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Staples, Arthur Charles (Charlie) (1910–1997)

by E. Jaggard

This article was published online in 2021

Charles Staples (centre), by Stevenson, Kinder & Scott Corporate Photography, 1977

Charles Staples (centre), by Stevenson, Kinder & Scott Corporate Photography, 1977

State Library of Western Australia, 47862689

Arthur Charles Staples (1910–1997), educationist, historian, and philanthropist, was born on 18 June 1910 at Bunbury, Western Australia, elder son of English-born Charles George Staples, grazier, and his locally born second wife Fanny Jane Sewell, née Logue, teacher. He had two older half-sisters from his father’s first marriage. Charlie attended Bunbury Central Primary School, and Bunbury High School (1923–27). In 1928 he began teaching as a monitor at Boyanup before moving the next year to Claremont Teachers’ College, Perth, graduating with a certificate in teaching in 1930. That year he commenced a three-year term at the one-teacher school at Northcliffe. From 1934 until 1942 he taught in a succession of small primary schools in the south of the State.

Mobilised in the Citizen Military Forces in World War II, he served part time with the Volunteer Defence Corps at Katanning (1942—43) and full time with No. 4 Psychology Testing Section in Perth (1943). He married Alicia Josephine Marie (Joy) Rogers in Perth on 30 December 1943. From 1938 until 1945 he studied part time at the University of Western Australia (UWA), majoring in history (BA, 1946), then undertaking postgraduate research (MA, 1950). He published his research in journal articles and later in a book, They Made Their Destiny: History of Settlement of the Shire of Harvey 1829–1929 (1979), an account of how European farmers adjusted to the region’s environment.

In 1944 Staples taught at Mullewa and then at Perth Modern School before moving to Perth (1946–49) and Leederville (1950–54) technical colleges, where he lectured mostly to ex-servicemen as part of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. Returning to the high school system, he was appointed senior master in social studies at a succession of metropolitan schools, including Kent Street (1957–59) and Applecross (1961–63). He had gained a diploma of education from UWA in 1957. Intent on pursuing history at the tertiary level, he took long service leave (1963) and leave without pay (1963–64) to study at the University of London (MA, 1965), focusing on nineteenth-century eastern Indian Ocean trade. Returning to Perth, he took up an appointment as senior lecturer in social sciences at Graylands Teachers’ College, a position he retained until 1969.

Holding strong reformist ideals, Staples advocated changes to the system of teacher education. Appointed vice-principal of Mount Lawley Teachers College in 1970, with the principal Robert Peter he implemented a system of continuous assessment, brought in a semester system, and introduced student representation on college committees. Having joined the State School Teachers’ Union of Western Australia in 1930, he remained active in its affairs until his retirement in 1974. He was elected a life member of the Australian Labor Party in 1978.

In 1959 Staples had been a foundation member of the National Trust of Australia (WA). Elected to the council of the (Royal) Western Australian Historical Society, he served as secretary and president (1958–59) and was a regular contributor to the society’s journal. He was a member of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Foundation (vice-president 1956–85), the Fellowship of Australian Writers, and the board of the Fremantle Maritime Museum. A member of the State working party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (1969–96), he authored seven ADB articles.

Retirement allowed Staples time for archival research, overseas travel, and writing. He published in Indian and Australian journals, his last article, on Sir James Stirling, appearing in 1994. Of above average height with a prominent forehead, he had a welcoming, affable manner, although he sometimes seemed shy. As a historian he always showed an interest in the work of young scholars, offering help and encouragement. His original contributions to the State’s colonial history were based on meticulous archival research and presented in clear prose. Over many years he argued persuasively for the value of historical studies to the wider community. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 23 April 1997 in South Perth and was cremated. The Charles and Joy Staples South West Region Publications Fund, established in 1984 by their donation to UWA of the proceeds of a house sale, supports the publication of research on the State’s south-west.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Harvey Murray Times (WA). ‘The History of Harvey.’ 25 February 1949, 1
  • McKenzie, John A. Twenty-Five Years: A History of Claremont Teachers College 1952–1977. Claremont, WA: Claremont Teachers’ College, 1981
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, W95281
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, W43814
  • Sacks, Margaret. The WAY 79 Who is Who: Synoptic Biographies of Western Australians. Nedlands, WA: Crawley Publishers, 1980
  • Staples, A. C. Interview by I. Kelly, 1991. State Library of Western Australia
  • Staples, A. C. Interview by Jan Gothard, 13 April 1989. Transcript. Edith Cowan University Archives

Citation details

E. Jaggard, 'Staples, Arthur Charles (Charlie) (1910–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/staples-arthur-charles-charlie-30344/text37638, published online 2021, accessed online 23 May 2022.

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