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William James (Bill) Beadman (1918–2001)

by John Farquharson

William Beadman, n.d.

William Beadman, n.d.

photo supplied by Jennifer Beresford

In November 1964 William James (Bill) Beadman was an unknown Canberra bus driver going about his normal duties. But before that day was out, courage and coincidence had catapulted him into national prominence.

That morning, Beadman, then 46 and the father of three children, was driving his bus over King’s Avenue Bridge when he saw two men and a boy struggling beside an overturned boat in Lake Burley Griffin, near the carillon. Beadman, who held a Surf Life Saving Bronze Medal, stopped his bus, pulled off his clothes and swam out in the lake. The boy, Colin Panton, and his father sank from sight in the choppy, windswept water before Beadman could reach them. He then swam towards the other man, Bruce Shields, who was clinging to an overturned racing shell. Using the shell, Beadman was able to get it and Shields ashore. However, the incident also had an unsavoury side. While Beadman was in the water his watch was stolen from his clothes.

Six months later, on the morning of the day the then acting Prime Minister, John McEwen, announced that Beadman had been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for gallantry in the lake rescue, the bus driver hero rescued the same man again. Beadman was again driving his bus when he saw a collision between two cars. Noticing a man get slewed around and finish up hanging out of one of the cars, Beadman stopped his bus and ran to help him. It was Bruce Shields, the very man he had dragged out of the lake the year before. Beadman later recalled that after he got Shields by the shoulders and pulled him out, he looked up and said, ‘My God, my guardian angel’.

Beadman, who said of the lake rescue that he ‘just acted on the spur of the moment’, has died in Canberra aged 82 after a long battle with debilitating illness.

But gallantry was not Bill Beadman’s only claim to fame. Prowess with a billiard cue, led to him being inducted in 1999 into the ACT Sports Hall of Fame, for the remarkable achievement of winning 25 consecutive ACT billiards championships. He won his first ACT title in 1948 and went on to win another 32 titles. His final title before retiring because of ill health was in 1981. His achievements with the cue also included victories over Horace Lindrum and Eddie Charlton. When Bill had just beaten Lindrum and they were having a beer together, Lindrum said, ‘I have played all around the world and then come back to the bush to get beaten’. Not one to let Canberra be put down, Bill is said to have retorted, ‘Well, you’re not in the bush, you’re in the national capital’. Apart from cricket, billiards and snooker, he was also a keen trout fisherman and spent many hours fishing the local streams.

Born in Braidwood on March 5, 1918, Bill Beadman was the youngest son of Harold and Florence Beadman and brother to Nobby and Mattie. The family lived in Araluen until they moved to the Causeway in 1927. His father, a blacksmith by trade, made some of the wrought-iron railings for the stairs in Old Parliament House.

Bill was one of the early students at Telopea Park School, where he excelled at cricket and made the school team of 1931. Leaving school at 16, he worked briefly at the CSIRO, before moving in 1934 to the Department of the Interior’s bus depot at Kingston as a bus driver. One of his first jobs was to drive the school bus to and from the Cotter. He would also pick up and deliver groceries and pharmaceutical items for families in the Cotter area. Because of the distance in those days, Bill had an overnight ‘hut’ and came home at weekends. There was many a fish fried and a soothing ale consumed in Bill’s hut.

It was during this time, too, that romance began to flourish between Bill and Gloria Cameron, who worked in Heaney’s chemist shop in Kingston. But World War II intervened. Bill enlisted in the Army in 1941 and saw active service with the 6th Division in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands as a gunnery instructor in an armoured regiment. While in the Army, Bill made up his mind to come back from the war and marry the girl in the Chemist shop, which he did. They were married in April 1947 in St John’s Church, Reid, where his funeral service was held on Wednesday (7 March).

He had an interesting and varied working life with jobs ranging from driving school buses to rural areas around Canberra and when he moved to Commonwealth cars (now Comcar), he became principal driver for a number of senior politicians and cabinet ministers. These, at various times, included ‘Doc’ Evatt, Doug Anthony and Gough Whitlam. But he declined an offer to take on similar duties for Malcolm Fraser. After the Whitlam dismissal, Bill was one of those at a final party that night at The Lodge. After more than 40 years with the transport section of the Department of the Interior and its successors, he retired in 1978 due to ill health. In 1987 he and his wife moved to Queensland to see if his health would improve there, but family ties drew them back to Canberra in 1994.

A warm hearted, lively character and devoted family man, Bill was considered a good mate by those he worked with, and held in high regard by those he worked for. He was always ready to go out of his way to help anyone in need.

His wife Gloria, son Greg and daughters Genette and Heather and seven grandchildren survive him.

William James Beadman, born 5 March 1918; died 1 March 2001.

Original publication

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Beadman, William James (Bill) (1918–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

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