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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McWilliam, Russell John (Jack) (1894–1991)

by P. F. Clarke

This article was published online in 2014

Russell John McWilliam (‘Jack’) (1894–1991), consulting structural engineer, was born on 18 March 1894 at Summer Hill, Sydney, the only son of Queensland-born parents, Thomas Moore William McWilliam, clerk, and his wife Olga Christine, née Harden. The family moved to Brisbane where Thomas McWilliam started an import-export business. Jack was educated at The Southport School (1908-12), where he excelled at athletics, cricket, and shooting. He began studying engineering at the University of Queensland but on 30 April 1917 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. From May to November 1918 he served on the Western Front as a sapper in the 1st Field Company, Engineers. Returning to Australia in April 1919, he was discharged from the AIF on 17 May.

On 30 December at St Peter’s Church of England, Southport, McWilliam married Ella Clow McLean, a nurse. Returning to university, he graduated (BE, 1920) and began work as a design engineer for Expanded Steel and Concrete Products Co., Sydney, later transferring to Brisbane. In 1922 he was employed by the architects Hall & Prentice to undertake the structural design of the new Brisbane City Hall, and he is known to have been a site clerk on the reconstruction of the Wintergarden Theatre.

In 1924 McWilliam started his own practice, and during the Depression was engaged to design and detail the towers and cable anchorages for the Indooroopilly Bridge. During World War II he worked with Evans Deakin & Co. Ltd and the United States Army Service of Supply in the design of defence projects.

After the war McWilliam recommenced private practice, designing four new thermal power stations, the Australian Paper Manufactures Ltd mill at Petrie, and a pipe factory at Meeandah for James Hardie and Co. Pty Ltd. He also provided structural services to architects for commercial and industrial buildings, universities, schools, and hospitals throughout Queensland. In 1959 he formed R. J. McWilliam & Partners, and in 1975 the firm became a registered company. McWilliam retired the same year, becoming a consultant to the company.

Among the projects for which his firm provided structural and engineering services were Penneys Department Store, buildings for the Bank of New South Wales and the Courier-Mail, the Queensland Cultural Centre, the Australian Mutual Provident Society’s Gold Tower, and News Limited printing and publishing complex at Murrarie.

McWilliam was a member of the Code Committee for Concrete Structures between the wars, and chairman of the Queensland branch of the New South Wales Welding Association from 1946 (later the Australian Welding Institute). He was federal president of the AWI in 1967, and received the institute’s Florence Taylor Award in 1986 for his contribution to its advancement. He was a fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, Queensland division, and a part-time lecturer in structural engineering to architectural students at the University of Queensland. In June 1986 he was appointed MBE for his services to structural engineering.

Predeceased by his wife and survived by four children, McWilliam died of myocardial infarction on 2 July 1991 at the Noel Land Nursing Home, Pinjarra Hills, and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Matthews, Tony. Bearing the Palm: A Century of Education at the Southport School. Southport, Qld: Southport School, 2000
  • Clarke, G. C. ‘R. J. McWilliam.’ In Eminent Queensland Engineers, vol. 2, edited by Geoffrey Cossins, 74-75. Brisbane: Institution of Engineers, Australia, Qld Division, 1999
  • National Archives of Australia. B2455, McWilliam, R. J.

Additional Resources

Citation details

P. F. Clarke, 'McWilliam, Russell John (Jack) (1894–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2014, accessed online 23 September 2020.

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