Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Keith Cameron Wilson (1900–1987)

by Judith M. Brown

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Sir Keith Cameron Wilson (1900-1987), politician and solicitor, was born on 3 September 1900 in East Adelaide, youngest of three children of Algernon Theodore King Wilson, solicitor, and his wife Lillian Charlotte, née Laurence.  Keith was educated at The Collegiate School of St Peter.  On 19 October 1918 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he was discharged on 18 November on the demobilisation of the AIF.  After studying law at the University of Adelaide (LL.B, 1922), he became a partner in his father’s legal firm.

In a period of rising unemployment and distress, in September 1928 Premier (Sir) Richard Butler called for volunteers to load ships and act as special constables during a strike by waterside workers.  Wilson rallied his friends to join the Essential Services Maintenance Volunteers, who aimed to 'uphold constitutional government, maintain law and order and perform essential services'.  After the strike collapsed, he became the first president of the newly formed Political Reform League (later the Young Liberal League), which merged with the Country Party and the Liberal Federation to become the Liberal and Country League.  On 24 May 1930 at St John’s Church of England, Adelaide, he married Elizabeth Hornabrook Bonython, daughter of (Sir) John Lavington Bonython.

Wilson gained preselection for the Federal seat of Boothby in 1934, but was defeated.  In 1937 he was elected to the Senate for South Australia.  With Senator Oliver Uppill, he published a pamphlet outlining a wheat equalisation scheme and in 1938 introduced their proposal into the Senate as a private members’ bill, but it lapsed when World War II broke out.

On 31 May 1940 Wilson enlisted in the AIF.  He served in the Middle East in 1940-43, first with the 2/7th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, then, after being commissioned in January 1942, as a legal officer.  Returning to Australia with the rank of major, he continued to perform legal duties until he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 2 October 1945.  He established the K. C. Wilson Housing and Welfare Fund, which for many years gave grants and loans to members of his old regiment and their families.  At the 1943 election he lost his Senate seat, with effect from 30 June 1944.

Standing unsuccessfully in 1946 for the seat of Boothby, Wilson was elected to the new seat of Sturt in 1949 and was re-elected in 1951.  He lost Sturt to Norman Makin in 1954, but regained it in 1955 and held it until he retired in 1966.  Realising that a back-bencher must specialise, he concentrated on social services, immigration and taxation.  He was a member and chairman of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council (1958-66).  In 1964 he was in the Australian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations.  Late in 1966 he represented Australia at the independence celebrations of Barbados.

Serving several community organisations, Wilson was chairman of the War Blinded Welfare Fund, president (1949-50) of the Legacy Club of Adelaide and first president of the 2nd AIF Units Club Association, South Australia.  A supporter of the formation of Aged Cottage Homes Inc., he was its first chairman (1952-72).  In 1966 he was knighted, a rare honour for a back-bencher.  He was president (1968-72) of the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia.

Wilson was a man of grace, charm, unfailing courtesy and the highest principles.  Survived by his wife and their two sons and daughter, he died on 28 September 1987 at Kensington Park and was cremated.  The leader of the Coalition in Opposition in the Senate, Fred Chaney extolled his success in achieving a 'very substantial improvement in the lives of many Australians. His death was a great loss to Australia'.  Wilson’s son Ian succeeded him in the Sturt seat (1966-69, 1972-93).

Select Bibliography

  • D. Goodhart, The History of the 2/7 Australian Field Regiment (1952)
  • Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, 15th ed. (1965)
  • J. Moss, Sound of Trumpets (1985)
  • The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol 2 (2004)
  • J. Playford, History of the Left-Wing of the South Australian Labor Movement, 1908-36 (BA Hons thesis, University of Adelaide, 1958)
  • B2455, item Wilson K C, B883, item SX4061 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Judith M. Brown, 'Wilson, Sir Keith Cameron (1900–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 18 July 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

Keith Wilson, 1950

Keith Wilson, 1950

National Library of Australia, 23530385

Life Summary [details]


3 September, 1900
East Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


28 September, 1987 (aged 87)
Kensington Park, Adelaide, South Australia, 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.