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William Arthur Zuill (1867–1942)

After a long life filled with public-spirited service to this city and district and its public institutions, William Arthur Zuill died after a brief illness in the Grafton District Hospital on Sunday afternoon, aged 75 years. He had entered the hospital only a week before and the absence of a public statement that he was ill was due to a desire to aid him in his illness. It was fitting that in his last days with the people he served so well he should have been cared for in an institution to which he had given so many years of selfless endeavor. The late Mr. Zuill had been committeeman and chairman of the Hospital Board for many years, but beyond his public duties thereon he always showed a deep personal and sympathetic understanding of the requirements of patients and staff. He was a life member of the hospital.

Many other public duties claimed his attention. He was an old member of the Clarence Pastoral and Agricultural Society and its president for years and in this office he brought to bear all the valuable experience of a son of the soil. He also held the presidency of the North Coast Agricultural Societies' Association, in the early days, representing societies from the Clarence to the Tweed. The 'sport of kings' appealed to him more for the service he could render to its clean and thorough administration than the speculative element such association involved. He was an old member of the Clarence River Jockey Club and was for many years its judge, and for a long period a member of the committee. He was also chairman of the Grafton Racecourse and Recreation Trust and occupied a similar position on the Grafton Common Trust and Showground Trust. He found time to serve the farming and local governing community as a councillor of the Copmanhurst shire for a number of years and his experience of land matters was a helpful influence for a long period on the Grafton Land Board. He was a member of the Institute of Valuers and acted in that capacity for a number of public bodies. Following the death of the then member for the Clarence, Mr. John McFarlane, he was elected to the New South Wales Parliament in 1914 as member for the district and served the people in that capacity for seven years.

Deceased was a son of the late John and Janet Zuill, pioneers of the Clarence River, who owned Stoney and Blake Creek Station and was born at the old family homestead at Saltwater, near where Gurranang railway siding now stands. Here he spent his boyhood days and it was there that he met with an accident which left him partially crippled for the rest of his life. He was educated at Grafton Grammar School and a private school at West Maitland. After leaving school he returned and took part in much of the pioneering work on his father's property.

In 1895 he acquired a small farming property at Lower Southgate, married Miss Aletha Short, daughter of the late Samuel and Emily Short, well-known residents of that district, and settled down there. From that time he set to work to improve the conditions of the man on the land. Dairying was in its infancy and he was one of the prime movers in the erection of a creamery which was established on the site where Foley Bros, butter factory stands today. He acted as secretary for the Creamery Company for years. He was helped in this work by a good friend Mr. J. B Carlton. of Lismore, who was then manager of the Brushgrove Creamery. Although offered a salary for his work, he declined and as soon as the factory was on a sound footing he handed the books over to a salaried secretary. That job completed, he had the practical co-operation of local residents in the erection of a Public Hall, which still stands, and he was president of the Hall Committee for many years.

Seeing the need for a farmers' organisation, he formed the Farmers' Union at Lower Southgate. He was secretary and later president of the union and when other branches were formed and a District Council set up he became president of the council, which held quarterly meetings in Grafton. He saw in this achievement the further need for practical co-operation in disposing of farmers' products and, with the late Mr. C.E.D. Meares, then manager of the Coastal Farmers' Society (now merged in the Producers' Distributing Society), he encouraged farmers on the Clarence to become shareholders in the society.

He saw, too, in those early days, the possibility of decentralisation cf cattle slaughtering. There was no rail connection with Sydney at the time, but experimenting with his own stock he slaughtered them and shipped the carcases in freezing chambers by the North Coast boats to Sydney market. The river bar, which prevented a regular boat service time-table to and from Sydney, compelled him to give up the venture. To remove the river bar difficulties he linked up with what was then known as the Harbor and River Trust and made many journeys to attend meetings to urge the removal of the reef at the entrance, but without success.

His practical mind was turned to the breeding of a dual purpose cow. He leased from the Government a Red Poll sire for use on his own property and also made it available to the farming community. Successful in this venture he purchased a group of Red Polls and built up a herd of pure and grade Polls from which he supplied the Lower Southgate Creamery. He realised the value of conserving fodder and was the first farmer in the district to build an ensilage stack, from which an exhibit was displayed and favorably commented on Grafton and Sydney Royal Show. In 1905, the year in which his wife died leaving him with three young children, he was president of the C.P. and A. Society and had much to do with the inauguration of the local district exhibit for the Grafton Show. Lower Southgate, through his enthusiasm, entered the competitions, much of the produce being grown on his own farm. He next turned his attention to the eradication of the mosquito pest along Sportsman's Creek through which salt water spread out over the swamps, providing a breeding ground for the pest. His idea was a weir over the creek to prevent the infiltration of salt water into the swamps. He continued his agitation while in Parliament, but it was not until the early twenties that the weir was built. It was characteristic of him that when asked to officially declare the work complete, he declined in favor of his old friend, the late J. D. Whalan. It stands to-day as one of a number of monuments to his energy and industry, largely directed for the benefit of his fellow men. The weir not only eliminated the mosquito pest but turned thousands of acres, of salty marshland into rich grazing areas.

