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Cook, William Glanville Lau (Bill) (1909–1983)

by Lesley Vick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

William Glanville Lau (Bill) Cook (1909-1983), rationalist, was born on 7 June 1909 on the island of Lakemba (Lakeba), Fiji, son of Victorian-born parents Richard Osborne Cook (d.1924), Methodist clergyman, and his wife Elinor Violet May, née Cook. (Sir) Philip Halford Cook was his brother. Bill’s parents were Australian missionaries and they returned home soon after his birth. At Melbourne High School, he gained his Leaving certificate with honours in English, rowed, and captained the lacrosse team. He became a candidate for the Methodist ministry but found that he could not accept the notion of eternal damnation and, with `a great sense of freedom and relief’, turned away from religion.

After training at the Faraday Street State School, Carlton (1927-28), and the Teachers’ College (1929), Cook was posted to Bamawn, where he broadened his reading, particularly in philosophy, and expanded his already good understanding of religious writings. On 17 January 1931 at Malvern, Melbourne, he married with Methodist forms Ida Lowell Madder, a secretary. In 1930 he had joined the Rationalist Society of Australia. Back at Faraday Street in 1937, he carried out voluntary and paid work for the society. In 1940 he was appointed the RSA’s full-time secretary and lecturer, and editor of its journal, the Rationalist; he was also assistant-secretary of the RSA’s business arm, the Rationalist Association of Australia Ltd. He resigned from the teaching service in April.

The RSA had been through a turbulent period. Cook revitalised the organisation. He gave lectures, arranged conferences, took part in public debates, wrote essays for the Rationalist, contributed letters and articles to newspapers, and mounted public campaigns. The battle against state aid to church schools was to be lost but, among other successes, a crusade to increase the availability of secular marriage resulted in his appointment as a civil registrar of marriages in 1946. A fine debater, he took on such opponents as Arnold Lunn, a visiting English propagandist for the Catholic Church, and he regularly challenged local church leaders to meet him at the rostrum.

Cook was a talented radio and later television broadcaster. In 1946 he participated in a series of talks on radio-station 3XY, entitled `What the Four Freedoms Mean to Me’. He argued that social justice and equality were needed before all people would be able to enjoy the freedom of religion and speech and the freedom from fear and want that Franklin D. Roosevelt had called for in 1941. Always at the forefront of socially progressive activity, he played an important part in the establishment of the Humanist Society of Victoria and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties.

Over five decades Cook developed a wide range of contacts and friends in Australia and overseas, particularly in the British Rationalist Press Association. To improve the standing of rationalism, he solicited the support of public figures. Alfred Foster, Sir John Latham, Max Meldrum, Vance Palmer, Brian Fitzpatrick, Norman Haire and (Sir) Macfarlane Burnet were among those whom he invited to associate their names with rationalism, speak at RSA conferences, give lectures and contribute articles to the Rationalist. The RSA could not afford to pay his salary from 1952 but he remained in office until 1978 and received occasional honorariums for his work. He was president in 1979-83. To make a living after 1952, he had tried to start several businesses and then taught (1957-72) at state schools in Melbourne.

A gregarious and sometimes rumbustious man, Cook combined his intellectual pursuits with a great enjoyment of life. His `lusty interest in good food and wines’ (his words) found expression in stimulating Saturday lunches that he hosted at the Café Latin. Ralph Biddington described him as `a short, thickset man with a quizzical look, very quick in both movement and comment’. Cook’s health was never good and it declined further in his last years. He suffered from a number of illnesses and lost several toes due to complications of diabetes, but his spirit never flagged.

Cook was fortunate in his wife Lowell, a woman of intelligence and strong character `who created an atmosphere of calm where his tempestuous spirit could regenerate’. He died on 11 May 1983 at his Malvern home and, after a Rationalist ceremony, was cremated. His wife and their daughter survived him. His library became part of the Rationalist collection in the Victoria University Library.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Biddington, The Supremacy of Reason (2001)
  • Australian Rationalist Quarterly, July-Sept 1983, p 3
  • Australian Rationalist, Spring 2003, p 1
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 June 1972, p 6
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Lesley Vick, 'Cook, William Glanville Lau (Bill) (1909–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-william-glanville-lau-bill-12346/text22181, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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