House of Representatives
21 February 1956

22nd Parliament · 1st Session

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Archie Cameron) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

page 97


Prime Minister · Kooyong · LP

Mr. Speaker, it is my very sad duty to refer to the death of one of our colleagues and friends in this House, Mr. William Davies. He was born at Abertillery, in South Wales, and he died on the 17th February of this year, after a long period of illness, at the age of 73 years. Our late friend came to Australia at an early age and engaged in coalmining on the south coast of New South Wales. Later he was, as a man of active mind, prominently identified throughout that area with industrial matters relating to coal-mining, and he was a member of the Federal Coal Board Tribunal. Towards the end of World War I., Mr. Davies exhibited an interest in State politics, and he became the State member for Wollongong, in New South Wales, in 1917. In 1920 he was returned for the Wollondilly seat, which he held until 1927. He was returned again for Wollongong in 1927. He then held the Illawarra seat from 1930 to 1941, and the seat of Wollongong-Kembla from 1941 to 1949. Mr. Davies was Minister for Education in two New South Wales governments. In 1949, he resigned from tho New South Wales Parliament, and was elected to this Parliament as member for the division of Cunningham, which he held until his death.

Mr. Davies is survived by a widow, a son and a daughter. I think the House would like me to say to them that although his parliamentary service was long, his term in this House was relatively, and unhappily, short. All of us who were his contemporaries in this House came to know him and to enjoy a deep respect and affection for him. Some of us, in the course of our political life, get into the headlines and into controversies of great or small moment. It is not given to every one to enjoy a natural and simple respect on both sides of the House - a respect for a man’s character and innate high quality. I should like our late friend’s widow and children to know that he has left behind him in this House a fragrant memory. He enjoyed the respect and affection of his colleagues. We shall long remember Mr. Davies, and we join with his widow and children in mourning him. I move -

That the House expresses its deep regret at the death of Mr. William Davies, who was at the time of his death a member of this House for the Division of Cunningham, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service, and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Leader of the Opposition · Barton

– I second the motion which the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has moved in such sympathetic terms. I wish to say something more about the career of our late colleague and comrade. It was an extraordinary career when one looks back on it. As the Prime Minister has said, the late honorable member was born in South Wales. He was a lay preacher of the Methodist Church there, and he became an employee in the mining industry in Wales. With his wife and two children, he came to Australia in 1912 and worked in the Coalcliff colliery in southern New South Wales until 1917. He was actually appointed a member of the Federal Coal Tribunal for a short time and then, in 1917, he was elected to the Parliament of New South Wales.

From that date, until his lamented death, he was continuously a member of the State or Federal Parliament; that is, a period of 39 years’ continuous service to the people, a very remarkable record. Those of us who knew him during the earlier portion of that long career remember him as a great orator espousing the cause of the- miners and the trade unions associated with the mining industry. He was a fiery speaker, like so many of the great speakers who have come to this country from Wales and who have been associated with the coal industry.

During that long career he saw his own district, the Wollongong district,, emerge from an area that was partly rural into one of the greatest industrial centres of Australia and, indeed, the southern hemisphere. He was a very loyal colleague, Mr. Speaker. He served the trade unionists and the Labour movement faithfully. We shall miss him greatly. It is quite true - a fact at which the Prime Minister hinted - that during the federal portion of his career his health failed him. We did not see, in this House, the man who rose to ministerial office in New South Wales on two occasions, in the Labour Government, as Minister for Education, the man who was of the first rank in debate. We did not see that aspect of his activities here, but it is right that we should recall it to-day and that we should send our respects and our loving sympathy to his wife and children. I deeply appreciate the way in which the motion has been introduced.


– I support the motion and the remarks that have been made. It is seldom that I speak on an occasion such as this, but I do so now because I knew the late honorable member very well indeed. I was associated with him in many industrial troubles before ever he entered the New South Wales Parliament. I remember him well during the 1916 industrial disturbances. He was always a good fighter and an honorable fighter. He could see the other person’s point of view, and he would put that point of view to the mine workers. Sometimes, when he considered that the workers had no case, he would get them to resume work. He rendered fine service to this country, not only in the parliamentary sphere but also in the industrial sphere, particularly in relation to the coal-mining industry.

