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Sir William George Toop Goodman (1872–1961)

by John C. Radcliffe

This article was published:

William George Toop Goodman (1872-1961), by Hammer & Co, c1925

William George Toop Goodman (1872-1961), by Hammer & Co, c1925

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5458

Sir William George Toop Goodman (1872-1961), engineer, was born on 14 March 1872 at Ramsgate, Kent, England, son of William Henry Goodman, carpenter, and his wife Emma Ann, née Limeburner. After attending St George's Boys' Central School, Ramsgate, he joined Poole & White, engineers, London. On 7 January 1893 he married Florence Letitia Attreed. In Tasmania in 1895 Goodman installed the first electric plant at the Mount Lyell mine. He then became assistant electrical engineer in the tramway construction branch of the Department of Public Works, New South Wales, in 1897-1900, before joining the firm Noyes Brothers Pty Ltd, which built the tracks of New Zealand's first electric tramway at Dunedin. In 1903 he became that city's electrical engineer and inspected tramway systems around the world.

In 1907 when Adelaide's new Municipal Tramways Trust was formed, Goodman became chief engineer; from next year he was also general manager. He was to hold this joint-appointment for forty-two years and his policies were to have a major influence on the development of metropolitan Adelaide. His proposals to open the grassed city squares and sacrosanct parklands and to remove 150 trees for laying tracks embroiled him in controversy, but he won. Contracts were let for 56 miles (90 km) of track, a depot, 100 trams, an administrative building at Hackney and a power station. Despite delivery delays, electric trams were running by November 1908 and the formal opening took place on 9 March 1909. Electrification was completed by 1914 and a separate Port Adelaide system was opened in 1917.

That year Goodman was commissioned by the Federal government to visit Britain, Europe and the United States of America to investigate munitions factories. While there he learned to fly. In 1921 he reported on Brisbane's electric tramway system. In the early 1920s returned servicemen began to operate buses in competition with the Adelaide trams. To counter this Goodman purchased forty American Mack buses in 1925; although his choice was criticized, they lasted twenty-five years. From 1927 he sat on the Metropolitan Omnibus Board which licensed private bus operators; he circumvented further competition by buying eighty-two private buses for the M.T.T. In 1929 the trust took over the two Adelaide-Glenelg steam railways: Goodman converted the southern line to a high-speed, reserved track, electric tramway which still operates in the 1980s in its original form and with the same cars.

Goodman's decisions were often opposed by the Adelaide City Council, but his view usually prevailed as, for example, when he sought to build an additional tramway depot in the city's heart—Victoria Square. In 1928 he served in Auckland on a royal commission into its transport and next year he was a member of a Commonwealth-States inquiry into the Hume Reservoir. In 1931 he chaired the important royal commission on the South Australian railways which reviewed Commissioner W. A. Webb's era. Next year Goodman's services to Adelaide were recognized by a knighthood.

Goodman replaced Port Adelaide's trams with double-deck trolley-buses in 1938; a complementary service in Adelaide's eastern suburbs had already begun. In 1937-44 he was chairman of the new and successful South Australian Housing Trust which provided small homes at low rents. He was a director of several companies and a member of the council of the University of Adelaide in 1913-54: he played a valuable role on its finance committee. In 1945 Goodman received the Peter Nicol Russell memorial medal from the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He retired in 1950.

Goodman's managerial style was strict—coats were never removed in the office and there was no smoking on duty—and direct. His skill in all aspects of his work ensured respect from his men. His fairness is illustrated by the occasion when a motorman, charged with having driven the first tram of the day off the end of the Henley Beach line, was instructed to wait until 'The Chief' tried the terminus, in the dark, next morning. When Goodman also drove the tram off the line (the terminus's street light was broken) the charge was dropped and an apology extended. He advanced the employment opportunities of returned servicemen after both world wars. An accomplished organist and drummer, Goodman, when young, enjoyed dancing, the cinema and deep-sea diving. He belonged to the Adelaide Club, and was an Anglican.

Following three years in hospital, Goodman died at College Park on 4 February 1961 and was buried in North Road cemetery, Nailsworth. Predeceased by his wife (d.1956), he was survived by four daughters and two sons. His estate was sworn for probate at £123,083. A portrait by G. R. Shedley is held by the South Australian Housing Trust.

Select Bibliography

  • R. I. Jennings, W. A. Webb, South Australian Railways Commissioner, 1922-1930 (Adel, 1973)
  • G. Stewart, The End of the Penny Section (Wellington, 1973)
  • J. C. Radcliffe and C. J. M. Steele, Adelaide Road Passenger Transport, 1836-1958 (Adel, 1974)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1912, 3 (16), p 660, 676
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 Nov 1950, 6 Feb 1961
  • News (Adelaide), 29 Nov 1950.

Citation details

John C. Radcliffe, 'Goodman, Sir William George Toop (1872–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William George Toop Goodman (1872-1961), by Hammer & Co, c1925

William George Toop Goodman (1872-1961), by Hammer & Co, c1925

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5458

Life Summary [details]


14 March, 1872
Ramsgate, Kent, England


4 February, 1961 (aged 88)
College Park, Adelaide, South Australia, 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.

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.