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Sir Ross Hutchinson (1914–1999)

by Harry C. J. Phillips

This article was published online in 2023

Ross Hutchinson, by Australian News and Information Bureau, 1965

Ross Hutchinson, by Australian News and Information Bureau, 1965

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L52680

Sir Ross Hutchinson (1914–1999), footballer, air force officer, and politician, was born on 10 September 1914 at Worsley, near Collie, Western Australia, eldest of four children of Victorian-born Albert Herbert Hutchinson, mill hand, and his Tasmanian-born wife Agnes Lillian May, née Mawday. His father had also worked as a railway guard and timber worker. Ross started school at Deanmill and then attended Wesley College, South Perth (1929–33). For six months in 1936, he studied at Claremont Teachers’ College before teaching at several schools in metropolitan Perth. A fine tennis player and cricketer, he excelled at Australian Rules football. He played ninety-three senior games for East Fremantle (1935–39), seventeen for West Perth (1946), and eighteen for South Fremantle (1947–48). Under his guidance as playing coach at all three clubs, his teams won premierships in 1937, 1947, and 1948. Described as ‘the “gentleman” type of coach,’ his motivational talks to players were characterised by ‘an appeal through calm logic rather than blatancy’ and forewent the ‘colourful epithets’ employed by other coaches (Foreman 1949, 19). At East Fremantle he was awarded the club’s Lynn medal (1935, 1936) as the fairest and best player. A versatile, ’skilful and brainy player’ (Daily News 1946, 11), he played in the centre, half-back, half-forward, and on the ball with equal success. He was captain-coach of the State team in 1939, and coach in 1948.

On 8 May 1939 Hutchinson married Amy Goodall Strang at St John’s Anglican Church, Fremantle. Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 29 March 1942 for service in World War II, he was posted to flying training schools at Clontarf, Cunderdin, and Geraldton. Having been commissioned in February 1943, he received further training in England from May, before being posted in April 1944 to No. 578 Squadron, Royal Air Force, which operated Halifax bombers. On 6 October he piloted an aircraft in a daytime bombing attack on an oil refinery at Sterkrade, Germany. Losing an engine to enemy fire, he nonetheless successfully executed the mission and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his ‘great skill, coolness and tenacity’ (NAA A9300). From January 1945 he served with No. 96 Squadron, RAF, in the Middle East and India. With the war over, he returned to Perth in October and was demobilised with the rank of flight lieutenant on 8 January the following year. He returned to teaching at Claremont High School (1945–50).

Acting on his ‘determination to break free from football coaching’ (Hutchinson 1986, 4), Hutchinson entered State politics. Well known in the community because of his sporting and military careers, he was comfortably elected in 1950 as the member for the Legislative Assembly seat of Cottesloe, representing the Liberal Party (1950–77). In his inaugural speech on 27 July, he depicted education as ‘the awakening of the mind … through which we look at the great moving spectacle of life’ (WA LA 1950, 10). He went on to praise the Commonwealth government’s anti-communist legislation, deploring ’the communists’ insidious infiltration into the free countries of the world’ (WA LA 1950, 11). Immediately active in the committee system, he was a member of the printing committee (1950–59) and deputy chairman of committees (1956–57). In his view, ‘certain situations are impossible to resolve unless the select committees have the appropriate powers’ (Hutchinson 1986, 57). With the election of the Liberal government of (Sir) David Brand in 1959, he was appointed chief secretary and minister for health, fisheries and fauna (1959–65), and then minister for works and water supplies (1965–71).

In 1974 the new premier, Sir Charles Court, offered Hutchinson the choice of another period in cabinet, the position of agent-general in London, or the Speakership, which he accepted. Bruce Okely, clerk of the house during Hutchinson’s tenure, noted that as Speaker, Hutchinson was ‘a thorough gentleman’ (Okely 1987, 83), a useful attribute for navigating the increasing polarisation of State politics at the time. The role provided scope to improve the procedures of the parliament, including amendments to the 1891 Parliamentary Privileges Act to censure members for contemptuous conduct. Hutchinson was distressed by the standards of behaviour in the House; on at least two occasions he reluctantly called on the sergeant-at-arms to enforce his rulings. The National Party leader, Hendy Cowan, later recalled that ‘in those days … responsibility was thrust very much upon the Speaker’ (WA LA 1999, 4204). He thought that Hutchinson had, despite the difficult atmosphere in which he worked, ’discharged those responsibilities meticulously, scrupulously and fairly’ (WA LA 1999, 4204).

Hutchinson retired from parliament in 1977 and was knighted that year. Retirement gave him the opportunity to refresh his links with sport. This included serving as patron of the Tennis Professionals Association. Additionally, he played a key role in establishing the National Veterans’ Tennis Club, of which he became president and a life member; he also won a national over-70s title. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 19 December 1999 at the Home of Peace, Inglewood, and was buried in the Uniting Church section of Karrakatta cemetery. In 2004 he was inducted into the Western Australian Football Hall of Fame. He continues to share the record of being one of only two to coach three Western Australian clubs to premierships. The parliamentarian and former tennis champion Arthur Marshall recalled him as ‘a quiet, unassuming, elegant man’ who was a ‘great leader, a highly respected politician and a true gentleman’ (WA LA 1999, 4204).

Research edited by Matthew Cunneen

Select Bibliography

  • Black, David, and Geoffrey Bolton. Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of the Western Australia. Vol. 2, 1930–2010. rev. ed. Perth: Western Australian Parliamentary History Project, 2010
  • Daily News (Perth). ‘Ross Hutchinson.’ 13 February 1946, 11
  • Foreman, Wally. ‘Sports Diary: A World Review.’ Western Mail (Perth), 22 September 1949, 19
  • Jamieson, Ronda. Charles Court, I Love This Place. Osborne Park, WA: St George Books, 2011
  • Hutchinson, Ross. Interview by Rhonda Jamieson, Nov 1986. Parliament of Western Australia, Legislative Assembly
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, HUTCHINSON R K
  • Okely, Bruce. Interview by Ronda Jamieson, March–June 1987. State Library of Western Australia
  • Okely, Bruce. ‘Parliament at Work.’ In Essays on Western Australian Politics, edited by Ralph Pervan and Campbell Sharman. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press, 1979
  • Phillips, Harry C. J. ‘The Hon. Sir Ross Hutchinson: Speaker: 22 May 1974 to 19 February 1977.’ In Speakers and Presidents of the Parliament of Western Australia, 202–6. Perth: Parliament of Western Australia, 2004
  • Western Australia. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 27 July 1950, 10–11
  • Western Australia. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 21 December 1999, 4204

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Citation details

Harry C. J. Phillips, 'Hutchinson, Sir Ross (1914–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hutchinson-sir-ross-32223/text39838, published online 2023, accessed online 21 April 2024.

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