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Winch, Ronald Thomas (Ron) (1921–2010)

Ron Winch, who has died in Canberra, aged 89, was a well-respected dealer in secondhand and antiquarian books widely known in the ACT and throughout the rest of Australia. But that was only his second career, which began when he retired from the Commonwealth Public Service after 44 years for health reasons in 1979.

He left the Public Service after being diagnosed with angina and bought a portion of the library of Geoffrey C. Ingleton, a retired Lieutenant-Commander, of the Royal Australian Navy, who had built up a collection of books related to the marine history of Australia.

With that as a beginning, Ron went into partnership with Ralph Lawton, and for about one year they traded as Lawton and Winch. When this arrangement proved unworkable, Ron bought out Lawton and thereafter traded as Winchbooks, with a shop in Fyshwick. This became highly successful until the 1990s when Ron sold the business, as he was having health problems.

However, Ron had become known as a valuer of books, and he was called on by the Redemptionist Fathers, of Galong, near Yass, to value the books in their extensive library. He also did work for the Northern Territory University in Darwin, where the university's librarian, Alex Byrne, called on him to value books contributed to the university. Another job he did there was to give valuations of collections given to the university. One of the jobs he did was to value the research material amassed by Colin Roderick, Foundation Professor of English at James Cook University, of North Queensland, for his biography of Ludwig Leichhardt.

In South Australia, where he also spent time, Ron did a valuation of the family relics of the Australian Antarctic explorer, Douglas Mawson.

Though his work with the Public Service was important, it was through books that Ron made his most significant contribution. He organised and arranged several successful antiquarian book fairs at Olim's Hotel, in Ainslie, as well as making visits to the annual Book Festival at Hay-on-Wye, the former Welsh farming village, which has reinvented itself into a booming "town of books". The profits from the book fairs he gave to the historical society, which he joined in 1971.

He was also a real contributor to the life of Canberra, through his church, and through the Canberra and District Historical Society, of which he served two terms as President, from 1975 to 1977 and 1983 to 1985 and as a committee member for many years. He was the society's representative to the ACT Branch of the National Trust. Ron became acting President again in 1990. He led several weekend history excursions to Galong seminary. History and, particularly local history, was one of his passions. His contribution to local history in the Canberra region was recognised by the award of the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2000, "for service to community history, particularly in the conservation of antiquarian books, the National Trust of Australia, and to the community". As a member of the National Trust's council, he made a major contribution to the running of the Trust through the 1980s until he retired in 1992.

Born in the Adelaide suburb of Kensington Park on February 2, 1921, Ronald Winch was the youngest son of Robert Varley Winch, a former shearer and then police officer, and Flora May Forrest. His older brother, Ken, predeceased him. Ron attended Norwood Primary School and Adelaide Technical High School, where he completed the Intermediate Certificate.

In 1935, aged 14, he became a telegraph messenger with the PMG Department, delivering messages by bicycle. After working in that job for three years he moved to a storeman's position. Ron joined the CMF in 1941, as his poor eyesight prevented him from enlisting full time. By 1943, however, he was accepted as a signalman and wireless operator with the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade, of South Australia, and was deployed to Darwin. Subsequently he served in New Guinea before being discharged in 1945.

He became engaged to Mary Lawry in 1943, and after his demobilisation, they married in 1946. On resuming civilian life, Ron worked for the Department of Customs and Excise and studied at night to gain a Diploma of Commerce from Adelaide University. He also qualified as a lay preacher with the Methodist Church.

In 1956, Ron transferred to Canberra with the Customs Department. The family lived for several years at Wattle Park, near Hall. Ron and Mary soon established strong ties in that community, particularly through the Wattle Park Methodist Church. In 1982 Ron wrote a history of the Wattle Park Methodist Church, entitled Wattle Park. They were also actively involved in the Hall Agricultural show. That later became the Royal Canberra Agricultural Society, of which Ron was Treasurer for many years, and was made a life member in recognition of his services.

Later the family moved to Campbell, where they developed a strong attachment to the Reid Methodist Church. Ron and Mary were both very active in the church. They were on many committees and both sang in the choir. Ron became a lay preacher and a trustee of the Church. When it became the Uniting Church, he also embraced that and continued working for it.

Meanwhile, his career with the Commonwealth Public Service prospered. At night he studied part time at the ANU, where he graduated with BA. By the time he retired in 1979 he held a variety of positions. By then he had risen to the position of investment manager with the Commonwealth Superannuation Board.

Ron wrote two books, which chronicled the history of Reid Methodist Church, The Red Bricks of Reid in 1977 and The Changing Years in 1987. Another book he wrote was a history of his wartime unit The War Diary of the 3rd Infantry Brigade in 2000, the research for which he partly completed during his visits to Darwin. In 1995, he edited, with Frank McMahon Mungabareena Poets: Australian Verse, published by the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Albury-Wodonga Group).

In the mid 1990s Ron joined the Masonic Lodge and rose to become Worshipful Master. Books were an enormous part of Ron's life, from his earliest years. When he got his first pocket money, he went to a secondhand bookshop and bought a book. To be surrounded by books and the buying and selling of books, was Ron's passion. As Frank Milburn said at his funeral on March 12, "He was a gentleman and a scholar".

His wife, Mary, son Paul and daughter Susan survive him along with their families and five grandchildren.

Ron Winch, born February 2, 1921; died March 6, 2010.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 3 April 2010, p 15

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Winch, Ronald Thomas (Ron) (1921–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/winch-ronald-thomas-ron-1569/text1632, accessed 14 November 2019.

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