Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Andrew Nowell Walls (1912–1990)

by Andrew Lemon

This article was published:

Andrew Nowell Walls (1912-1990), local government official, was born on 13 August 1912 at Coleraine, Victoria, son of Victorian-born parents Andrew Walls, shire secretary, and his wife Lillias Eleanor, née O’Sullivan. Andrew attended state schools in Hamilton — where his father was shire secretary for thirty years — and Geelong College. Unable to gain a cadetship in civil engineering, he reluctantly entered municipal administration, accepting in 1930 a post as a junior clerk to his father. In 1934 he moved to suburban Sandringham as assistant town clerk. After qualifying in accountancy, in 1938 he became the town clerk at the newly created borough of Colac. He married Hilda Margaret Thompson, a stenographer, on 2 September 1939 at Scots Church, Melbourne.

From April 1943 to October 1945 Walls was a cypher officer in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve (lieutenant, 1944). He served at Navy Office, Melbourne, and (1944-45) in Papua, New Guinea, and the Netherlands New Guinea. Back in Colac, he helped to establish the Australian Institute of Municipal Administration in 1950. He gained prominence as town clerk (1956-73) of Box Hill, Melbourne. The city was in financial and administrative disarray when he took office. Citizens complained about its muddy, corrugated roads and ‘filthy, stagnant, disease-bearing cesspools misrepresented to be gutters’. A forceful negotiator, he masterminded huge bank loans to the council that enabled a backlog of properties that required sewerage, and forty miles (64 km) of unmade roads, to be rectified within ten years. Among his innovations was a scheme for paying rates by instalments.

As federal president (1964) of the AIMA, Walls became president (1964-65) of the Association of Town Clerks of the British Commonwealth. Assisted by a 1967 Myer Foundation travelling fellowship, he studied town councils in the United States of America, Canada and Britain. In 1973 he was appointed a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission in Canberra, following legislation to allow direct federal financial grants to local governments. A chairman of the commission, Justice Else-Mitchell, later noted that Walls ‘was never outmatched by clever town clerks or talkative mayors and councillors’. Walls also joined the advisory council for the new Australian centre of local government studies at the Canberra College of Advanced Education.

In 1976 Walls established the Canberra secretariat of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations and became its director. That year the International City Management Association, based in Washington, DC, honoured him as the first Australian to receive its distinguished service award. Appointed AM (1977), he retired in July 1978. Twice president of the Shiplovers’ Society of Victoria, he had published ‘Wrecks around the Otway’ (Canberra Historical Journal, September 1977). He was president (1979-81) of the Canberra & District Historical Society. Elected a fellow of the Australian centre for local government studies, CCAE, in 1982, and of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies in 1983, he was a member of the advisory committee at the centre for research on federal financial relations, Australian National University.

Physically imposing, lean and bespectacled, Walls often concealed what he called a Scottish sense of humour: ‘I’m tall and dark, and when I’m not smiling I could look severe’. Survived by his wife and their four sons, he died on 28 February 1990 in Canberra and was buried in Camperdown cemetery, Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Lemon, Box Hill (1978)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9 Dec 1967, p 28
  • Canberra Times, 8 Mar 1990, p 4
  • Canberra & District Historical Society Newsletter, Nov 1979, p 6, Apr/May 1990, p 8
  • A3978, item 30925109, and A6769, item 5220061 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Andrew Lemon, 'Walls, Andrew Nowell (1912–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 August, 1912
Coleraine, Victoria, Australia


28 February, 1990 (aged 77)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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