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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brooker, William Edward (1891–1948)

by R. P. Davis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Edward Brooker (1891-1948), premier and fitter-and-turner, was born on 4 January 1891 at Hendon, Middlesex, England, son of Henry Brooker, journeyman instrument-maker, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Knowles. Edward was educated at Enfield School, London. He worked for his father and as a clerk for the Asiatic Petroleum Corporation before managing Henry's business. A member of the Territorial Force, Brooker served from August 1914 with the Royal Army Medical Corps on Gallipoli, at Salonika and in Palestine. He was training as an observer pilot when demobilized in April 1919 with the rank of sergeant. At St Andrew's parish church, Bethnal Green, London, on 13 September 1919 he married Lydia Grace Minnie Wilson.

Postwar difficulties persuaded Brooker, then employed as a mechanical engineer, to take a free, ex-serviceman's passage to Australia. Arriving in Melbourne with his wife and infant son in the Orsova on 31 August 1921, he moved to Tasmania and was briefly employed as a labourer on a farm at St Marys. From 27 October he was a pipe-fitter at Cadbury Fry Pascall Australia Ltd, Hobart.

A member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, Brooker joined the Australian Labor Party and in May 1931 was an unsuccessful candidate for the State seat of Franklin. Next year, attracted by the ameliorative possibilities of Major C. H. Douglas's economic ideas, he was founding president of the Hobart branch of the Douglas Credit Association. Campaigning on a platform which included social credit policies, Brooker was returned to the House of Assembly in June 1934 as a Labor member for Franklin, an electorate he was to represent until his death. The Ogilvie Labor government (1934-39) held office with the support of an Independent G. S. Carruthers who was another Douglasite.

A 'vigorous and able debater' with a 'high degree of administrative ability', Brooker served as government whip (1936-39). In Robert Cosgrove's cabinet (1939-47) he was minister for transport (1939-42), chief secretary (1939-43) and minister for tourism (1942-43); in November 1943 he was given the portfolio of lands and works, and that of postwar reconstruction. Meanwhile his party support steadily increased. Elected to the State executive of the A.L.P. in 1935, he was Tasmanian delegate to federal conferences (1936 and 1940) and to the federal executive (1941-48). He was the party's State president (1943) and treasurer (1946-48), and twice topped the Franklin poll (1941 and 1946).

In December 1947 Cosgrove was indicted for bribery and conspiracy. Pending a decision on the charges, on the 18th Brooker became premier. Following Cosgrove's acquittal, Brooker resigned the premiership on 24 February 1948 and was appointed treasurer and minister for transport. An avid reader, a keen musician and a dabbler in poetry, he was a justice of the peace, vice-president of the Glenorchy branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, a member of the Hobart Public Hospitals Board and belonged to Legacy. Survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, Brooker died suddenly of acute pulmonary oedema on 18 June 1948 at his Montrose home and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. Hobart's northern outlet, the Brooker Highway, commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. P. Davis, Eighty Years' Labor (Hob, 1983)
  • R. P. Davis, 'Social Credit and the Tasmanian Labor Movement', Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 25, no 4, 1978
  • Mercury (Hobart), 19, 21 June 1948
  • Social Welfare Department, M1/201 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. P. Davis, 'Brooker, William Edward (1891–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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