the plan to build a permanent parliament house was not more advanced. He favoured Walter Burley Griffin’s Camp Hill site--envisaging Parliament Place as `one of the great forecourts of the world’.

In retirement Andrews spent many years as a consultant in urban affairs and wrote a chapter on `Roads and Bridges’ in Canberra’s Engineering Heritage (1983) which his colleague Peter Harrison called an enduring although impersonal testimony to his achievements. He was appointed OBE in 1967 and made an honorary fellow (1974) of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia, of whose Canberra division he had been president (1962). He also served as chairman (1960) of the Canberra division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, foundation president of the Canberra division of the Royal Australian Planning Institute and federal president (1969-70) of the Australian Water and Waste Water Association. An active Rotarian, he enjoyed tennis and golf, and many memorable games of cricket with NCDC colleagues. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and son, he died on 17 April 1988 at Woden Valley Hospital, Canberra, and was cremated. He was remembered by colleagues as the quintessential engineer, highly professional, extremely competent, responsible, unruffled--an absolute gentleman.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Sparke, Canberra 1954-1980 (1988)
  • Australian Surveyor, vol 34, no 3, 1988, p 323
  • Australian, 9 Nov 1972, p 6, 20 Feb 1974, p 8
  • M. Pratt, interview with Sir John Overall (typescript, 1973, National Library of Australia).

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Judy Poulos, 'Andrews, William Charles (Bill) (1908–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 November, 1908
Roslyn, Dunedin, New Zealand


17 April, 1988 (aged 79)
Garran, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.