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John William (Jack) Galbally (1910–1990)

by Barry O. Jones

This article was published:

John William (Jack) Galbally (1910-1990), politician and lawyer, was born on 2 August 1910 at Port Melbourne, the second of nine children of Victorian-born parents William Stanton Galbally, draper’s salesman, and his wife Eileen, née Cummins. Educated at St Patrick’s College, East Melbourne, and Melbourne High School, Jack won a scholarship to Newman College and supported his studies at the University of Melbourne (LL B, 1931) by working as a car salesman, shop assistant, primary school teacher and fruit picker. Admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 1 March 1933, he practised in Collingwood, and was later joined by his brother Frank (1922-2005). In 1933 Jack also became a member of the Australian Labor Party; began two seasons playing for Collingwood Football Club, of which he was later a life member (1943) and vice-president (1951-62); and won the Murray Valley tennis championship, which he won again in 1946 and 1947. On 14 October 1937 at Newman College chapel he married Sheila Marie Kenny.

In June 1949 Galbally was elected as member of the Legislative Council for Melbourne North, defeating an Independent, Likely Herman McBrien. His program included the abolition of the undemocratic Upper House, but he was to say in his farewell speech to the House: `I had not been here for more than a few weeks when I fell in love with it and I am still in love with it’. He held the seat (under a reformed franchise after 1950) until his retirement in July 1979. He was well acquainted with members of John Wren’s political machine (even if not part of it) and in November 1950 he acted for the Wrens in committal proceedings for criminal libel against Frank Hardy for publishing Power Without Glory. Galbally’s commitment as an independent legislative reformer was soon evident when, in 1951, his private member’s bill allowing road accident victims to claim compensation despite contributory negligence was adopted by the McDonald minority Country Party government.

After John Cain swept Labor to power in December 1952, Galbally became minister for electrical undertakings (1952-55), for forests (1952-54) and for labour and industry (1954-55). The Victorian ALP split in March 1955 following attacks by the federal leader, Bert Evatt, on `disloyal’ elements—linked to B. A. Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement and backed by Archbishop Daniel Mannix—that dominated the State conference and central executive. Like some other practising Catholics in the party, among them Arthur Calwell and Pat Kennelly, Galbally was deeply troubled by this division, but remained a supporter of Cain and the pro-Evatt position. In April the breakaway members defeated the premier in a no-confidence motion; in May the government was overwhelmingly beaten at the polls.

Galbally then became leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, a position that he retained until 1979 apart from two months in 1970 when he was suspended from party and caucus membership for supporting the federal ALP’s policy on state aid for independent schools. Through these years he introduced forty-one private members’ bills. They covered causes including equal pay, prohibiting corporal punishment in prisons, decriminalising vagrancy, preventing cruelty to animals and preserving natural reserves. His bill to ban live trap bird shooting—a favoured sport of the premier, (Sir) Henry Bolte—was carried in 1958.

Chief among Galbally’s concerns was the abolition of capital punishment. He introduced his bill on this matter on fifteen occasions between 1956 and 1974. While always defeated on party lines, the bill provoked extended debates. In 1975, when Rupert Hamer, the Liberal premier, successfully moved to abolish the death penalty, Galbally seemed aggrieved that his own bill had not been adopted: his second reading speech was short and grudging.

Galbally revived the role of council committees, initiating inquiries into proposed development in the Royal Botanic Gardens (1968-69) and settlement in the Little Desert (1969-70). Concerned at the increasing power of central government, in September 1969 he moved a motion calling for a constitutional convention that was adopted by the Victorian Parliament and accepted in principle by all governments; he was a delegate to the first Australian Constitutional Convention, which met in September 1973. He also served on the councils of the University of Melbourne (195455) and La Trobe University (1965-76). Having signed the roll of counsel on 2 February 1959, he took silk in 1968. In 1979 he was appointed CBE.

A passionate debater, disciplined, witty and widely read, often drawing on classical and biblical allusions, Galbally exerted great influence over the Victorian parliament. He remained vigorous, jogging and playing golf until increasingly afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. Predeceased by his wife (1977), Jack Galbally died on 8 July 1990 at Camberwell and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery with his well-worn copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. His two sons and three daughters survived him: Peter was appointed QC in 1989 and Ann became an art historian.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, Victoria), 28 Aug 1990, p 1
  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 Apr 1979, p 7
  • Age (Melbourne), 28 July 1979, p 21, 17 July 1990, p 13
  • personal knowledge.

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Citation details

Barry O. Jones, 'Galbally, John William (Jack) (1910–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 August, 1910
Port Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 July, 1990 (aged 79)
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.