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Wood, Ian Alexander Christie (1901–1992)

by Rodney Sullivan

This article was published:

Ian Alexander Christie Wood (1901–1992), politician and mayor, was born on 31 January 1901 at Mackay, Queensland, elder of two children of Queensland-born John Wood, bookkeeper, and his Scottish-born wife Annie, née Christie. Annie had immigrated to Mackay, aged fifteen, to enter domestic service. John deserted the family when Ian was three years old and Annie was pregnant. Rejecting advice to place Ian and his sister Pansy in an orphanage, Annie took in dressmaking to maintain the family. Her love fortified Ian to fight his way out of poverty. After attending the Mackay State (Girls’ and Infants’) and Mackay Boys’ State schools, at the age of twelve he began office work for prominent solicitors S. B. Wright and Wright, to help support his family. He obtained further education from correspondence courses in accountancy and advertising. Of greater moment, however, were the self-confidence and public speaking skills he developed as a member of a youth club at St Paul’s Presbyterian Church.

By the mid-1920s Wood was paymaster for the shipping agents James Croker & Sons and a real estate investor in his own right. In 1927 he went into business as co-owner of the Mackay Newsagency. In the early 1930s he began taking accommodation and travel bookings and was, in 1938, the sole proprietor of a travel and commission agency.

Elected an alderman in 1927, Wood served on the Mackay City Council for twenty-seven years (1927–33, 1939–52, 1955–58, 1967–73), including fifteen years as mayor (1930–33, 1943–52, 1967–70). His achievements included opening the Mackay aerodrome (1930), city beautification, and an efficient, frugal municipal administration. He pioneered town planning in provincial Queensland and led Mackay’s development as a tourism hub. In his dual roles as mayor and founding chairman of Mackay Tours Ltd he established the first resort facilities on Lindeman Island (1930) and secured gazettal of Eungella National Park (1940). A sometimes controversial mayor, his initiatives and confrontational style attracted much criticism from Australian Labor Party (ALP) councillors.

In 1945, as both mayor and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Wood established the Mackay Tourist and Development Association and became, until 1950, its organiser-manager. The MTDA was a model for other Queensland provincial cities seeking to boost tourism. ‘Tallish, darkish . . . [and] a good speaker’ (Morning Bulletin 1944, 2), he dominated Mackay and Queensland municipal politics. He served as president of both the Queensland Local Authorities’ Association (1947–52) and the Australian Council of Local Government Associations (1951–52). He lost the mayoralty in 1952, attributing his defeat to necessary rate increases and jealousy of a local boy made good. Other factors included the ALP’s opposition to his tourism and town planning priorities, and Wood’s additional career, from February 1950, as a Liberal Party senator for Queensland.

Wood was a senator for twenty-eight years. Undaunted by party leaders or prime ministers, he crossed the floor 130 times. He prided himself on voting according to his conscience and in the interests of Queenslanders. In December 1960 he and fellow Liberal senator Reginald Wright joined with the Opposition to vote down the motion for the second reading of the coalition government’s car sales tax bill, disregarding the intimidating eye of Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies who watched proceedings from the gallery. Although Wood ultimately failed to stop the legislation (because Wright abstained when a second vote was taken), he remained steadfast in his opposition on the grounds that the tax increase would exacerbate unemployment in Queensland. Although treated as a pariah by many coalition colleagues, his stand was popular in the electorate and attempts to discipline him languished.

A major player in the ‘Gair Affair,’ Wood, as John Hewson remarked, displayed greater legal acumen than ALP Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (Aust. HOR 1992, 9). In 1974, for a forthcoming half-Senate election, Whitlam had tried to engineer the creation of a winnable extra vacancy in Queensland by appointing the deposed leader of the Democratic Labor Party, Senator Vincent Gair, as ambassador to Ireland. His plan was foiled when, on 2 April, several non-Labor senators led by Ronald Maunsell and including Wood entertained Gair with beer and prawns, thereby preventing his resignation until after the writs had been issued for the scheduled election. This delaying tactic became known as ‘the night of the long prawns’ (Age 1974, 7). In the double dissolution election that followed in May, Wood led a joint Queensland Liberal Party-National Country Party Senate team that won six of ten seats. Less than eighteen months later he had been dropped to the bottom of Liberal Party nominations, probably the result of his perceived disloyalty within the party.

Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances for twenty-five years (1950–72, 1975–78), Wood fearlessly protected the rights of individuals and parliament from encroachment by executive government and the bureaucracy. When Liberal Party re-endorsement for the ageing senator appeared unlikely, he retired in 1978. Unmarried and never having driven a car, he continued to cycle daily to his travel bureau: after the deaths of his mother and sister its staff became his family, though always addressing him as ‘Senator.’ An otherwise solitary man, he nurtured alliances based on shared interests. These embraced disparate figures including the businessman Sir Reginald Ansett, town planner Karl Langer, Senate Clerk James Odgers, and ALP Senator Lionel Murphy.

Wood died on 7 January 1992 at Mackay; following a service at St Paul’s Uniting Church, he was buried next to his mother and sister in the Mount Bassett cemetery. He was appointed AM several weeks later. A generous donor to Mackay, he had established Annie Wood Park, Mount Pleasant, in memory of his mother, and the Pansy Wood Music Centre at the Whitsunday Anglican school as a memorial to his sister. Wood boasted, without fear of contradiction, that he was never ‘a worm or crawler’ (Aust. Senate 1971, 354); he also prided himself on being a ‘futurist’ (Aust. Senate 1973, 2293), to which his achievements in town planning, tourism, conservation, and preserving the primacy of parliament, bear witness.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne). ‘Detaining of Gair was “Despicable”.’ 5 April 1974, 7
  • Australia. House of Representatives. Parliamentary Debates, 25 February 1992, 9
  • Australia. Senate. Parliamentary Debates. 25 August 1971, 354
  • Australia. Senate. Parliamentary Debates. 29 November 1973, 2293
  • Brown, Wallace. ‘Still a Rebel at 76.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 18 February 1977, 5
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay). ‘£2M. A Year in Tourism.’ 6 April 1962, 33
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay). ‘Mackay Town Plan.’ 6 April 1962, 46
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay). ‘Ian Wood Worked for City, Family.’ 9 January 1992, 8
  • Kingston, Margo. ‘Ex-Mayor Still Peddles the Cause for Mackay.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 5 March 1987, 8
  • McConville, Chris. ‘“Wonderland”: Planning in a Populist Queensland 1931–78.’ In Cities, Citizens and Environmental Reform: Histories of Australian Town Planning Associations, edited by Robert Freestone, 287-312. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2009
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton). ‘Guildhall Gallery Notes.’ 5 May 1944, 2
  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton). ‘Liberal Election Win Forecast.’ 30 November 1949, 5
  • Orchard, Mavis. Interview by the author, 25 July 2012
  • Sullivan, Rodney. ‘Wood, Ian Alexander Christie (1901-1992).’ In The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, edited by Ann Millar and Geoffrey Browne, 296-304. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2010
  • Wood, Ian. Interview by Ron Hurst, 1984. Transcript. Parliament’s Oral History Project. National Library of Australia

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Rodney Sullivan, 'Wood, Ian Alexander Christie (1901–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 8 December 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

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