mckell@mckellinstitute.org.au

The life and times of William McKell

David Clune*

Early years

William John McKell was born at Pambula on the NSW south coast on 26 September 1891. He had a happy rural childhood, retaining a great affection for the bush for the rest of his life. McKell’s father Robert worked intermittently as a butcher and in 1899 relocated his young family of two boys and two girls to Sydney in the hope of improved work prospects. It was a move that was to change dramatically the course of McKell’s life. In 1901, his father deserted the family. The effect on McKell can be gauged by the fact that for the rest of his life he concealed his father’s desertion, claiming that he died young. The family moved to Redfern and life became a struggle for existence, with McKell’s mother working at various menial tasks. McKell supplemented the meagre family income by working part-time and then becoming a messenger boy when he left school at 14. Two years later he became an apprentice boilermaker, a tough and hazardous trade. McKell’s main recreation was sport. He was a talented footballer, cricketer and boxer. The races became a lifelong passion.

The experience of poverty, uncertainty and harsh social and industrial conditions instilled in McKell a sense of caution, a dislike of instability, a drive for self-improvement and a zeal to ameliorate the abuses he had seen. Not unnaturally, he soon became active in the labour movement, where his youthful earnestness and fervour made him a militant. He rose rapidly through the ranks of the Boilermakers’ Society becoming Assistant Secretary in 1914. Active in the struggle against conscription, McKell gained valuable experience in oratory and campaigning. He  developed into a competent public speaker, if not an inspiring one. McKell was a member of the radical Industrial Section in the Labor Party and as such was elected to the Executive in 1916. James McGowen, MLA for Redfern and first ALP Premier of NSW, had been expelled from the Party as a conscriptionist. Although McGowen, a fellow boilermaker, had been something of a mentor, McKell made the painful decision to seek Labor pre-selection. He won and subsequently defeated McGowen at the 1917 election.

In 1919, McKell bought a house in Dowling Street, Redfern that was to be his home for almost three decades. The following year he married Minnie Pye. The first of three children soon followed. In 1933, McKell bought a property near Goulburn which provided a rural retreat and some security against the vagaries of politics. He purchased a nearby property of 1,400 acres in 1946 which his son Bill eventually took over.

Parliamentarian

McKell had improved his education by attending Workers’ Educational Association lectures. Even before he was elected he had begun studying for the Bar and was admitted in 1925. Practising as a barrister was to bring him income, experience and contacts. As a parliamentarian, McKell was a natural. He developed formidable debating skills, respected the institution and revelled in the hard work involved in mastery of legislation and procedure. McKell had an incisive, analytical mind and powers of concentration that enabled him to grasp the details of complex legal and financial matters. When the Assembly was sitting at night, rather than ensconcing himself in the bar like many of his colleagues, he spent long and productive hours in the Parliamentary Library. This work ethic did not prevent the gregarious and genial McKell from being popular.

McKell’s ability soon brought him to the attention of Labor’s Leader John Storey, another boilermaker turned politician. With Storey’s support, McKell became Minister of Justice after Labor won the 1920 election. McKell proved to be an exemplary Minister. He read his files, signed his papers, was thoroughly conversant with departmental business and was on good terms with his officials without being run by them. In Cabinet McKell was always across his brief. He left a legacy of worthwhile reforms behind him in each portfolio he occupied.

For McKell, politics was a means of achieving positive, constructive outcomes. It was not about ego, power or the destruction of enemies. He was a vigorous but not vindictive opponent who had friends on both sides of the House. McKell’s distaste for divisiveness made him an opponent of the sectarianism that poisoned NSW politics in the early decades of the 20th century. An Anglican, his family included both Catholics and Protestants. McKell’s natural caution and experience of Labor’s internal struggles made him reluctant to become involved in faction-fighting. All too often, he had seen the victors in one conflict become the victims in the next. Although ambitious, McKell preferred to succeed through hard work and ability rather than intrigue or manipulation. Maturity and exposure to the realities of achievement through parliamentary politics mellowed the youthful militant. McKell retained a burning sense of injustice about social problems and working class deprivation. However, he was now committed to the moderate parliamentary road to remedy them.

