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Wilfred Robert (Bill) Dovey (1894–1969)

by Malcolm D. Broun

This article was published:

Wilfred Robert Dovey (1894-1969), judge, was born on 10 April 1894 at Bathurst, New South Wales, son of Robert Dovey, a native-born farmer who had been an assistant to William Farrer, and his wife Winifred Isabel Agnes, née Adams, born in China. 'Bill' was educated on scholarships at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1916). On 11 August 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force; on 15 August at St John's Anglican Church, Glebe, he married a teacher Mary Dorothy Duncan; and on 19 August he embarked for Rabaul where he served as a sergeant. He was discharged on 4 March 1915. While teaching at Brisbane Grammar School, Dovey studied law at the University of Queensland. An associate successively (1918-21) to chief justices Sir Samuel Griffith and (Sir) Adrian Knox, he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 1 June 1922.

His fine presence, which was enhanced by a monocle, and his rich voice, which conveyed a Shakespearian vocabulary, brought Dovey success at the Bar and he was appointed K.C. in 1935. He was involved professionally in many highly publicized Federal and State royal commissions and inquiries, including those on doctors' remuneration for national insurance (1938), on the detention of members of the Australia First Movement (1944) and on the liquor laws (1951-52). He appeared as prosecutor against Sydney newspapers (1944), C. H. Cousens (1946), General H. G. Bennett (1946), S. M. Falstein (1947), L. L. Sharkey (1949) and miners' officials (1949).

Dovey was an alderman (1935-36) on Waverley Municipal Council, and served on the Aliens Classification and Advisory Committee (1941-45) and the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council (1945-65). He leased successful racehorses and was a foundation member (vice-chairman) of the Sydney Turf Club in 1943. One year later he was elected to the committee of the Australian Jockey Club (vice-chairman 1953-61).

Appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales in 1953, in the following year Dovey became judge in divorce and matrimonial causes. His career on the bench was marred by public criticism. As royal commissioner inquiring into D. E. Studley-Ruxton's allegations of police brutality in 1954, he was censured by the Bar Association of New South Wales for lacking tolerance and judicial calm, and also by the Incorporated Law Institute for departing 'from accepted standards of courtesy, fairness and patience'. He was attacked by State politicians in 1953 for continuing on the A.J.C. committee and in August 1960 for allegedly attending to A.J.C. business to the neglect of his judicial duties. On the bench he was often irascible and his judgements were liberally dosed with sharp criticism.

Retiring in April 1964, Dovey belonged to Vaucluse Bowling Club. He died on 12 December 1969 in St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated. His wife survived him, as did their son William who was to become a judge of the Family Court of Australia and their daughter Margaret who married Edward Gough Whitlam.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Oct 1947, 27 Aug 1953, 5 May, 31 July, 6 Aug 1954, 17, 19 Dec 1957, 27 Aug 1959, 13 Dec 1969
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 23, 25-27, 30, 31 Oct, 1-3 Nov 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

Malcolm D. Broun, 'Dovey, Wilfred Robert (Bill) (1894–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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