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William John (Jock) Weeden (1905–1996)

by Lyndon Megarrity

This article was published online in 2020

William John Weeden, centre, 1959

William John Weeden, centre, 1959

National Archives of Australia

William John (Jock) Weeden (1905–1996), educationist and public servant, was born on 18 August 1905 at Tumut, New South Wales, second of four children of New South Wales-born Charles Edward Weeden, ironmonger (later storekeeper), and his English-born wife Annie, née Davies. His older brother died the year he was born and his mother died of heart failure when he was five years old, leaving his father to care for three children, including a newborn. Jock’s formal education began at Tumut Public School. In 1919 he obtained a bursary to study at Fort Street Boys’ High School, Sydney. His results in the Leaving certificate examinations were good enough to entitle him to a State scholarship, permitting him to enrol at the University of Sydney (BA, 1927; MA Hons, 1931) without incurring tuition fees.

In 1927 Weeden was awarded scholarships in psychology and teaching. Under the supervision of A. H. Martin, he was co-opted to work in the newly established Australian Institute of Industrial Psychology, which ‘set up an office in town and for fees … advised business and other people on psychological problems’ (Weeden 1991). Psychology was a novel and fledgling discipline at Australian universities in the 1920s and Weeden found it so absorbing that his attendance at Sydney Teachers’ College (DipEd, 1928) suffered. Nevertheless, he completed the teaching course and commenced work at Manly Boys’ Intermediate High School in 1929. That year, on 27 November at the district registry office, Manly, he married Irene Margaret Anderson; she died in 1952.

Between 1930 and 1935 Weeden taught at Orange High School, and found time to complete a master of arts degree, graduating with first-class honours in psychology. His excellent postgraduate results were crucial to his 1935 appointment as district counsellor attached to Canterbury High School, Sydney, providing educational and vocational guidance to parents, pupils, and teachers at various primary and secondary schools in the district. His duties included administering psychological and other tests and advising ‘teachers and parents … as to what secondary education those students should undertake’ (Weeden 1991). Looking back on the tests in the early 1990s, he reflected: ‘I wouldn’t touch [them] now with a barge pole’ (Weeden 1991).

Subsequently employed as the vocational guidance and welfare officer at Sydney Technical College (1936–40), Weeden was also building his public profile, giving talks on radio with titles such as ‘Some Facts to Consider in Selecting a Career.’ He was a tutor for the University of Sydney’s department of tutorial classes between 1928 and 1942, teaching in country, suburban, and city areas. During the 1930s he also taught courses for the Workers’ Educational Association; however, as he later acknowledged, his classes, which included topics such as ‘The Art of Expression in English,’ attracted ‘very few shovel and spade people’ (Weeden 1991).

In 1940 Weeden was appointed a research officer for the New South Wales Department of Public Instruction. Responsible for overseeing more than three hundred school counsellors and career advisors, as well as selecting and supervising gifted pupils and those with learning difficulties, he gained valuable experience in people management. He became secretary of the Universities Commission in 1943 when its chairman, R. C. Mills, seconded him for the duration of World War II. At war’s end he found employment with the Commonwealth Department of Post-War Reconstruction before transferring to the newly created Commonwealth Office of Education (COE), becoming assistant director (1946–53) and later director (1953–67). Located in Sydney, the COE supervised a wide range of activities, including migrant education; postwar training of ex-service personnel; Australia’s participation in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and various educational and training scholarships for domestic and overseas students provided by the Australian government. Weeden was especially proud of the COE’s handling of the social and welfare needs of Colombo Plan students studying in Australia during the 1950s and 1960s, and for his part in persuading Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies to introduce a generous Commonwealth university scholarship scheme in 1951, a decision that increased the number of young Australians receiving a tertiary education.

Weeden’s time with the COE was marked by his strong involvement with UNESCO. He represented the Australian government at numerous international conferences, and championed national conferences as a means by which professionals from the Australian States could forge links and exchange information. In December 1952 he met his second wife, Margaret Rink, a Paris-based interpreter, at a two-week UNESCO conference at Bombay (Mumbai), India. After a lengthy courtship by correspondence, Weeden was waiting for her when her ship reached Fremantle on 15 October 1953 and they married that day. They lived together in Sydney.

The COE was dismantled in 1967. Its replacement, the Department of Education and Science, was located in Canberra. Accepting a position as senior assistant secretary, Weeden relocated to the nation’s capital and retired in 1970. He had been appointed OBE in 1967. Continuing to take an active role in public life, he served on the council of the Canberra College of Advanced Education (later University of Canberra) from 1972 to 1984. He was also acting commissioner (1972–73) of the Australian Capital Territory Teaching Service and president (1976–79) of the ACT division of the Arts Council of Australia. His final contribution to Australian education was the W. J. Weeden Postgraduate Scholarship Trust, which he and his wife established at the University of Canberra in 1990 with a donation of $50,000. Childless, he died on 14 May 1996 at Red Hill and was cremated. His wife survived him.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times. ‘Trust to Attract Quality Students.’ 21 November 1990, 5
  • Canberra Times. ‘Visionary Dedicated His Life to Educating All Australians.’ 29 May 1996, 11
  • Longdin, Ruth. ‘The Family Trust: On Assimilation, Migration and Concealing Ambivalent Identities.’ In Legacies of Violence: Rendering the Unspeakable Past in Modern Australia, edited by Robert Mason, 69–88. New York: Berghahn Books, 2016
  • Megarrity, Lyndon. ‘Regional Goodwill, Sensibly Priced: Commonwealth Policies towards Colombo Plan Scholars and Private Overseas Students 1945–72.’ Australian Historical Studies 38, no. 129 (2007): 88–105
  • National Archives of Australia. A1361, 34/1/12 PART 1846
  • Weeden, William. Interview by Peter Biskup, 23 January – 1 February 1991. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • West Australian. ‘Indian Love Call has Perth Echo.’ 16 October 1953, 4

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Citation details

Lyndon Megarrity, 'Weeden, William John (Jock) (1905–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 14 July 2024.

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