Surviving Lang

McKell’s rise continued – although  more uncertainly – under Jack Lang’s Leadership. An ally but not an intimate of Lang, McKell returned to the Justice portfolio when Labor took office in 1925. He also became Lang’s assistant at Treasury which gave him a valuable insight into public finance. The Premier was wary of the younger man but could see the advantage in using his abilities. McKell, in turn, knew that his career would go nowhere without Lang’s support. Lang’s devious, domineering style, his vengefulness towards those who crossed him, and his propensity to claim credit for all the Government’s achievements quickly lost him the support of most of his colleagues. In May 1927, he reconstructed his Cabinet with hand-picked loyalists. McKell at first retained his post but was dropped on 8 June for his lack of public enthusiasm for the ‘Big Fella’. Lang used his enormous influence with Labor’s rank and file to deprive many of his opponents of their pre-selections. Lang gave McKell the benefit of the doubt and, assisted by substantial personal support in his branches, he survived. When Lang won the 1930 election, McKell became a Minister but was relegated to the minor portfolio of Local Government. Characteristically, he turned the situation to his advantage by proposing a plan for a Greater Sydney Council. Although it never came to fruition, the scheme attracted such favourable publicity that Lang claimed the credit for originating it. In June 1931, McKell again became Justice Minister, where he remained until Lang’s dismissal by Governor Game in May 1932. McKell was one of the few Labor MLAs to retain his seat in the ensuing landslide defeat.

Growing resentment in the labour movement at Lang’s dictatorial control and lack of electoral success led to the formation of a breakaway Industrial Labor Party in February 1938 led by MLA for Botany, Bob Heffron. There were two main forces in the opposition to Lang: covert Communists who sought to increase their power in the ALP, and a group of anti-Lang and anti-Communist union officials whose objective was to restore Labor as a viable electoral force. The latter group supported McKell as the best hope of achieving their aim. Although the radical Heffron was the public face of the opposition to Lang, McKell had the numbers in Caucus. Although no friend of Lang, he had not broken with the Party publicly, had been an effective member of the Opposition and had quietly been building his reputation and strength. The prospect of the Labor Leadership was personally attractive to McKell, but he also felt a sense of duty to do what he could to rescue the Party from the disastrous position Lang had put it in.

In April 1939, Heffron candidates won two seats from the Government at by-elections – unequivocal proof that Lang’s appeal had evaporated. Soon after, the Federal Executive intervened and a unity conference comprising representatives of both Parties was held in August. Lang’s opponents had a comfortable majority and took control of the Executive. The unity conference returned to the Parliamentary Labor Party the right to elect its own Leader. This automatically meant the end of Lang who was too unpopular with his colleagues to have any chance of success. In the Caucus ballot on 5 September 1939, McKell had 13 votes, Lang 12 and Heffron seven. In the next ballot, all of Heffron’s votes went to McKell. Within weeks of the outbreak of the World War Two, McKell was Leader of the Opposition.

Opposition Leader

McKell made a deliberate break with Lang’s style. Temperamentally, he could not have emulated it even if he had wanted to. Politically, it was a necessity. McKell refused to indulge in political adventurism and fiery populist rhetoric. His solid, safe, respectable image was an appealing one to an electorate tired of Lang’s flamboyant extremism. The replacement of Lang deprived the United Australia Party/United Country Party Coalition Government of one of its main electoral assets. Lang had indiscriminately attacked all aspects of the Government’s performance with aggressive and exaggerated rhetoric. McKell, by contrast, was more selective in his opposition. He set out subtly to undermine the Government by characterizing it as complacent and inactive, a ‘do nothing’ administration.

In the May 1941 election campaign McKell outlined an unusually well co-ordinated programme of reforms for both city and country NSW with a touch of vision and an emphasis on orderly planning. Drawing on his long experience and his copious research and reading, he had formulated much of this ‘master plan’ himself. It was definitely a personal agenda. McKell contrasted Labor’s comprehensive platform for change with Premier Alec Mair’s attitude that all social and other reform had to be postponed because of the war. The Government’s standing had been damaged by divisions both within the UAP and with the UCP. The Coalition’s campaign was a negative one, raising the spectre of Lang and claiming that a change of government in wartime was too risky. It was a complete misjudgement of the mood of the times. Leaving the Depression behind and not yet feeling the effects of total war  – as Japan had not entered the conflict – the voters were ready for change.

