Vernon Wilcox

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Vernon Francis Wilcox CBE QC (10 April 1919 – 13 March 2004) was an Australian politician. In a political career spanning twenty years, he represented the electorate of Camberwell in the Victorian Legislative Assembly and held many positions in the Victorian Cabinet. He is best known today as the initiator of the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop, but also delivered a memorable speech to parliament in 1971 in favour of building a railway line to complement the Eastern Freeway.[1]

Wilcox was born in Camberwell, a suburb of Melbourne. He was educated at Carey Baptist Grammar School, where he won the "Henry Meeks Medal for Leadership, Scholarship and Athletics" in 1932 and 1935 and acted as School Captain from 1935 to 1936. Wilcox maintained an interest in the school long after he graduated, and from 1963 to 1970 he served on the school's council. After High School, Wilcox went on to study law at the University of Melbourne. He matriculated shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and joined the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, serving as a Lieutenant from 1942 to 1945. During his time in the Navy, he worked as liaison officer to the United States of America's Seventh Fleet. After the war, Wilcox put his degree into practice, joining his father's firm, Hall and Wilcox, in 1946.

In the 1940s, Wilcox became active in the Liberal Party, and in 1952 he ran for Parliament unsuccessfully. He ran again in 1956, and was elected to the seat of Camberwell, now known as the Electoral district of Burwood. In 1964 he became a Cabinet Minister for the first time, becoming Assistant Chief Secretary, Assistant Attorney-General, and Minister for Immigration. In 1965 he remained Assistant Attorney-General, but replaced the other two portfolios with the rôle of Minister for Labour and Industry. In 1967, he was Minister for Transport, and in 1973 he became Attorney General. Wilcox retired from Parliament in 1976. Looking back over his career, he cited turning the first sod on the project to build the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop in June 1971 as his proudest memory. In 2001, Wilcox wrote Minister for the Crown, in which he reflected on his life in pre-war Melbourne, and his career in politics as a member of the Bolte and Hamer Ministries. The book's foreword was penned by Geoffrey Blainey.

In 1998, Wilcox was selected as a delegate to the fourth Constitutional Convention, running on a "Safeguard the People" ticket. His mission at the Convention was to ensure that any modifications made to the Australian Constitution towards a Republic maintained the present checks and balances against Centralism and the power of the Executive and the Judiciary. He argued, "We have had a Constitution, rightly or wrongly, that has been significantly destabilised, a generation of young people ... who believe we have a bad Constitution, paradoxically, when it is in fact the best in the world."[2]

Wilcox was a keen sportsman. He played cricket as a wicket-keeper at university and later for Richmond Cricket Club, and in later life would be a trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground and maintained a long association with Camberwell Magpies Cricket Club. He was also involved for decades with the Returned and Services League of Australia and the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria. He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976. Wilcox married his wife Jean in 1942, and the couple had four children and thirteen grandchildren. He died in 2004, at the age of 84.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hall, Bianca (2008-09-09), Losing Track, Melbourne Weekly Eastern (Box Hill, Victoria: Fairfax Community Network): 16–17 
  2. ^ "Inspired by Machiavelli and Mac the Mouth", The Australian, 5 February 1998

References[edit]

  • Condolences: Hon. Vernon Francis Wilcox, CBE, QC, Victorian Parliamentary HANSARD (Legislative Council), 30 March 2004.
  • "Tunnels a lasting legacy", Richard Wilcox, The Australian, 26 May 2004.
  • "MP who kept Melbourne on track and in the loop", Natalie Sikora, Herald Sun, 15 April 2004
  • "Inspired by Machiavelli and Mac the Mouth", Claire Harvey, The Australian, 5 February 1998.

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