Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William John Wallwork (1903–1971)

by Quentin Beresford

This article was published:

William John Wallwork (1903-1971), magistrate, was born on 5 September 1903 at Fremantle, Western Australia, younger son of Henry Charles Wallwork (d.1911), a London-born clerk, and his wife Margaret, née Lowry, who came from Victoria. Raised in financial hardship by his mother, Bill was educated at the local state school and at Christian Brothers' College, Fremantle. A brilliant student, he first passed the Leaving certificate examination at the age of 13. In 1921 he joined the State Treasury in Perth as a junior clerk and five years later transferred to the Crown Law Department, gaining experience as a clerk of courts at Fremantle. Having qualified as a licentiate (1925), and later as an associate, of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants, he returned to Treasury in 1932. On 9 September 1933 at St Patrick's Catholic Church, Fremantle, he married Margaret Mary Mulcahy (d.1955); later that month he took up the post of resident magistrate at Broome.

In 1935 Wallwork moved to Bunbury, where he served as magistrate for six years, combining traditional police-court work with responsibility for industrial disputes. He forged a long-standing association with the State's coal industry based at nearby Collie. Believing that he should tackle disputes at the coalface, on many occasions he donned overalls and miner's hat and, with lamp in hand, went underground to investigate a situation first hand. His ability to cut through the maze of conflicting evidence, and his cheerful and outspoken manner, earned the confidence of both miners and managers. He quickly gained a reputation as one of the State's most successful industrial arbitrators.

Wallwork returned to Perth in 1940 as senior police magistrate. His status in legal circles was enhanced in 1945 when the High Court of Australia, in Gratwick v. Johnson, upheld his decision in R. v. Johnson, which declared invalid and unconstitutional an order under the National Security Regulations forbidding interstate rail travel except by Commonwealth permit. He served as chairman of the Local Coal Reference Board (1941-43, 1946-52), and of its successor, the Western Australian Coal Industry Tribunal (1952-68). In 1946-47 he was royal commissioner inquiring into the coal-mining industry of Western Australia; his report paid particular attention to the social and industrial conditions of miners. On the tribunal he tackled some of the biggest disputes in the history of Western Australian mining. When the companies were pressed by the State government to produce cheaper coal using more efficient open-cut methods, the miners feared a rise in unemployment. Under Wallwork's direction the tribunal facilitated the introduction of new production contracts between mining companies and government.

In 1957 Wallwork was appointed unfair trading control commissioner. His controversial decision next year, declaring Cockburn Cement Pty Ltd guilty of unfair trading because of its monopolistic practices, showed his unflinching concern for the public interest. On 31 October 1959 at St Thomas's Church, Claremont, he married with Catholic rites Rita Kathleen McMullan, a 37-year-old nurse. Becoming chief stipendiary magistrate in 1960, he conducted State royal commissions into allegations of bribery of members of parliament in relation to the totalisator agency board betting bill 1960 (1960-61) and into safety of ships (1964). He retired in 1968.

Despite his heavy workload, Wallwork cultivated many private pursuits—in particular sailing and fishing—and was noted for his love of poetry, operatic arias and history. In the early 1930s he had played for the Perth Rugby Union Football Club in the first-grade competition. At Bunbury he was founding president (1936-37) of the town's Apex club. Gregarious and generous, he was most content in the company of his family. He died of myocardial infarction on 12 February 1971 at Subiaco and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. His wife and their two sons, and the three sons and two daughters of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Stedman, 100 Years of Collie Coal (Perth, 1988)
  • Daily News (Perth), 5 Mar 1945, 6 Jan 1958, 20 Sept 1968
  • Collie Miner, 18 Feb 1971
  • L. Marchewka, The Collie Coal Industry 1945-1963 (B.Ed. thesis, Claremont Teachers College, Perth, 1964)
  • private information.

Citation details

Quentin Beresford, 'Wallwork, William John (1903–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 September, 1903
Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia


12 February, 1971 (aged 67)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.