The result was a resounding victory for McKell, with Labor winning 54 of the 90 seats. The UAP was reduced from the 34 seats it held before the election to 14 and the UCP from 21 to 12. An unusually high total of ten Independents was elected, many of them disgruntled former UAP supporters. The total UAP vote was 20.3%. Independent UAP candidates polled 3.3%. If the UCP’s vote of 11.1% is added to the official UAP vote, the total for the Coalition was 31.4% compared to Labor’s 50.8%. The Communist elements in the reunited ALP had been purged in 1940. They contested the poll as the Hughes-Evans or State Labor Party and received 5.6% of the vote. In two-party preferred terms, the ALP vote has been estimated as 57% (although with the large number of successful Independent candidates such a calculation should be treated with some caution).

Premier

The McKell style of government was cautious, pragmatic, reasoned and controlled.  There was a deliberate attempt to minimise risk-taking and anticipate and deal with potential problems by careful planning.  As little as possible was left to chance and decisions were made only after taking the best advice available and with a solid grasp of facts.  Also prominent was a preference for compromise rather than confrontation, and the use of negotiation to bridge differences.  Above all there was a belief in the realistically achievable, that the continued ability of the Government to implement Labor’s programme was more important than any single reform.  In political terms, McKell’s main concern was to establish and maintain a stable and responsible style of Government.  He strove to project an image of unity and competence.  It was important to convince the electorate that the Labor Party could govern in this manner, particularly after the turbulent history of the two preceding Labor governments under Lang.  In practice, this aim manifested itself in the deliberate avoidance of crisis and confrontation.  McKell’s pragmatic political style was not, however, an end in itself.  Electoral success was seen as a means of implementing Labor’s policy.  By his practical approach to politics McKell aimed to create conditions that would enable him to put into effect as much of his election platform as possible.  McKell was a pragmatist with a purpose.  He believed that the implementation of Labor policy and the winning of electoral support could be complementary rather than conflicting goals. In reconciling these two aims he was largely successful.

One of McKell’s main concerns was to monitor and supervise the performance of his Ministers. The first Cabinet had a nucleus of capable performers – Bob Heffron, Clarrie Martin, Joe Cahill, Reg Downing – but others were mediocrities or past their best. Education Minister Clive Evatt was an incorrigible schemer and troublemaker. All Cabinet minutes were carefully vetted by the Premier, who sometimes knew more about the submission than the proposer. Ministers received regular requests from the Premier for progress reports on legislative and other measures they were responsible for. McKell made good use of the services of his old associate, the powerful Chairman of the Public Service Board Wallace Wurth, in checking on the activities of Ministers and Departments. Wurth’s Public Service Board Inspectors were an invaluable source of inside information, much of which was passed on to McKell. As a result, he often knew about happenings in Departments before the Minister. Wurth also ensured the bureaucracy functioned effectively and responded to the Premier’s wishes. Although he co-ordinated and drove the Government’s overall agenda, McKell expected Ministers to perform and did not interfere in their portfolios needlessly. When the inexperienced Minister of Justice Reg Downing listed some matters relating to release of prisoners for Cabinet consideration, the Premier told him to make his own decisions and not hide behind Cabinet.

McKell was particularly aware of the importance to the Government of good relations with the Labor machine and the trade unions.  He was determined to avoid the internal strife that had hampered or destroyed all previous NSW Labor Governments. Downing, a protégé who had been an MLC since 1940, was put in charge of liaison and communication with the Party Executive and Labor Council.  This proved to be an inspired choice. Downing had a strong trade union background and was the latest recruit to the Government from the Trades Hall. He was a key member of the group who had taken control of the ALP after the removal of first the Langites and then the Communist-influenced Hughes-Evans Executive. In addition to Downing’s wide network of contacts in the unions and labour movement, he possessed abilities of a high order as a conciliator, negotiator and trouble shooter.  Every week, the senior Party officials met with Downing to discuss problems that had arisen and sort out difficulties.  This arrangement played an important part in avoiding major breaches between the Government and the controllers of the extra-Parliamentary Party.  Another benefit of using Downing as an intermediary was that McKell was able to distance himself from Party and union demands that he was not prepared to meet. McKell’s other means of placating the labour movement was by delivering a solid programme of social and industrial reforms.  A record of worthwhile achievements in areas of traditional Labor concern was the best way of heading off disillusionment among its supporters.

