Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Charles Groves (1898–1967)

by D. J. Dickson

This article was published:

William Charles Groves (1898-1967), educationist and anthropologist, was born on 18 August 1898 at Ballarat, Victoria, second child of William Charles Groves, engine driver, and his wife Sarah, née Gribble, both Victorian born. William completed his matriculation year at Ballarat High School in 1914 and began teaching with the Victorian Education Department. Under age, but fit and well built, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 15 July 1915. He served with the 14th Battalion in Egypt and France, and was promoted sergeant in August 1916. During the fighting at Riencourt on 11 April 1917, he was captured and remained a prisoner until the Armistice. Repatriated in 1919, he was discharged on 29 June. He was to publish a serialized account of his experiences in Reveille in 1932-33.

In 1920 Groves resumed his teaching career and commenced studies at the University of Melbourne (B.A., Dip.Ed., 1928). Idealism and religious enthusiasm (he had long been a keen Anglican churchman) inspired his move to the mandated Territory of New Guinea where, in 1922-26, he taught in the government's new schools for indigenous children near Rabaul. There, on 7 November 1925, he married a fellow teacher Doris Kathleen Frances Smith. He subsequently held a temporary lectureship (1927-31) at Melbourne Teachers' College.

As a fellow of the Australian National Research Council, in 1932-34 Groves undertook field-work in New Guinea and studied cultural adaptation. The product of his research, Native Education and Culture-Contact in New Guinea (Melbourne, 1936), was well received professionally. Between 1932 and 1959 he also published more than twenty articles of anthropological significance in Oceania, Walkabout and other journals. He was elected a fellow (1934) of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Groves was an Australian representative at the Carnegie International Conference on education in the Pacific, held in Honolulu in 1936. From 1937 to 1938 he was director of education in Nauru; in 1939-40 he reported on the educational needs of the British Solomon Islands protectorate. Commissioned in the Militia in June 1941, he transferred to the A.I.F. in December 1942 as a major and was attached to the Australian Army Education service until demobilized after the end of World War II.

Groves was appointed director of education, Territory of Papua-New Guinea, in 1946. He advocated 'an education built upon the traditional culture of the people . . . and related to the world of today'. His greatest task, and triumph, was to forge a link between the fiercely independent vernacular schools of the religious missions and the secular schooling which the government was obliged to provide. All the necessary infrastructure of an educational system had to be created from the raw materials of a pre-literate society, or imported. These factors limited his achievement in spite of a comprehensive five-year plan introduced in 1948. An inquiry into the Department of Education in 1953 criticized Groves severely—and often unjustly—for lack of policy and success. He was stung to a voluminous rebuttal, goaded in part by the suspicion that elements in the new Liberal government and the administration in Australia falsely believed him to have communist sympathies. Contention was restrained by (Sir) Paul Hasluck, minister for Territories, who issued a set of objectives to guide development for the remainder of Groves's directorship. Until his retirement in 1958, Groves successfully implemented the new policy. He also served (1949-58) on the Executive Council of Papua and New Guinea, and in 1951 was Australian representative on a United Nations special committee that examined non-self-governing territories.

Back in Melbourne, Groves lectured in education at Burwood Teachers' College and worked on his unpublished anthropological material. In 1959 he gave the Tate memorial lecture at the University of Melbourne. While holidaying in London, he died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 11 July 1967 at St Marylebone and was cremated. His wife, son and two of his three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. J. Dickson, 'W. C. Groves: Educationist' in J. Griffin (ed), Papua New Guinea Portraits (Canb, 1978)
  • Papua New Guinea Journal of Education, 25, no 1, Apr 1989
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 May 1934, 17 June 1936, 18 Apr 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Aug 1934
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 Mar 1939
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 5 Aug 1960.

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Citation details

D. J. Dickson, 'Groves, William Charles (1898–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 August, 1898
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


11 July, 1967 (aged 68)
London, Middlesex, England

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.