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William Adolphus (Bill) Chaffey (1915–1987)

by Tom Connors

This article was published:

Bill Chaffey, n.d.

Bill Chaffey, n.d.

New South Wales Parliament Archives

William Adolphus (Bill) Chaffey (1915-1987), farmer and politician, was born on 18 February 1915 at Tamworth, New South Wales, second of six children of Frank Augustus Chaffey, farmer and politician, and his wife Amy Stella, née McIlveen. Bill attended Tamworth Public School and The King’s School, Parramatta, and then gained a diploma of agriculture (1933) from Hawkesbury Agricultural College. After working on various farms, he acquired his own—Ardross, near Tamworth, which he owned for a decade before moving into town. On his father’s death in 1940 Chaffey successfully contested, for the United Australia Party, a by-election for Tamworth, the electorate that his father had represented in the Legislative Assembly.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 16 December 1941, Chaffey served in Papua and New Guinea in 1942-43 as a noncommissioned officer with the 2/5th Independent Company. In December 1943 he was promoted to lieutenant and in May 1944 seconded to `Z’ Special Unit, which conducted secret operations behind enemy lines. Landing from an American submarine in April 1945, he and a comrade blew up a train in occupied Indochina (Vietnam). Chaffey was in Borneo in July-October. On 8 December he transferred to the Reserve of Officers. He won the American Bronze Star Medal (1948) and was twice (1943 and 1947) mentioned in despatches for his service. In 1948-61 he served in the Citizen Military Forces, rising to major. He had married Patricia Ann Egerton-Warburton, a nurse, on 29 January 1946 at St Werburgh’s Church of England, Mount Barker, Western Australia.

In 1941 Chaffey had refused to contest a preselection ballot and was returned as Independent UAP. He was elected, unopposed, as an Independent in 1944 but joined the Country Party the following year. In 1959 he stood against (Sir) Charles Cutler for the party leadership; he lost that ballot but became deputy-leader. As minister for agriculture (1965-68) in the Askin coalition government, Chaffey was responsible for a construction program that doubled the grain storage capacity of the State in five years. He supported the existing policy of production quotas for table margarine, apparently unconcerned that his attempts to protect dairying caused the oilseed industry to suffer and denied consumers a choice of spreads. After threatening to revoke the licence of Marrickville Margarine Pty Ltd if the company exceeded its quota, he was burnt in effigy by workers whose jobs were at risk. Richard Crebbin, chairman of the parent company Marrickville Holdings Ltd, accused Chaffey of waging a `personal and private feud’ against his company.

In 1968 Chaffey was defeated by (Sir) Davis Hughes in a ballot for the deputy-leadership; he also lost his ministerial portfolio. He resigned from the Country Party in 1972—ostensibly in protest against the government’s refusal to allow him to move a motion on parliamentary security—and did not contest the 1973 election.

A councillor (1951-65) and vice-president (1966-79) of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, Chaffey became an honorary vice-president in 1979. He was forthright, occasionally volatile, but also humorous, in expressing his opinions. In 1940 he became a Freemason. Survived by his wife and their two daughters and son, he died on 4 March 1987 at Tamworth and was cremated. He and his father served a combined fifty-nine years and nine months in parliament. The Chaffey Dam on the Peel River is named after them.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Milliss, City on the Peel (1980)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Nov 1966, p 2, 16 Mar 1967, p 2, 1 Mar 1968, p 11, 21 Sept 1972, p 3, 16 June 1973, p 8, 11 Mar 1987, p 8
  • Sun (Sydney), 4 Dec 1968, p 21
  • Northern Daily Leader (Tamworth), 12 Oct 1979, p 4
  • Tamworth Times, 15 Apr 1987, p 6
  • Chaffey papers (University of New England).

Citation details

Tom Connors, 'Chaffey, William Adolphus (Bill) (1915–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 June 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

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