Bill Wentworth

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Bill Wentworth
Minister for Social Services
In office
28 February 1968 – 5 December 1972
Prime MinisterJohn Gorton
William McMahon
Preceded byIan Sinclair
Succeeded byBill Hayden
Minister in charge of Aboriginal Affairs under the Prime Minister
In office
28 February 1968 – 31 May 1971
Prime MinisterJohn Gorton
William McMahon
Preceded byNew Title
Succeeded byPeter Howson
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Mackellar
In office
10 December 1949 – 10 December 1977
Preceded byDivision created
Succeeded byJim Carlton
Personal details
Born(1907-09-08)8 September 1907
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died15 June 2003(2003-06-15) (aged 95)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political partyIndependent (1943–1945)
Liberal Party of Australia (1945–1977)
Independent (after 1977)
RelationsMungo MacCallum (nephew)
Alma materNew College, Oxford

William Charles Wentworth AO (8 September 1907 – 15 June 2003), usually known as Bill Wentworth and sometimes referred to by others as William Charles Wentworth IV, was an Australian politician. He was a member of the Liberal Party for most of his career and held ministerial office in the governments of John Gorton and William McMahon, serving as Minister for Social Services (1968–1972) and Minister in charge of Aboriginal Affairs (1968–1971). Wentworth served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1977, representing the New South Wales seat of Mackellar. He frequently crossed the floor and served his final months in parliament as an independent.

Early life and education[edit]

Wentworth was born on 8 September 1907 in Sydney, the son of a prominent Sydney barrister of the same name, and the great-grandson of William Charles Wentworth, a leading political and literary figure in colonial New South Wales. He is sometimes referred to as "William Charles Wentworth IV" but he never used this name himself. His family and friends called him Bill or Billy.[citation needed]

Wentworth was educated at The Armidale School in Armidale in northern New South Wales,[1] and at New College, Oxford,[2] where he gained an MA, and a Blue in athletics (he was a half-miler, and ran as first string to the future Olympic champion and world record holder Tom Hampson).[citation needed]

Public service career[edit]

Returning to Australia aged 23, he briefly worked as a factory hand at Lever Brothers in Balmain, Sydney, before becoming Secretary to the Attorney General of New South Wales, Sir Henry Manning.[3] Then he joined the New South Wales public service as an economic advisor to the Premier's Department and the Treasury, a position from which he resigned in 1937 in protest against what he saw as the state conservative government's timid economic policies. He was an early exponent of Keynesianism and favoured an expansion of state credit.[citation needed]

Early political involvement[edit]

From 1941 to 1943 Wentworth served in the Australian Army in administrative positions. At the 1943 federal election, he stood as an independent for the House of Representatives seat of Wentworth (named after his great-grandfather), arguing for an all-party "national government".[4] He polled 20 per cent of the vote against United Australia Party incumbent Eric Harrison. However, his preferences allowed Harrison to see off a spirited challenge from Labor candidate Jessie Street.[citation needed]

Federal politics[edit]

In 1945 he joined Robert Menzies' new party, the Liberal Party of Australia. At the 1949 election, Wentworth was elected to the House of Representatives for Mackellar in the northern suburbs of Sydney.[citation needed]

Wentworth in 1953

By the late 1940s Wentworth had become a fierce anti-Communist, to an extent that even some in his own party regarded as excessive (though Menzies was more than willing to benefit from his frequent red-baiting): he was frequently accused of McCarthyism in making allegations under parliamentary privilege, usually unsubstantiated, of Communist influence in various quarters of Australian public life.[5] He was a leading member of the "Taiwan lobby" in the Liberal Party, which also included Wilfrid Kent Hughes and the young John Gorton.[6] He frequently sought to imply that the leader of the opposition Australian Labor Party, Dr H. V. Evatt, was a communist sympathizer, or at best a dupe of the communists. The communists, he said, wanted to "ride into power on the back of the Australian Labor Party".[7] Menzies's biographer referred to him as "the notorious Liberal Party backbench red-baiter".[8]

Wentworth, however, was more than a one-issue politician, and had great energy and ability. As Gorton's biographer writes: "For all his erratic and sometimes bizarre behaviour, his flaws were at least those of an inventive mind".[9] Despite this, he had a long wait for ministerial preferment, mainly because he was a party-room rebel on other matters, such as pensions. During these years he busied himself with parliamentary committee work. He was an active member of the Foreign Affairs Committee from 1952 to 1961. From 1956 he was chair of the Government Members Committee on Rail Gauge Standardisation. He made important recommendations on solving one of Australia's longest-standing infrastructure problems, the incompatible rail gauges in the different states, a legacy of colonial times. Gough Whitlam, no admirer of Wentworth in other respects, credited him with being one of the architects of the rail standardisation agreement that led to the opening of the single-gauge rail line from Melbourne to Sydney in 1961.[10] On the wider front, however, the head of the South Australian Railways observed that "despite his undoubted enthusiasm for railway matters, Bill Wentworth’s intrusion into the debate and his advocacy for nothing more than inter-capital links doomed forever any chance of an integrated standard gauge rail network being achieved. It is a pity that he ever became involved."[11]