In 1045, 1 went to Wales and met some of his friends at Abertillery, the place where he was born. He was greatly honoured over there. I know also his wife and children. I rise only as one who belongs to the same organization as that to which he belonged. In that sphere I shall miss him very, very much indeed. When I first came to this Parliament, for some time I was the only practical coalminer here. When he cann I was very pleased indeed to know that I had a colleague who could support me when I spoke about the industry. Both as a member of Parliament and a? a representative of the coal-miners, I extend sympathy to Mrs. Davies, her son and daughter. I know that the coal-miners will extend to them the sympathy expressed in this motion, so ably moved by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition.


– I beg a word only to support the motion before the House concerning the death of the former member for Cunningham, because during his illness I was something of his representative and deputy in this House, and both in that capacity and as a neighbour in the Australian Capital Territory I got to know him very well. It is a curious fact, as the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) has said, that this man, this comrade of ours who has passed on. lived two very distinct lives in regard to politics, and I knew them both. One was in the turbulent days of the struggles on the coal-fields, where I remember him when I was a young reporter and he was a fiery advocate of the miners’ cause, fed on the Fabian socialism, and the tracts of Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb, which were his blueprint for the future, and he lived to see it become a reality and even surpassed in our day. He was a supporter of the gospel of H. G. Wells anc! Bernard Shaw, and all those great thinkers of the Victorian era. In those days he was a young man. He had all the invective, all the whimsy, and all the colourful phraseology of the Welsh orators. He was distinctly of the school, but in a simpler way, of Hughes and Lloyd George. He contributed, in those early days, immensely to the fighting policy and the dogged ness of an industry which was in despair and needed champions as no industry has needed them from that day onwards. In this House, and in the State sphere, he was a good administrator and a man of imagination. In his own quiet way he set a pattern for education that was followed and improved upon by another honorable member who is still with us, healthy and in vigour. I refer to the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond). When the late Mr. Davies came to this House he was an ageing man. but, somehow, the fires were banked. To understand the difference between his two personalities, one must read the history of the man and bear in mind the Seven Ages of Man, but he always was to rae what is known as a gentleman. He had fixed opinions which were never obtruded. He believed in them himself. It was too late in the clay to try to convince other people, but that dignity of his won more converts to his point of view than a thousand rugged sermons. In his way he was an inspiration in his gentleness and his kindliness. He had a very rugged life, lived in South Wales and on the south coast of New South Wales, in the torrid days of coal-mining, out of which he developed a gentleness and a love of reading and of literature. I knew him so well on the literary side. He was a man who spent his time, when he was laid aside by sickness, reading the poets, whom he appreciated as most Welshmen do with their love of music and verse. The best epitaph that I can think of to give him is something from his own favourite poet, Henley, who said -

So be my passing!

My task accomplished and the long day done,

My wages taken, and in my heart

Some late lark singing,


– I wish to add my tribute to the memory of our late colleague, Mr. Davies. Perhaps I knew him as long as, or longer than, most honorable members because for a continuous period of almost 40 years, first as a member of the State Parliament, and then as a member of this Parliament, he represented the district in which I was born and reared. I recall that it was not long after he arrived in the south coast district that he began to make his mark, especially in coal-mining circles. In his early days in Wales he had worked in the coal mines, and because of the hardships that he endured, and because of an accident in which he suffered injury and which, he said, contributed to his infirmity in recent years, he was inspired to improve the lot of his fellow coal-miners. He took pride in the fact that when he was younger he burned the midnight oil while he studied to improve his mind, and then rose in the early hours of the morning to go to his work in the mine. Working conditions then wore not anything like they are now. The miners had to journey long distances up the mountain sides to reach the pit top, and then had to walk for miles in a stooped position through low-roofed tunnels. Coal mines now are equipped with modern facilities for ventilation and transport, and also for effecting rescues after an accident. It is owing to the efforts of men such as the late honorable member for Cunningham and his colleagues on the coal-fields that those improved conditions have been achieved.

