Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Dunstan (1895–1957)

by R. P. Serle

This article was published:

William Dunstan (1895-1957), by unknown photographer, c1940

William Dunstan (1895-1957), by unknown photographer, c1940

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/1203

William Dunstan (1895-1957), soldier and newspaper manager, was born on 8 March 1895 at Ballarat East, Victoria, fourth child and third son of William John Dunstan, bootmaker, and his wife Henrietta, née Mitchell. At Golden Point State School he was a very bright pupil. He left school at 15 to join the clerical staff of Snows, drapers at Ballarat. He served under the compulsory training scheme as a cadet gaining the cadet rank of captain, Australian Military Forces, and in July 1914 was commissioned lieutenant in the militia with the 70th Infantry (Ballarat Regiment).

On 2 June 1915 Dunstan enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private and a fortnight later embarked for Egypt as an acting sergeant of the 6th Reinforcements of the 7th Battalion. From 5 August he was an acting corporal with the 7th on Gallipoli where four days later he won the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery at Lone Pine. Early on 9 August the Turks made a determined counter-attack on a newly captured trench held by Lieutenant Frederick Tubb and ten men. Two men were told to remain on the floor of the trench to catch and throw back enemy bombs or to smother their explosions with overcoats; both were soon mutilated. Tubb, with Corporal Dunstan, Corporal Alexander Burton and six others, kept firing over the parapet. Several bombs burst simultaneously in the trench killing or wounding five men. Tubb continued to fight, supported only by Dunstan and Burton until a violent explosion blew down the barricade. Tubb drove the Turks off and Dunstan and Burton were rebuilding it when a bomb burst between them, killing Burton and temporarily blinding Dunstan. He was invalided to Australia and discharged on 1 February 1916 having been twice mentioned in dispatches. He then rejoined the Citizen Forces, serving in the rank of lieutenant as area officer, Ballarat, and acting brigade major, 18th Infantry Brigade. His army career concluded when he transferred to the 6th Infantry Battalion in Melbourne in 1921, the unattached list in 1923 and the reserve of officers in 1928, retiring as lieutenant.

On 10 June 1916 he was presented with the V.C. by the governor-general on the steps of Parliament House, Melbourne. This was the occasion for an outburst of exceptional public fervour. 'A reserved man disliking fuss', Dunstan found it a great ordeal.

On 9 November 1918 he married a Ballarat girl, Marjorie Lillian Stewart Carnell, at St. Paul's Church of England, Ballarat East. Two sons and a daughter, all of whom served in World War II, were born of this marriage. Dunstan moved to Melbourne to take a position in the Repatriation Department and in 1921 joined the staff of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd as an accountant under (Sir) Keith Murdoch. He gradually took over the administration of the Herald group as chief accountant, company secretary, and general manager from 1934.

He was a considerate staff manager, conscientious and upright, with a gift for readily making friends in all walks of life. He was allowed a great deal of freedom in the administration of the Herald and was highly regarded in business, judicial and parliamentary circles. He had a particular interest in Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd, the consortium which established Australia's first plant to make newsprint from hardwood at New Norfolk, Tasmania, and was well known to businessmen in England, the United States of America and Canada for his work in the industry.

In 1953 the effect of his war wounds forced his resignation as general manager and he then became a director of the Herald and several other companies. He was a member of the Naval and Military, Australian, Athenaeum, the Royal Melbourne and Metropolitan golf, and the main racing clubs.

Survived by his wife and children, Dunstan died suddenly of coronary vascular disease on 2 March 1957 and was cremated after a funeral service at Christ Church, South Yarra, attended by over 800 people including seven V.C. winners.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • A. Dean and E. W. Gutteridge, The Seventh Battalion, A.I.F. (Melb, 1933)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 15 Oct 1915, 28 Jan, 24 Mar 1916
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Oct 1915
  • Mufti, Oct 1935
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 Jan 1948, 18 Jan 1951, 9 Dec 1953, 13 Aug 1956, 4, 5 Mar 1957
  • Reveille (Sydney), Apr 1957.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. P. Serle, 'Dunstan, William (1895–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Dunstan (1895-1957), by unknown photographer, c1940

William Dunstan (1895-1957), by unknown photographer, c1940

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/1203

Life Summary [details]


8 March, 1895
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


2 March, 1957 (aged 61)