A major obstacle for McKell in implementing his policies was that Labor was in a minority in the Legislative Council. Downing was his surprise choice as Leader of the Government in the Upper House.  The Premier’s instructions to Downing were to ensure that debate in the Council was kept on a rational level.  There was to be no abuse or questioning of the motives of Opposition MLCs.  McKell also advised Downing that he should always make a point of listening to objections to Government legislation as there might well be valid grounds for the criticism. McKell himself, never one to make enemies of his political opponents, had established good relations with a number of Opposition Councillors during his long Parliamentary service. This, plus his reputation as a moderate, gave him some credibility when it came to negotiating the passage of important legislation through the Upper House.  McKell and Downing were also assisted in dealing with the hostility of the Council by the fact that the general political trend was running strongly in Labor’s favour.  The Opposition knew that there was a strong likelihood that Labor would eventually gain control of the Council.  It would be better for them to get the most advantageous result while they could, rather than wait until the Government could deal from a position of strength. Although there was still much confrontation and obstruction in the Council, McKell and Downing were often able to negotiate compromises that allowed many important measures to become law.

McKell faced the onerous challenge of war. He immediately set up a War Effort Co-ordination Committee chaired by himself. Much of Australia’s industrial and construction capacity was in NSW and the Premier made sure it was mobilised to the full. The Government built ships, roads, air strips and other defence works. NSW produced munitions and grew food. A vigorous civil defence and air raid precaution programme was instituted. Some of the Government’s promises, such as increased home building and major public works, had to be postponed.

Despite Upper House obstruction and the demands of the war effort, McKell was determined to implement his programme as quickly and fully as possible. The minutes of the first Cabinet meeting record:

“Ministers to see that Under-Secretaries are supplied with copies of Labor’s  Policy Speech and given to understand that matters contained therein are to be put into operation … Premier urged Ministers to get busy on preparation of bills in accordance with Labor’s  Policy”

McKell’s unrelenting tenacity resulted in an impressive record of achievement: miners’ pensions; a Housing Commission; tougher occupational health and safety provisions; the re-establishment of the Government Insurance Office as a provider of general insurance; compulsory third party motor vehicle insurance; improvements to workers’ compensation; increased legal aid; protection of consumers from exploitation; two weeks annual leave; the Joint Coal Board; debt adjustment measures that revitalised country NSW; rural electrification. McKell was also responsible for pioneering achievements in regional development, urban planning, and soil, water and forest conservation. These included the Cumberland plan for Sydney, the State’s first Conservation Department, Kosciuszko National Park, and – with his friend Prime Minister Ben Chifley – the Snowy Mountains scheme.

1944 triumph

McKell’s approach to government was triumphantly vindicated by the 1944 election.  The Premier based his appeal to the people on ‘the solid foundation of promises kept, on the unchallenged record of three years of unremitting work, devotion to the war effort, and enlightened legislative and administrative action’.  In his policy speech he summarised in detail the Government’s record in promoting the war effort and in the social, industrial and rural areas.  McKell then went on to outline the Government’s plans for the postwar world with promises of a vast programme of essential works and improvements in housing, social welfare, health, education and working conditions.

By 1944, the Opposition was in complete disarray.  The UAP had disintegrated, amidst bitter recriminations, under the stress of defeat in the 1941 State and the 1943 Federal elections.  In November 1943, the main remnant became the Democratic Party and all State Parliamentarians joined the new grouping.  However, an influential breakaway group, the Liberal Democratic Party, refused to join the new conservative party and endorsed its own candidates for the 1944 election. Relations with the Country Party also broke down and no electoral agreement was able to be negotiated between the two major Opposition Parties.

The Government won 56 seats, two more than 1941, in spite of two losses to Lang Labor (Auburn and Newtown). Most Labor MLAs greatly increased their majorities, particularly in rural areas. The Democratic Party could muster only 12 seats and the Country Party 11.  There were nine Independents.  The combined Labor and Lang Labor primary vote was 54.5% (Labor 45.6%, Lang 8.9%) compared to the Democratic, Liberal Democratic and Country Party total of 33.7% (Democratic 18.9%, Liberal Democratic 3.9%, Country 10.9%).  Labor’s two-party preferred result has been calculated as 59%. McKell became the first NSW Labor Premier to serve a second consecutive term. On 26 March 1945, he broke Lang’s record as the longest serving ALP Premier.