Wentworth's other long-term interest was in Aboriginal affairs. In 1959, he put forth a proposal to Cabinet for the establishment of an Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies,[12] arguing for a more comprehensive approach by the government to recording Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.[13] The institute was established by an Act of Parliament in 1964[14] and is now known as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). He was one of the Liberal backbenchers who supported a constitutional referendum to give the Commonwealth the power to legislate specifically for the benefit of Indigenous Australians, something which was finally achieved under Menzies' successor Harold Holt in 1967 (via the 1967 referendum). When Wentworth's friend Gorton succeeded Holt, he made Wentworth Minister for Social Services and Minister in Charge of Aboriginal Affairs, the first minister to hold this office.[citation needed]

As Minister, Wentworth was disappointed that the Cabinet was reluctant to take any steps to pass the kind of far-reaching legislation he wanted, mainly due to the resistance of pastoral interests represented by the Country Party. Nevertheless, Wentworth took the first practical step towards the granting of Indigenous land rights when he proposed giving the Gurindji people control of their land at Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory (which was at that time under Commonwealth control): this scheme, in a fine irony given Wentworth's history, was denounced as "communist inspired" by the Cattle Producers Council[15] (a reference to the fact that the Communist writer Frank Hardy was an adviser to the Gurindji).[citation needed]

Wentworth was already 60 when he became a minister, but he proved to be energetic and innovative. When William McMahon succeeded Gorton as Prime Minister in March 1971, he retained Wentworth in the ministry despite dropping Gorton's other proteges. Wentworth contested the Liberal deputy leadership at this time, but was eliminated on the first ballot,[16] with the position going to Billy Snedden, whom Wentworth regarded as a light-weight. When the McMahon government was defeated by Labor under Whitlam in December 1972, Wentworth returned to the backbench.[citation needed]

Snedden succeeded McMahon as leader, but Wentworth was among his most persistent party-room critics. In March 1975 it was Wentworth who moved the motion in the Liberal Party room to depose Snedden from the leadership in favour of Malcolm Fraser.[17] But under Fraser's government he soon found himself back in his old role of the backbench rebel. His lifelong commitment to Keynesianism led him to criticise Fraser's cuts to government spending as deflationary. Having already announced his intention of retiring from Parliament at the next election, he resigned from the Liberal Party on 11 October 1977, citing the government's handling of the economy and industrial relations.[18] He stood for the Senate in New South Wales at the December 1977 election, polling 2.1 per cent of the vote. Later he was active in the Grey Power movement, and stood again for the Senate as a Grey Power candidate at the 1984 election; again, he did badly.[citation needed]

Wentworth's last appearance in Australian politics was in April 1995, when he contested the by-election in the seat of Wentworth (which was named after his great-grandfather) caused by the resignation of Dr John Hewson. In the absence of a Labor candidate, he polled 18 per cent of the vote, 52 years after he first contested the seat in 1943.[citation needed]

During his time in the House of Representatives, Wentworth voted against his party more often than any other Representative in Australian history.[19]


In 1993, he was appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours for "service to the Australian Parliament, particularly in relation to Aboriginal rights and to the standardisation of inter-state rail gauges".[20]

Later life, death and family[edit]

He retired to north Queensland, from where he continued to write pamphlets and newspaper articles until his death in Sydney in 2003 at the age of 95.[citation needed]