In his early years in this, his adopted country, he took an active part in the work of the coal-miners’ organizations and, as the Prime Minister said, he was a member of the Federal Coal Board Tribunal. Although he could take a militant stand when circumstances warranted, Mr. Davies always believed in the constitutional approach and the appeal to reason. He considered that industrial disputes should be settled, if possible, by the appropriate tribunals, and that working conditions should be improved by parliamentary action. As the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) pointed out, there were times when he was prepared to take his courage in his hands, and try to make reason prevail even at the risk of incurring the hostility of the impetuous section who wished to precipitate trouble which could have farreaching consequences. Having persuaded the members of his organization to follow a proper course he would fight with all his power to have their grievances redressed by the properly constituted authority.

He made his mark also in the parliamentary sphere. Many reforms, such as the coal-miners’ pensions fund and the improved compensation laws for disabled mine workers and other sections of the community, were the result of efforts by Mr. Davies and his colleagues in the State sphere. As the leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) pointed out, he proved himself an able administrator in the capacity of Minister for Education in New South Wales during two periods, the first in 1927 for a short time and the second from 1930 to 1932. He was particularly interested in technical education, and I recall an occasion in 1927 when I waited upon him as a member of a deputation seeking the establishment of a technical high school in Sydney. Mr. Davies readily acceded to the request of the deputation, and gave instructions for the site to be acquired and the plans to be prepared. Unfortunately, not long after that he went out of office, and subsequently the depression and World War II. followed. It is only within recent years that that technical high school has been established.

He was always a champion for progress in his own district and did everything possible to have public works established. The inner harbour at Port Kembla is a monument to his persistent and effective representations. He also gave every encouragement to private enterprise, and the great industrial concerns such as the steel works and other major industrial undertakings in the Wollongong area, which have contributed so much to the prosperity of that district and the Commonwealth, are further evidence of his untiring efforts on behalf of the people and of industry. Because of that, he showed a broad tolerance in his approach to all matters and held the respect of all sections of the community, irrespective of class or creed. He always stood loyally and staunchly for the causes that he espoused. He seemed to have an uncanny capacity to weather the storms and crises through which the Labour movement passed during the 40 years or so that he was a parliamentarian.

To my mind, our late friend was a model parliamentarian, particularly as, so to speak, a local member. He always ensured that the greatest possible attention was given to detail. No problem was too great or too small for him. He gave his fullest attention to all of them, especially during the long and tragic years of the depression. I have seen queues of people at week-ends at his home, and later at the office that he established at Wollongong, waiting for him to attend to their problems. He insisted on seeing everyone personally, even right at the end. Knowing his state of health, I remember that I said to him, recently, “ Why cannot you get your secretary to handle some of the problems ? “ He said, “ No. I like to see all these people myself, so that I can understand their problems and get a proper grip of them. I want to do the best I can on their behalf “. I think it was that quality, above all, that endeared him to all the people whom he represented on the south coast, where the name of Bill Davies was a household word. I have been proud indeed to have Bill Davies as a friend and a colleague, both in the district where we lived and carried on our activities and in the parliamentary sphere. He was at all times willing and anxious to give helpful advice, especially to younger members of the community, as well as to younger members of the Parliament.

To his widow and family, I extend my deepest sympathy. I knew them personally. Most honorable members have not had the honour of knowing Mrs. Davies personally, because during recent year3 she has been suffering from a grave disability which has precluded her from getting about and from coming to Canberra. But I know that during the 33 long years that our late friend represented his district in the State House, Mrs. Davies and the members of his family rendered him loyal and helpful service which contributed to the success of his representation of the people of the south coast.

Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.

page 100


Prime Minister · Kooyong · LP

– As a mark of respect to the memory of our late friend, I move -

That the House do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 2.54 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 21 February 1956, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.