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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Wentworth, William Charles (Bill) (1907–2003)

by Tony Stephens

from Sydney Morning Herald

Friends and foes alike could always get an argument with Bill [William Charles] Wentworth, a fact of his long life that became clear at his memorial service yesterday.

The Reverend Peter Clark, of St Michael's Anglican Church, said Mr Wentworth had requested the service be held in the small church at Newport rather than in a cathedral. William Wentworth said, however, that his father had not requested so much as instructed.

Speaking of his father's courage and self-confidence, Mr Wentworth said: "It was almost impossible to humiliate him and he could even endure extended periods of ridicule."

Bill Wentworth, MP for Mackellar for 28 years, the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and a lifelong campaigner, was 95 when he died a fortnight ago.

His wife of 68 years, Barbara, led 130 mourners yesterday from a wheelchair. William said that his father loved public life so much that he had no need for refuge in the bosom of his family. "His only refuge was with Barbara, and they made a great and effective team."

Bronwyn Bishop, who succeeded Bill Wentworth in Mackellar, said he was a brilliant man, ahead of his time, who had swept into government with Robert Menzies in 1949.

"We had many vigorous arguments," she said. "He was truly protectionist over trade." When Mr Wentworth moved into a retirement home with his wife, he had called Ms Bishop to say: "I have new policies for aged care."

Ms Bishop said, however: "Australia is a better place for his having been with us."

Malcolm Hill, formerly of the Reserve Bank, told how Mr Wentworth had fervently opposed economic rationalism and had wanted to join street demonstrations against globalisation.

Dr Hill said that Bill knew about economics, history, religion, literature, art and science. Friends marvelled that, like Oliver Goldsmith, "one small head should carry all he knew".

Keith Newman, an engineer, told how the old campaigner was ahead of his time on everything from the standard rail gauge, which he helped introduce, to the cross-city road tunnel, which he advocated in 1989.

Mick Dodson, chair of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, said Mr Wentworth had set up the original institute, despite the hostility of Prime Minister Menzies.

"Bill could be a cantankerous, obstinate, persistent old bugger," Professor Dodson said. "But his passionate advocacy for indigenous people stands as his legacy."

Other mourners included former politicians Tom Hughes, Gough Whitlam, Sir Robert Cotton, Les Johnson and Peter Baume, and activists Faith Bandler, John Valder and Ainslie Gotto.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 June 2003, p 9

Other Obituaries for William Charles (Bill) Wentworth

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tony Stephens, 'Wentworth, William Charles (Bill) (1907–2003)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/wentworth-william-charles-bill-31184/text38574, accessed 11 April 2021.

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