He was survived by his wife Barbara, and four children. The prominent journalist Mungo MacCallum is his nephew.[citation needed]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jim Graham: A School of their own: The History of The Armidale School: photograph and caption p.271: published by The Armidale School 1994 and printed by Star Printers Pty Limited: ISBN 0 646 15857 0
  2. ^ "William Wentworth Maverick of Australian politics". The Independent. 23 June 2003. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  3. ^ Professor D J Anderson, Presentation of the degree of Doctor of the University to William Charles Wentworth IV, The University of Sydney, 15 March 2006, [1]
  4. ^ Gough Whitlam, Abiding Interests, University of Queensland Press 1997, 283
  5. ^ David Lowe, Menzies and the Great World Struggle: Australia's Cold War 1948–1954, University of NSW Press 1999, 106. Lowe describes Wentworth as "a chief proponent of the technique of implying guilt by association."
  6. ^ Ian Hancock, Gorton, Hodder 2002, 67
  7. ^ Lowe, Menzies and the Great World Struggle, 107
  8. ^ Alan Martin, Robert Menzies: A Life Volume II, Melbourne University Press 1999, 258
  9. ^ Hancock, Gorton, 160
  10. ^ Whitlam, Abiding Interests, 236
  11. ^ Fitch, Ronald J. (2006). Australian Railwayman: from cadet engineer to railways commissioner. Dural, New South Wales: Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. p. 184. ISBN 1877058483.
  12. ^ Mulvaney, DJ (2008), 'WEH Stanner and the foundation of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1959–1964', pp. 58-75, in: An Appreciation of Difference: WEH Stanner and Aboriginal Australia, Hinkson, Melinda and Beckett, Jeremy (eds), Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.
  13. ^ 'Wentworth Lectures', Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website,, retrieved 29 April 2015
  14. ^ 'Our history', Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) website,, retrieved 29 April 2014
  15. ^ Hancock, Gorton 182
  16. ^ Hancock, Gorton, 354
  17. ^ Hancock, Gorton, 376
  18. ^ Davidson, Gay (12 October 1977). "Veteran Member speaks his mind". The Canberra Times.
  19. ^ Crossing the floor in the Federal Parliament 1950 – August 2004 Archived 24 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Research Note no. 11, 2005–06, Australian Parliament
  20. ^ It's an honour: AO
  21. ^ Piesse, E. L. (1939). "Mr. Wentworth's Demand for Defence". The Australian Quarterly. Australian Institute of Policy and Science. 11 (1): 54–61. ISSN 0005-0091. JSTOR 20630719. Retrieved 17 April 2022.
  22. ^ Harcourt, J. M. (18 February 1939). "Demand for Defence: arresting new book [Book review]". The Argus (Melbourne). No. 28, 859. Victoria, Australia. p. 4. Retrieved 17 April 2022 – via National Library of Australia.
  23. ^ New South Wales Birth, Deaths and Marriages: Birth Certificate of William Charles Wentworth IV 42087/1907
  24. ^ Florence Denise Griffiths: Burke's Landed Gentry: 17th Edition 1952: Copeland-Griffiths of Potterne: p.1083
  25. ^ New South Wales Birth, Deaths and Marriages: Birth Certificate of William Charles Wentworth IV 42087/1907
  26. ^ Wentworth, Fitzwilliam (1832–1915): Sydney Morning Herald, 11 August 1915, p 10
  27. ^ Burke's Colonial Gentry 1891: Wentworth of Vaucluse: p.95
  28. ^ "George Neville Griffiths". Former members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  29. ^ Record: The University of Sydney Archives 2010: Ada's Story, Jill Brown p. 23 Retrieved I January 2017
  30. ^ Record: The University of Sydney Archives 2010: Ada's Story, Jill Brown p. 23 on line Retrieved 2 January 2017
  31. ^ Persse, Michael. "Wentworth, William Charles (1790–1872)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 6 September 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  32. ^ Carol Liston (1988). Sarah Wentworth, Mistress of Vaucluse: Historic Houses Trust of NSW ISBN 0-949753-34-3
  33. ^ Rutledge, Martha. "Hill, George (1802–1883)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 6 September 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  34. ^ "Mr George Hill". Former members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  35. ^ George Hill and Jane Binnie: New South Wales marriage certificate of 1841 – 123, vol 25C
  36. ^ Walsh, G P. "Griffiths, George Richard (1802–1859)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 6 September 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  37. ^ Queensland Parliament: Former Members: John Scott 1821–1898
  38. ^ Agnes Thomson Qld Death Index; Grave Headstone Toowong Cemetery; Scottish Christening Records
  39. ^ Agnes Thomson: New South Wales Death Certificate 1905/000063 of her daughter Ada Frances Griffiths
  40. ^ Auchmuty, J J. "Wentworth, D'Arcy (1762–1827)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 6 September 2019 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.
  41. ^ Francis Cox: Carol Liston: Sarah Wentworth – Mistress of Vaucluse: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales: ISBN 0-949753-34-3: p.8.
  42. ^ Memorial plaque and other records of Church of St Andrews, Charmouth: Accessed 6 September 2019
  43. ^ Elizabeth Hart, daughter of Sir William Neville Hart
  44. ^ John Scott: Queensland death certificate of his son, John Scott: 1898/C1681
  45. ^ Marion Purves: Queensland death certificate of her son, John Scott: 1898/C1681
  46. ^ John Thomson: Queensland death certificate of his daughter, Agnes Scott: 1892/C1494
  47. ^ Elizabeth Rankin: Queensland death certificate of her daughter, Agnes Scott: 1892/C1494


Political offices
Preceded by Minister for Social Services
Succeeded by
New title Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
Succeeded by
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Mackellar
Succeeded by