Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Frederick Watts (1897–1970)

by David Black

This article was published:

Arthur Frederick Watts (1897-1970), lawyer and politician, was born on 26 May 1897 at Islington, London, son of Arthur Joseph Watts, dentist, and his wife Martha Kathleen, née Bradfield. In 1906 the family migrated to Perth, and then settled at Katanning, in the wheat-belt. After attending Thomas Street (Perth) and Katanning State schools, Arthur was sent to Guildford Grammar School, Perth, as a boarder. Articled in 1915 to G. A. Cooper at Katanning, and in 1919 to Harry Keall of the Perth law firm Villeneuve Smith & Keall, he was admitted to the Supreme Court of Western Australia on 20 December 1920 as a barrister and solicitor. He practised at Katanning with Cooper, later acquiring the practice in partnership with T. A. Gee. On 21 April 1924 at St George's Cathedral, Perth, he married with Anglican rites Dorothy Furness Thomson, a music teacher.

A member (1926-36) of the Katanning Road Board, Watts was vice-chairman from 1930. He unsuccessfully contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Katanning for the Country Party at the 1933 State election. At a by-election on 31 August 1935 he narrowly won the seat. Succeeding (Sir) Charles Latham as State party leader and leader of the Opposition on 7 October 1942, he chaired the royal commission on the Vermin Act (1945) and two select committees—on the Commonwealth powers bill (1943), and the handling of wool at appraisement centres (1945)—and served on several others. The coalition of the Liberal Party and the Country and Democratic League won office in March 1947, with the Liberals securing one more seat than the Country Party. Watts became deputy-premier to (Sir) Ross McLarty and was appointed minister of education and industrial development. His wife died that year, and on 18 June 1948 at St Andrew's Church of England, Katanning, he married Ida Gladys O'Halloran, née Connolly, a widowed secretary.

From 1950 Watts represented the electorate of Stirling. In 1947-53 he earned a reputation as a capable and energetic minister—he also held the portfolios of housing (from 1949) and child welfare (from 1950)—and successfully maintained harmonious relations between the coalition partners. Back in Opposition (1953-59), he chaired the 1957 honorary royal commission on restrictive trade practices and legislation. From April 1959, during (Sir) David Brand's first term as premier, he was again deputy-premier. He was attorney-general and minister for education and electricity until 31 January 1962 when he resigned from parliament to take up a post as chairman of the State Licensing Courts. Apart from the political nature of his appointment (which was for three years), it was controversial because of the attendant increase in remuneration. Reappointed for a second term in 1965, he retired in 1968.

In the 1930s Watts had served as chairman of the Katanning branch of the St John Ambulance Association in Western Australia and as president of the Katanning Cricket Board. A founding member and patron (1951-70) of the Spastic Welfare Association of Western Australia, and patron of the Katanning branch of the Maternal and Infant Health Association, he chaired (1947-52, 1959-61) the National Fitness Council of Western Australia. He was appointed a commander brother of the Order of St John (1945) and C.M.G. (1949). One of Western Australia's most effective rural politicians, he had a particular interest in agricultural education and rural and industrial development. In his spare time he enjoyed reading and motoring. Survived by his wife, and the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died on 8 June 1970 in his home at Dalkeith, Perth, and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Great Southern Herald, 7, 14, 17 Aug, 4 Sept 1935
  • West Australian, 8 Oct 1942, 9 June 1949, 10 Jan 1962, 26 Feb 1968, 9 June 1970
  • Countryman (Perth), 11 Jan 1962
  • Bulletin, 3 Feb 1962.

Citation details

David Black, 'Watts, Arthur Frederick (1897–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 May 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]


26 May, 1897
London, Middlesex, England


8 June, 1970 (aged 73)
Dalkeith, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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