Second term problems

With the Government safely re-elected and the end of the war in sight, McKell’s attention turned increasingly to postwar reconstruction. From 1944 onwards, the Government initiated an ambitious programme of major works including dams, railways, schools, housing and hospitals. In 1946, McKell set up a State Development Council, chaired by himself and consisting of five other Ministers, to co-ordinate and oversee the State’s postwar development and public works programmes.

McKell had a profound belief in the efficacy of planning and this preference for rational solutions based on expert advice was a dominant theme throughout his term of office.  He had a vision of the future involving planned development, conservation and an egalitarian society where social problems would be eliminated. Some of this would now be characterised as a rather naïve belief in the ‘perfectibility of man’. It is also suggestive of the exaggerated respect of the autodidact for ‘experts’. However, such ideas were very much in tune with the prevailing current in society at this time.  There was much talk of a ‘new order’ and a ‘better world’ across the political spectrum. McKell set out his vision of a ‘people’s peace’ in a speech in January 1947:

To improve the State we must improve conditions for the people living in it. We must improve the people’s surroundings, professional and economic opportunities, education and cultural outlook. The Government believes that all people have the right to the best education and modern amenities, whether they live in remote country districts or the heart of Sydney. We want to improve the welfare of the individual and consequently the welfare of the State.

McKell’s drive to implement his ‘vision splendid’ came up against some harsh political realities. Probably the major problem was widespread postwar industrial disruption as unions battled for their share of the fruits of victory. McKell did what he could to deal with a complex and intractable situation. He tried to become as publicly and actively involved as possible in solving disputes in the hope of convincing the voters that everything feasible was being done to deal with a situation that admitted of no easy solution. A subsidiary aim was to persuade the electorate that Labor was more competent and better placed with its links to the union movement to deal with industrial unrest than the opposition. Another central policy was unwavering support for the principles of arbitration as the best means of resolving disputes and as a bulwark against industrial anarchy. McKell also strongly attacked Communist influence in the union movement and called on militant union leaders to show a sense of responsibility to the State as a whole by minimising stoppages. He strove to project an image of the Government working together with reasonable elements in the unions to minimise strikes. Finally, McKell was also prepared to give some concessions to ease the industrial pressure. The main example was an extra week of annual leave, a key union demand, which McKell legislated for in 1944.

McKell also now had to deal with an increasingly strong rebel group in Caucus. After the 1941 victory, his authority had been largely unquestioned. The newly elected Members, in particular, realised that they owed much of their success to McKell as the architect of victory. Clive Evatt and Abe Landa, however, soon emerged as malcontents. After the Government’s big electoral victory in 1944, McKell faced a much less acquiescent party room. A group of ambitious backbenchers was restless and frustrated over their failure to become Ministers. McKell made a tactical error in choosing to confront these MLAs – many of whom were to become senior figures in succeeding ALP Governments – rather than neutralising them by appointing some to Cabinet. A few unreconstructed ‘Langsters’ still had scores to settle. These dissident elements were only too happy to join Evatt and Landa in the harassment of the Premier. This led to, in McKell’s own words, a ‘simmering’ and ‘pinpricking’ in Caucus. This restiveness had a disproportionate effect on him. McKell was temperamentally unable to shrug off criticism he regarded as unfair. As he became more obsessed with his plans for postwar reconstruction, he became less tolerant of differing opinions. He also lost some of the people skills that had served him so well earlier in his career, seeing himself as the prophet who knew best. As well, McKell was physically and emotionally exhausted by his enormous workload, the demands of implementing his agenda and dealing with incessant political problems. The burden of wartime leadership had undermined his health. He had been convinced at the height of the conflict in the Pacific that a Japanese invasion of Australia was imminent.

On 13 February 1946, McKell announced to an ALP gathering in his electorate of Redfern that he was retiring from politics before the next election. The Executive and McKell’s supporters in Cabinet and Caucus responded by organising votes of confidence in his leadership and urging him to stay on.  The Premier relented somewhat in response and agreed to the Executive’s request to carry on until after the 1946 Budget.  He appeared to be increasingly having second thoughts about his retirement decision and speculation grew that McKell would lead Labor at the 1947 election. Then came Chifley’s offer of the Governor-Generalship.  McKell resigned as Premier on 6 February 1947 to take up his viceregal duties. He was only the second Australian to hold the office after Isaac Isaacs.

