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Sir William Labatte Ryall Payne (1890–1962)

by M. French

This article was published:

Sir William Labatte Ryall Payne (1890-1962), public servant, was born on 5 September 1890 at North Pine, near Caboolture, Queensland, third son of Christopher James Payne, railway stationmaster, and his wife Wilhelmina Jane, née Ryall, both from Ireland. Educated at state schools and Brisbane Grammar School, he joined the Department of Public Lands as a clerk in 1907, was admitted to the Bar on 6 June 1917, and became assistant Land Court advocate that year. In 1922 he was appointed assistant under-secretary of the department. From 1926 he was a member and in 1937-60 president of the Land Court.

Having chaired numerous Queensland royal commissions, Payne was often rewarded by appointments to carry out his own recommendations. His inquiries included rabbit, dingo and stock route administration (1929-30) and the development of North Queensland (1931); and he was sole commissioner on the economic condition of the wool industry (1939) and progressive land settlement (1958-59). He was chairman of the Land Settlement Advisory Board (1927), responsible for the Lands Acts Amendment Act of 1927; of the Prickly-Pear Land Commission in 1924-38; and of the Land Administration Board (1928-37). He also served on the Bureau of Industry in the 1930s.

For the Commonwealth he was executive member of the Prickly Pear Board overseeing the introduction of cactoblastis cactorum in 1930-38; a member of the Wool Committee (1932); chairman of an inquiry into land conditions in the Northern Territory (1937); and a member of the Queensland committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1957 he chaired an international land administration commission to improve land management in Malaya. He was appointed O.B.E. (1941), C.M.G. (1959) and knight bachelor (1960)—the first native-born Queenslander knighted for services to administration.

Payne was the consummate public servant. He enjoyed a nation-wide reputation as a fair-minded, non-partisan, skilled administrator with a practical turn of mind. The 'man on the land' placed great confidence in him while the judiciary respected the soundness of his findings. His later reports were characterized by a simplicity of expression rare in the public service. His 'centenary report' on Progressive Land Settlement in Queensland (Brisbane, 1959) is regarded as a masterpiece of lucidity and formed the basis for sweeping new land legislation. Governments, however, were not always impressed; Payne's bold scheme to develop the Northern Territory by extensive tax concessions held little appeal for the Lyons ministry.

He was committed to northern land, especially pastoral, development. While castigating graziers for their excessive demands, he argued that large capital investment should not be scared away by government inaction; Australia's future lay with the 'big man'. Payne was imbued with the bush ethos and presented his 1959 report as a tribute to 'the pioneer, all-Australianism and mateship'. On his return from Malaya he announced that 'the happiest experience in the whole adventure was the moment … when I stepped on to Australian soil and was again amongst my own people'.

Payne died suddenly of coronary vascular disease at New Farm, Brisbane, on 14 February 1962 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He never married. His estate was sworn for probate at £113,377.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland, Reports on Land Questions by Royal Commissions and Land Administration Board 1927-1933 (Brisb, 1933)
  • A. Powell, Far Country (Melb, 1982)
  • R. Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland (Brisb, 1984)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1923, 1, p 1281, 1929-30, 2, p 519, 1931, 2, p 255, 1939, 2, p 629, 1958-59, 2, p 549, 1959-60, 1, p 56
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1932-34, 4, p 769, 1937-40, 3, p 813
  • Brisbane Grammar School Magazine, Nov 1943, p 63, Dec 1960, p 84, Dec 1957, p 77
  • Queenslander, 12 Feb 1927
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 1 Jan 1941, 13 June 1959, 1 Jan 1960, 15 Feb 1962
  • Payne newsclipping books (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

M. French, 'Payne, Sir William Labatte Ryall (1890–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 September, 1890
Petrie, Queensland, Australia


14 February, 1962 (aged 71)
New Farm, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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