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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Davies, William (1882–1956)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

William Davies (1882?-1956), politician, was born in Abertillery, England, son of William Davies, coalminer, and his wife Mary, née Williams. At 12 he was a trapper in coal-mines. From night school he won a miners' scholarship to a summer school at the University of Oxford. He became a Methodist lay preacher, and on 4 August 1903 at the Register Office, Bedwellty, Monmouthshire, he married Edith Hartshorn. They came to New South Wales in 1912 and, after working as a labourer, Davies became a miner in the Wollongong area. He soon became an official for the Illawarra district of the Australasian Coal and Shale Employees' (Miners') Federation.

In the election for the Legislative Assembly on 24 March 1917 he won the seat of Wollongong for the Labor Party, defeating J. B. Nicholson, the sitting Nationalist, who had been expelled from the party in 1916 over conscription. Davies was to retain his seat, variously named, for the next thirty-two years, and to dominate Labor politics in the area for nearly forty. In 1920 he told J. L. Campbell, sole royal commissioner into the coal-mining industry and the coal trade, that 'stoppages were rare in individual mines in Wales', and that 'more discipline was exercised there by the unions'.

A loyal supporter of J. T. Lang, Davies was minister for public instruction in Lang's second ministry from May to October 1927, and retained the education portfolio in his 1930-32 government; in 1931 he said he preferred economics to Latin in schools. He was careful to maintain good relations with the Teachers' Federation; dismissal of married women teachers on the permanent staff, though mooted, was not carried out, despite the financial difficulties. In local internal Labor political machinations, he was Lang's agent in attempts to dampen criticism by purging the branches of radicals.

In October 1949 Davies resigned his seat in State parliament to contest the Federal elections for the seat of Cunningham, which he held until his death. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 17 February 1956 and was cremated after a Methodist service. His estate was sworn for probate at £1494. H. V. Evatt remembered him as 'a great orator who had helped to inspire coalminers during industrial troubles'.

Select Bibliography

  • B. A. Mitchell, Teachers, Education, and Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • H. Radi and P. Spearitt (eds), Jack Lang (Syd, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Feb 1956.

Citation details

'Davies, William (1882–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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