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William George Woodger (1887–1979)

by Patricia Clarke

This article was published:

William George Woodger (1887-1979), real-estate and stock-and-station agent, valuer and auctioneer, was born on 12 December 1887 at Garryowen, near Queanbeyan, New South Wales, youngest of eleven children of native-born parents Robert Woodger, labourer, and his wife Keturah, née Hilder. After completing his primary schooling at Queanbeyan, he was employed in the local stock-and-station agency of Thomas P. Maxwell, in which his elder brother Thomas Ernest (1872-1961) was a silent partner. Bill became a junior partner on his eighteenth birthday.

In 1910 Woodger moved to Sydney to work for a pastoral firm, Warden Harry Graves Ltd. With A. E. Robinson he compiled two editions of The Australian Stock and Property Code, a listing of telegraphic codes used by stock-and-station agents throughout Australia. On 27 September 1913 at Holy Cross Church, Woollahra, he married with Catholic rites Elsie Barton Dawkins (d.1965), a secretary in the same company, who was to compile a third edition of the list while her husband was overseas in World War I. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 30 October 1916, Woodger was posted to the 4th Battalion. He served on the Western Front from March 1918 until October, when he was sent to England to attend an officer-training course. Commissioned in January 1919, he was promoted lieutenant in April. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Sydney on 19 September.

Next year he and his brother Tom entered into partnership as auctioneers and stock-and-station agents at Queanbeyan. They were joined by John Henry Calthorpe, a Gallipoli veteran, and on 10 March 1920 the firm became Woodgers & Calthorpe. On 12 December 1924 Bill Woodger represented the company in the joint auction, with the Sydney firm of Richardson & Wrench, of the first group of Canberra business and residential leases. Woodgers & Calthorpe, which was registered as a limited company in 1927, continued acting for the Commonwealth in the sale of Canberra leases for the next thirty-five years. The firm struck bad times during the Depression when the development of Canberra virtually ceased. Woodger was a member of a small group named the Kangaroo Club which aimed to 'keep Canberra hopping'. Both he and Calthorpe invested in Canberra businesses and, through the Canberra Building & Investment Co. Ltd, were active in the development of the Sydney and Melbourne buildings, the nucleus of the future city centre.

Woodger was president of the New South Wales division of the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers in 1949-52 and a vice-president of the general council of the institute in 1955-57. Following Calthorpe's death in 1950, the firm continued expanding under Woodger until 1959 when it merged with L. J. Hooker Ltd. As chairman of L. J. Hooker Ltd & Woodgers & Calthorpe Ltd, he was appointed to the board of L. J. Hooker Investment Corporation Ltd and Hooker Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd. In 1960 he was entrusted with the acquisition of W. L. Buckland's huge sheep and cattle properties which included Victoria River Downs, Northern Territory, and stud properties in four States—said to be the largest pastoral purchase in Australia's history. He retired in 1964, regretful that he was not twenty years younger to take advantage of the great future he foresaw for Canberra.

A strongly built man with a good speaking voice, Woodger took a leading place in Canberra business, sporting and public life. In his early years in Canberra he had been chairman of the Canberra City Area Lessees' Association, the original body representing crown lessees. He was president of the Canberra Chamber of Commerce, a director of the Canberra Tourist Bureau, and a founder and director of a number of Canberra businesses including Canberra Steam Laundry Ltd, Canberra Shops Ltd, Federal Meat Purveyors Pty Ltd and Federal Finance Co. Ltd. He was also a director of Australian Landtrusts Pty Ltd and Television Australia Ltd.

Foundation president (1930-31) of the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club and president (1939-45) of the Australian Capital Territory Rugby Union, Woodger also held various offices in the Royal Canberra Golf Club. During World War II he was the commander of No.43 Squadron, Air Training Corps, chairman of the local recruiting committee and a member of bodies controlling land sales and petrol distribution. He was president of the Canberra City sub-branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia. Survived by his four daughters, he died on 25 January 1979 at Lane Cove, Sydney, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gibbney, Canberra 1913-1953 (Canb, 1988)
  • Country Life Stock and Station Journal, 10 Dec 1954, p 6, 'Agents Supplement', 8 July 1960, p 30
  • Canberra Times, 9, 13 Dec 1954, 5 Nov 1960, 12 Mar 1963, 10 Dec 1964, 1 Feb 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Patricia Clarke, 'Woodger, William George (1887–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 June 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

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