The late Mr. Zuill gave his services to many other public duties and played his part well in the development of this district. He was generous hearted, straight going, practical and full of human sympathy and understanding. He gave freely to all deserving calls, but innumerable kindly acts and helpful services were rendered unknown to anyone else. His friends, young and old, were legion. He was a member of the Masonic Order.

Two daughters, Mrs. A. Smith, of Stanthorpe, and Miss Florence Zuill, of Grafton, and one son, Mr. J. Zuill, of Dilkoon, with four sisters, the Misses Zuill, of Queen street, and Mrs. Charles Henderson, of Clarence street survive him.

The funeral, which was one of the largest seen in Grafton for some years moved from St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church after service conducted by the Rev. Dr. John Craig.

The Rev. Dr. Craig said that as a comparative stranger to the district he had, during his brief sojourn visited Mr. Zuill at his office and found him to be a man of kindly disposition and other friendly attributes. He expressed thanks to Mr. D. J. Lobban, a life-long friend of Mr. Zuill's for supplying him with a brief sketch of his life, which Dr. Craig read as follows: —

"By the death of Mr. W. A. Zuill, Grafton and district have lost one of their finest citizens, both from a public and a philanthropic point of view.

"He was the only son of the late Mr. John Zuill, one of our noted pioneer pastoralists. and was born at his father's station. Stoney Creek, Southgate, 75 years ago. He received his education at the Grafton Grammar School and at West Maitland and when old enough, determined to follow his father's vocation and took up land under the Crown Lands Act at Southgate. He strictly complied with all the heavy terms of residence and improvements on his holding, eventually became the possessor of the same and entered into the life of a pastoralist. This he carried on actively until his entry into Parliament as member for the Clarence, which he represented for several years. He took a great interest in local matters and was secretary of many committees established for the welfare of the district. Over a decade ago he started business in Grafton as a Land and Estate Agent, valuer and auctioneer, which business he carried on successfully up to his demise. He was a Fellow of the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers. During his life in Grafton he was amongst other things a member of committee and then president of the Grafton District Hospital: a trustee of the Clarence Pastoral and Agricultural Society and a member of committee and later its president. Perhaps the great est monument to his work was that done. by him for the Grafton District Hospital. When he took over the helm the hospital was practically a sinking ship, but through his indomitable driving force and organising ability he brought it to a very creditable financial state and left it so to the new regime which took over. His unselfish work for the nurses and the sick children of the hospital will always be gratefully remembered. We can ill-afford to lose such men, but his name will stand for all time as a beacon to younger men to 'go thou and do likewise.' To his three children, Mr. Jack Zuill, Mrs. Smith and Miss Flo Zuill our deepest sympathy is extended, but we feel that their knowledge of all their fine father's quiet kindly Christian acts will soften their great loss."

Dr. Craig concluded by pointing out how it was generally accepted by the people here, the conscientiousness of Mr. Zuill when he represented the district in the State House, and although his physical disability prevented his attending his church he was always a most generous supporter of it, and intimated that next Sunday morning the 11 a.m. service in St. Andrew's would be a memorial service to him.

The service concluded with the playing of the Dead March on the organ by Dr. Jeannie Craig.

The graveside service was conducted by Rev. J. Walton.

Amongst the many floral tributes were those from the chairman and members of the C.R.J.C, chairman and board of the Grafton District Hospital, Matron and staff of the Grafton District Hospital, trustees of the C.R.J.C., president and councillors of the Copmanhurst Shire Council, the Grafton Red Cross, the Grafton Hospital Auxiliary and president and members of the Grafton Club. Pall-bearers were representative of the Grafton District Hospital and the Clarence River Jockey Club, Mr. E. Watman (president), Mr. J. C. Lane (vice president) and Mr. R. A. Bunn (secretarv of the hospital) and Dr. E. A. Woodward (president). Dr. N. S. Mulhearn and Mr. Les Hawthorne, members of the committee of the C.R.J.C.

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'Zuill, William Arthur (1867–1942)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

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