The Governor-Generalship and after

McKell’s appointment was vehemently attacked by conservative politicians and newspapers. The main overt  criticism was that a serving politician could not be relied upon to act impartially. Behind the scenes there was an element of snobbishness. Some in the ALP were also critical of McKell for becoming the King’s representative – feelings that intensified when McKell accepted a knighthood (GCMG) in November 1951. McKell was not destined to have an uncontroversial term. In early 1951, Chifley’s Liberal Party successor as Prime Minister, Bob Menzies, requested a double dissolution. McKell realised that constitutionally he had no option but to act on the advice of his Prime Minister and granted Menzies’ request. This entirely proper action was in some ways to blight McKell’s later years. Many in the Labor Party never forgave him, believing McKell had betrayed his Party and old comrades and ‘ambushed’ Chifley. The latter allegation is certainly untrue. Downing had a conversation with the Governor-General during the crisis which left him convinced that McKell was going to grant the double dissolution and he conveyed this information to Chifley. In any event, knowing McKell well, the Opposition Leader would have been in no doubt that he would follow the proper constitutional course. Ironically, after the 1975 constitutional crisis the ALP was completely converted to the opinion that Governors-General should act on their Ministers’ advice. In the eyes of the community, McKell’s term was a success. Menzies’ assessment was: ‘Behind his normal informality, [McKell] had a great natural dignity; he understood his duties; and he performed them extremely well’. Menzies extended McKell’s term for a year in 1952. The two became firm friends. In May 1953, McKell left office and retired to his farm at Goulburn.

In later life, McKell faded almost entirely from public view. Living quietly in a modest apartment in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, he spent his time playing bowls, going to the races and keeping up with old friends. A long time Trustee and former Chairman, McKell was a regular at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He was largely forgotten by the ALP which paid more attention to the myth of Lang. All this began to change in the 1970s. A new generation of Labor activists – chiefly Bob Carr, Michael and Shane Easson and John McCarthy – rediscovered McKell and promoted his legacy. Neville Wran named a new State office building after him. There was renewed academic interest in McKell, culminating in Chris Cunneen’s biography in 2000. All of this brought comfort to his final years. McKell died on 11 January 1985, aged 93.

The legacy

Although the modern world has grown blasé about ‘from boilermaker to Governor-General’ type stories, this should not be allowed to detract from the inspiring example of someone who, through determination and ability, overcame disadvantage to achieve spectacular success. McKell is still a valid role model for current society. As Premier, he saw NSW through the difficulties of war and the transition to a modern society. McKell’s achievements brought substantial benefits to many ordinary citizens. A number of his schemes were visionary. McKell transformed Labor from a Party that always self-destructed in office to one that dominated NSW politics for the second half of the 20th century and beyond. He created an efficient, pragmatic and electorally successful style of government that characterised the NSW ALP for decades. As Governor-General, McKell created a uniquely Australian precedent that prepared the way for his successors. In a time of cynicism about politics and politicians, McKell’s example – as a politician whose life and career exemplified decency, integrity and a selfless desire to help the State and its people – should not be undervalued.

 

Sources

As well as the sources listed below, I have drawn on conversations with McKell and Downing over a period of years.

ALP (NSW), Five Critical Years: the story of the McKell Labor Government in New South Wales, Government Printer, Sydney, 1946.

Carr, B, ‘How moderate Labor developed its nifty style’, in The Bulletin, 29 August 1978.

Clune, D, ‘The NSW election of 1941’ in Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol 30,  no 3, 1984.

Clune, D, ‘From McKell to McGirr’ in Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 79, pts. 1 and 2, 1993.

Clune, D, and Turner, K, eds The Premiers of NSW, 1856-2005, vol 2, Federation Press, 2006.

Cunneen, C, William John McKell: boilermaker, Premier, Governor- General, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2000.

Easson, M, ed, McKell: the achievements of Sir William McKell, Allen and Unwin,

Sydney, 1988.

Hogan, M, and Clune, D, eds, The People’s Choice:  electoral politics in twentieth century NSW, Sydney University and NSW Parliament, vol 2, 2001.

Kelly, V, A Man of the People: from boilermaker to Governor-General, Alpha Books, Sydney, 1971.

Nairn, NB, ‘The 1916-17 Labor Party crisis in NSW and the advent of WJ McKell’, Labour History, no 16, May 1969.

Waugh, J, ‘Appointing the Governor-General: the case of William McKell’ in Public Law Review, vol 17, 2006.


* Honorary Associate in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney and the NSW Parliament’s Historian.