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William Victor (Bill) McCall (1908–1968)

by David Lee

This article was published:

William Victor (Bill) McCall (1908-1968), politician and businessman, was born on 24 May 1908 at Chatswood, Sydney, second child of native-born parents William James McCall, bank officer, and his wife Hilda Mary, née Bowman. When his father died in 1924, Bill left Sydney Grammar School to support the family. He relied on his wits and entrepreneurial skills to establish himself in business, first as a skin-trader and then as a wool-buyer.

Tough times for business during the Depression persuaded McCall to enter politics. In 1931 he tried to gain pre-selection as the United Australia Party's candidate for the Federal seat of Martin, but was defeated by W. A. Holman. Next year the U.A.P. chose McCall to contest a by-election for another Federal seat, East Sydney, traditionally a Labor stronghold. He performed well during the campaign, losing to the Lang Labor Party's E. J. Ward by only 173 votes. On 6 June 1934 McCall married Georgina Bessie Dart (d.1961) with Presbyterian forms at her parents' Chatswood home.

After Holman died in 1934, McCall won pre-selection for Martin. Although only 26 years old, he was president of the U.A.P.'s Chatswood-Willoughby branch and an impressive public speaker. He campaigned energetically, countering Labor Party criticism of the Lyons government's tariff policy and its insistence on balancing the budget, and was elected in September. McCall believed in physical fitness: he jogged in the early morning, surfed in Sydney, and played golf and tennis. He also immersed himself in local politics. Aligned with the Citizens' Reform Association and aided by his standing as a member of Federal parliament, he was elected to the Sydney Municipal Council as a representative for Fitzroy Ward in 1935.

In the House of Representatives McCall generally supported the Lyons government, but could be outspoken in opposing particular decisions. He led the back-bench protest against Thomas Paterson's decision in 1936 to refuse Mrs Mabel Freer entry into Australia; McCall exposed Paterson's maladroit handling of the case and helped to persuade the government to reverse the decision in the following year. Enlisting in the Militia in late 1938, McCall was commissioned in January 1939 and transferred to the Reserve of Officers in October 1940. He had taken a keen interest in defence preparations. After World War II began, he advocated an 'all-out' effort against Germany, and later Japan.

Believing that the government lacked vigour in prosecuting the war, McCall became disillusioned with Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies. He was even more unhappy when, following the indecisive general elections of September 1940, Menzies failed to reach agreement with the A.L.P. on forming an all-party government. McCall thought that Menzies made ministerial appointments on the basis of seniority rather than merit, which added to his frustration. From mid-1941 he and other U.A.P. back-benchers regularly found fault with Menzies' leadership. On 28 August at a joint U.A.P.-Country Party meeting McCall brought the issue to a head. He vowed that, unless Menzies stood down, he would ensure that the government was unable to command a majority in the House. Menzies resigned on the 29th.

McCall lost his seat in the 1943 general elections which produced a landslide victory for Labor. With the money he had made on the stock market and his foresight in appreciating that postwar immigration would produce a land boom, he went into real estate, buying and selling rural and residential properties. His stated philosophy was simple: if he 'did not make a quarter of a million', he would 'lose a quarter of a million'. In December 1967 he stunned the business world by offering nearly $2 million cash for a prime redevelopment site in Martin Place, Sydney.

At Wesley Church, Melbourne, on 24 October 1962 McCall married Mavis Michele Dearing, a 35-year-old secretary; they lived at Bellevue Hill, Sydney. On 19 August 1968 McCall and his chauffeur Sten Jacobssen left Pitt Water for Sydney in McCall's speedboat; the upturned vessel was found next day off Long Reef near Collaroy; no bodies were located and the two men were presumed to have drowned. McCall's wife and daughter survived him, as did the son and daughter of his first marriage. His estate was sworn for probate at $60,219.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941 (Canb, 1952)
  • P. Spender, Politics and a Man (Syd, 1972)
  • A. W. Martin, Robert Menzies, vol 1 (Melb, 1993)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21, 25 Jan 1932, 16, 20, 22, 30 June 1934, 11, 30 July 1935, 5, 13, 19 Nov 1936, 5 Dec 1940, 29 Aug 1941, 21 Aug 1968
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 25 Aug 1968.

Citation details

David Lee, 'McCall, William Victor (Bill) (1908–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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