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Selby Walter Munsie (1870–1938)

When Death calls it is rare that it does not leave a gap which often time alone can bridge. Sometimes the gap is greater because the one who has gone has loomed prominently in the vision of his countrymen and countrywomen because of services well and nobly rendered. There are men of all parties or sections of thought in our community to whom that definition can apply, but to none more than to Selby Walter Munsie, who was laid to rest on Monday morning.

If ever there were a man who could blend the attributes of true manliness with the concentration and the fervour of the politician who unswervingly follows his convictions, it was the late Mr. Munsie. In fact, the combination was present in the work he did as a Minister, particularly in the department of Health. This State has never had such an enthusiast on the subject of the people's health as Mr. Munsie. Had he had the power, the State would be staffed from end to end, and in every corner, with hospitals, health centres, baby clinics, and everything else which would tend to relieve suffering, help the sick to recover, and give every little child its first assistance to healthy and useful life.

It will be only when someone examines the work done by him in Health matters that it will be realised what a mark he has left on the history of Western Australia. It will be found that he has erected a worthy monument to his name; in the course of time, though his name be forgotten, the work accomplished will live long and brighten the lives of many people. In his other department, Mines, he was again thorough and there is no doubt that his devoted work in this respect played a great part indeed in the revival of the mining industry in W.A.

Other hands will take up his work where he laid it down. None will ever do it with more devotion and honesty than he did, and no other will be able to leave a better name behind as man, politician, Minister and humanitarian, than he has done, for none can leave anything behind them that is better than the best. The loss is one to his family, to the men with whom he was associated for so long at work, in Labor ranks, to the Government of which he was a member, and to the State which he served so faithfully and so well. The gathering at his graveside was eloquent of the truthfulness of that statement. From all sections of the community there came representative citizens to pay their last respects to one whom they regarded as a true man, and there can not be any higher attribute accorded to anyone than that.

Mr. Munsie was accorded a State funeral, which was the last little tribute the Government could pay to him in acknowledgment of his long service to the welfare of the State. In an impressive address, the officiating clergyman referred to the excellent qualities of the late Mr. Munsie, and his service to the community. He said he knew Mr. Munsie would have been the last to have anything said concerning himself, but it would not be right for him to be laid to rest without those gathered around acknowledging his sterling character and his achievements for the good of the people and of the State.

Like so many others who have risen to prominence as leaders in the Labor Movement, the late Mr. Munsie found his inspiration to work for the improvement of the social and industrial conditions of the people in the hard school of experience. Born in New South Wales, he went to work at the age of 14, and immediately entered on an association with the industrial side of the Labor Movement, which was continuous until his death. He came to this State in 1895 and took an active part in the trade union movement on the Goldfields, where he filled the offices of general president of the Federal Miners' Union, and president of the Eastern Goldfields District Council of the A.L.P. In later years he was president of the State Executive of the Australian Labor Party.

He was elected to Parliament, to represent the Hannans electorate, in 1911 and held the seat continuously for 27 years. In the House, his striking personality and his reputation for plain speaking, won him high regard. During many years when the Party was in Opposition Mr. Munsie's speeches pointed to his future prominence in the political sphere. His first elevation came in 1924 when he was appointed an honorary minister in the first Collier Government, and given control of the Health Department a task for which he was well suited because of deep interest in, and zealous study of subjects affecting the health of the people. In 1927 he was promoted to full Cabinet rank and entrusted for the next three years, with the heavy task of controlling both the Mines and Health Departments. On the return of the second Collier Administration in 1930, Mr. Munsie was again given control of those departments and continued to actively discharge the duties until he entered hospital two months ago.

In both spheres of Ministerial activity Mr. Munsie was a hard worker. During his term as Minister for Health, infant health centres were put on a sound financial basis and the work rapidly extended. In the first six years of his administration there was a considerable expansion of hospital services throughout the State, 25 new hospitals, or additions to existing hospitals, being opened by him. Under his administration also the flying doctor service was extended to this State and improvements were made in medical services in the North West so that sparsely-populated areas there would be served by full-time doctors.

As Minister for Mines, he went to London, three years ago, to encourage the investment of overseas capital in the State's mining industry. He interviewed many influential mining people and investors, and it is estimated that as a result of his efforts over £1,000,000 was invested in the industry here. One of the projects resulting from his visit was the development of the Big Bell mine, near Cue. Earlier, in 1930, he had visited Canberra with Mr. de Beruales, the outcome of their representations to the Federal Ministry being the passing of the Gold Bounty Act which resulted in a revival of goldmining in Australia. Among the major measures which, as Minister, Mr. Munsie was responsible for during their passage through Parliament, were the Mine Workers' Relief Act (1932) and the Petroleum Act (1936). 

The following extracts from published tributes by parliamentary and industrial leaders in the State, illustrate the esteem in which the late Mr. Munsie was held.

Mr. J. C. Willcock (Premier): "I am overwhelmed with sorrow and regret at the passing of a great man and excellent colleague. My association with him for the past 25 years engendered in me a great admiration of his sterling qualities. The Labor Movement and the Government has suffered an exceptionally severe loss by his death. He was a very good friend, and it could be truthfully said that he had no enemies. He fearlessly stood for what he considered right, with an earnestness which left no doubt as to his sincerity. In his work as Minister, he not only showed untiring energy, but also boundless enthusiasm. which is rare even in gifted men.

Mr. P. J. Mooney (President of the State Executive) : He had known Mr. Munsie for 30 years and had attended many Labor Congresses with him. He had always found him to be sincere and fair-minded, and throughout his Parliamentary career he had been one of the hardest and most zealous workers in the interests of the Labor Movement. His death was one of the greatest losses ever sustained by the Labor Party in this State.

Mr. P. J. Trainer (Secretary of State Executive) : The loss of Mr. Munsie will be deplored by the Labor Movemeut and the general public. He was always an enthusiast in anything he undertook. He regarded the mining industry as his special charge, realising at all times its importance in the economic structure of the State. Apart from this I think that the Health Department held his human interest and unbounded personal enthusiasm more than any other activity. Care of the sick was more important to him than any other phase of his work. He will always be remembered as one who will rank as one of the best politicians that Western Australia has produced.

Mr. C. G. Latham (Leader of the Opposition) : His memory will be perpetuated by legislation in the interests of the men engaged in the mining industry, and all workers generally. He always took a great interest in the health of the people, especially the children, and he devoted a considerable portion of his time to preparing legislation for this purpose. Very few people possessed a more friendly nature and he never allowed rancour to remain after any acrimonious debate in which he took a part.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • photo, Westralian Worker (Perth), 23 June 1922, p 4

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Citation details

'Munsie, Selby Walter (1870–1938)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 September, 1870
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia


12 March, 1938 (aged 67)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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