Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Edward (Jack) Willoughby (1908–1962)

by Robert S. Swift

This article was published:

John Edward (Jack) Willoughby (1908-1962), public servant, was born on 22 August 1908 at Guildford, Sydney, eldest child of Charles Anthony Willoughby, painter and later mayor of Granville, and his wife Edith Roslyn, née Evans, both born in New South Wales. Educated at Guildford Public and Parramatta Boys' Intermediate High schools, John (also known as Jack) began work on 2 February 1925 as a clerk with the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board. In his spare time he served in the Militia (1926-32), held various positions in the Boy Scouts' Association (until 1935) and rowed for Drummoyne; he was a member of the VIII which won the lightweight State championship in 1931 and 1932. At St Stephen's Church, Chatswood, on 8 September 1934 he married with Anglican rites Anna Christina Grace Finlay, a comptometrist.

Having taken a succession of Workers' Educational Association and University Extension Board courses in 1934-38, Willoughby matriculated in 1940. He studied at the University of Sydney (B.Ec., 1944), graduating with second-class honours. While at university he had won (1943) the Sir George Murray essay competition run by the South Australian branch of the Institute of Public Administration. In April 1944 he was lent to the Commonwealth Department of Post-war Reconstruction as a temporary senior investigation officer, based in Canberra. There he was closely involved in policy planning by the re-establishment division. He also acted as secretary and executive officer of a number of inter-departmental committees. In 1945 he moved his family to Canberra and in December next year was permanently appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service as senior research officer in the division of economic policy.

In May 1947 Willoughby was promoted senior project officer in the office of the Public Service Board, Prime Minister's Department, where he worked on staff-training and recruitment policies, including the establishment of cadetship schemes. He lectured part time in public administration and political science at Canberra University College in 1948-50. Promoted assistant-inspector in July 1949, he was appointed assistant-secretary (research and development, later industries and commerce) in the Department of External Territories (Department of Territories from 1951) in March 1950. He headed the division which formulated policy advice to the minister on matters of economic development. A key issue for Papua and New Guinea with which he contended was the tension between the need for rapid development of the economic and revenue base by capital and entrepreneurship from outside, and the fundamental need, recognized by the minister, (Sir) Paul Hasluck, to ensure that adequate resources were kept unalienated to meet the future needs of the indigenous people.

Promoted to first assistant secretary in July 1956, Willoughby deputized for the secretary in all of the department's activities, with particular responsibility for budgetary and public-service matters. The building up of fiscal self-reliance in Papua and New Guinea, including the very unpopular introduction of income tax, and the beginning of a programme to replace expatriate with local officers in the Territory's public service, were examples of significant measures which required his sound and far-sighted thinking. Within Australia, substantial action was taken to counter the health, educational and economic disadvantages of the Northern Territory's Aborigines. For Nauru, attention focused on the future of the small population when the phosphate deposits there were worked out towards the end of the century.

In 1961 Willoughby chaired a committee, consisting of representatives of the Prime Minister's Department, the Papua and New Guinea administration, and the Australian School of Pacific Administration, which examined all aspects of tertiary education and higher training in Papua and New Guinea. The committee's recommendations set the pattern for the development of tertiary institutions, including the Administrative College, the Institute of Higher Technical Education, teacher- and medical-training colleges, and eventually the University of Papua and New Guinea.

Of middle height, with dark, wavy hair, Willoughby had a restrained but confident manner, and a marked ability to develop the talents of his subordinates and delegate policy-advising work to them, while still making his own capable contribution. He listed his recreations as reading and colour photography. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and two sons, he died of a coronary occlusion on 23 June 1962 while playing golf at the Royal Canberra Golf Club and was buried with Methodist forms in Canberra cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, A Time for Building (Melb, 1976)
  • Canberra Times, 25 June 1962
  • Willoughby papers (National Library of Australia)
  • personal file, CP268/3, item Willoughby J E, applications for positions, A1361, item 34/1/12 pt 1894 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert S. Swift, 'Willoughby, John Edward (Jack) (1908–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 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]


22 August, 1908
Guildford, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 June, 1962 (aged 53)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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.