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Sir Alexander George Wales (1885–1962)

by David Dunstan

This article was published:

Sir Alexander George Wales (1885-1962), businessman and politician, was born on 11 October 1885 at Richmond, Melbourne, eldest of seven children of Alexander Wright Wales, contractor and quarry-owner, and his wife Rosanna, née Poynton, both Victorian born. After his father was blinded in an industrial accident, George left Brunswick State School at 14 and became a railway labourer before working at a quarry. In 1903 he joined the Commonwealth public service as a clerk and began studying at night. The fruits of his determination to improve himself were seen in his appointment in 1907 as secretary of the Albion Quarrying Co., in which his family had interests. Subsequently its managing director and chairman, Wales was the recognized force behind the company's expansion. As a building industry contractor, he travelled throughout Australia, constantly extending his commercial interests and becoming a director of the Hardware Co. of Australia Pty Ltd, the Twentieth Century Building and Investment Society, the Albion Sand Co. and the Geelong Brick Co. On 5 September 1911 he married Ethel May Bromet at Christ Church, Brunswick, with Anglican rites.

Beginning his public career in 1914, Wales was elected to the Brunswick council; having been mayor (1917-18) like his father before him, he resigned in 1924. Next year he progressed to the Melbourne City Council as representative of Lonsdale Ward. During the ensuing twenty-nine years he was a member of most council committees and chairman (1937-39) of the public works committee. In 1936 he was president of the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Board. Chairman of the council's decorations committee for Melbourne's centenary, he served three successive terms as lord mayor (1934-37). Wales received the customary reward—a knighthood—with which he was invested at Buckingham Palace by King George VI whose coronation he attended in 1937.

In 1919 Wales had unsuccessfully contested the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of Melbourne North; in 1936, with United Australia Party support, he was elected to the Legislative Council. He resigned two years later following the disclosure that he was a principal shareholder in a firm successfully tendering for State government contracts. Although Wales disclaimed knowledge of the firm's business arrangements, he did not recontest the seat, although eligible so to do. In 1942 he made a bid to re-enter the Legislative Council, but failed.

An early director of the Alba Petroleum Co. of Australia (later Ampol), Wales helped the development of the industry and visited the United States of America in 1943 and 1946. Impressed by that country's wartime shipbuilding efforts and an admirer of its people's enterprise, he actively supported closer ties with the United States. While president (1947-48) of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, Wales was a vocal critic of the Federal Labor government: as a staunch anti-socialist, he was a focus for conservative opposition to the Curtin and Chifley governments; he attacked Chifley's plans to nationalize the banks, and accused the government of doctrinaire economic policies, laxity in regard to trade unions and failure to stimulate production.

Energetic, with a strong sense of civic responsibility, Wales was a patrician at heart. He was burly in appearance, with a bullet head, short hair and an implacable moustache; goodnatured, but phlegmatic, he admired poise and detested argument. While unsuccessful in parliament, he was a natural leader in business and civic politics. A powerful force in the Melbourne City Council, he opposed democratic reforms such as the creation of a Greater Melbourne Council and the abolition of plural voting, but advocated the redevelopment of city-owned property like the Eastern and Western markets which took place after his shock defeat in the council election of 1954.

Survived by his wife and daughter, Wales died on 31 May 1962 at Elsternwick and was buried in Coburg cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £27,391. The family holds his portrait by William Dargie.

Select Bibliography

  • Graphic, 29 Nov 1934
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Nov 1932, 10 Oct 1934, 30 June, 27 July 1938, 10 Feb, 9 Mar 1948, 27 Aug 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 Oct 1934, 9 July 1947, 9 Jan 1948, 1 June 1962
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 9 Mar 1937, 11 Aug 1938, 4, 17 July 1942, 18 June 1943, 21 May 1947, 28 Apr 1949, 26 Aug 1954
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5, 31 Mar, 22 May 1948.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Wales, Sir Alexander George (1885–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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