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Winsor, Reginald (1891–1963)

by R. M. Audley

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Reginald Winsor (1891-1963), railway commissioner, was born on 5 July 1891 at Singleton, New South Wales, fourth child of native-born parents Richard Winsor, fireman, and his wife Mary, née Gordon. Educated locally, Reg joined the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways as a probationer at Singleton on 3 November 1906 at five shillings a week. He took advantage of the classes offered by the Railway Institute to acquire skills in accounting, becoming coaching clerk with the institute in 1911. Subsequently he rose to the positions of clerk, night officer, station master and station accounts inspector in various parts of the State. At St Alban's Church of England, Belmore, Sydney, he married Hilda May McDonagh on 15 March 1920.

In 1929 Winsor successfully sued the commissioners of railways over a disputed appointment and was made chief clerk in the locomotive accounts branch. He was appointed assistant locomotive accountant in 1933 and was transferred to the mechanical branch in 1936. As president (1931-40) of the Railways and Tramways Officers' Association, he was unhappy with the inflexible structure of the railway administration and argued strongly for reform and promotion on merit. He clashed bitterly with Premier (Sir) Bertram Stevens over salary cuts and openly upheld his predecessor Jack Lang as 'the most vigorous champion of workers' rights'. Later he supported the Australian Labor Party. Staff shortages during World War II caused serious industrial difficulties; in 1942 the commissioner Tom Hartigan appointed him acting chief staff superintendent (confirmed 1945). The appointment was controversial: the railways were strongly divided on political and sectarian grounds and the choice was seen (probably without justification) as favouring Labor and the Catholic elements. Impatient with bureaucratic 'red tape', Winsor preferred to rely on 'the telephone or personal contact over a glass of beer to get results'. He kept the railways working—without strikes.

In 1948 Frederick Garside replaced Hartigan; Winsor was promoted to assistant-commissioner for railways. He found it increasingly difficult to work with Garside, with whom he clashed on numerous issues. During the floods and the coal strike in the winter of 1949, he was appointed emergency transport co-ordinator with almost unlimited powers. His 'energy, unconventionality and ability to make split-second decisions' enabled him to 'shine in times of crisis'. In September 1949 he became commissioner for road transport and tramways. Under the Transport and Highways Act (1950), he was named director of transport and highways for five years. These moves strengthened his relations with the State Labor government, but many in the railways saw him as a turncoat who had become 'the government's man'. He courted publicity and did not flinch from controversy.

Unable to stem the losses incurred by the railways, Garside retired in poor health on 5 February 1952 and was replaced by Keith Fraser, an engineer who died in April. Winsor accepted the post of chief commissioner in September, on the condition of greater independence from government control. Within the upper echelons of the railways, the appointment angered the conservative faction. He compounded the antagonism by introducing major cost-saving measures, including staff reductions and the suspension of the Eastern Suburbs railway. At the same time, he endeavoured to generate new business by using diesel locomotives, air-conditioned trains, freight containers and streamlined procedures.

These measures lessened but did not prevent deficits, nor did they smooth relations within the railways themselves. In December 1954 Winsor took extended sick leave. He returned to duty in April 1955, and gained major publicity through the railway centenary in September, but found it harder to handle the government on the one side, and factional fighting inside the railways on the other. In July 1955 Neil McCusker was appointed senior executive officer, a move strongly opposed by Winsor. The resulting internal disputes within the department caused serious damage, not simply to the administration, but to the morale of the railways as a whole. Losses continued, and a series of delays and accidents in the metropolitan area in 1955-56 made a mockery of Winsor's slogan, 'The Rail Way is the Safe Way', and brought matters to a head. Requested to resign by the State government, he did so and his service ended on 31 July 1956; McCusker replaced him. Winsor had been willing to take a stand against the government when he felt it to be in the best interest of the railways. The service changed beyond recognition once he was gone.

Winsor maintained contact with former colleagues from his home at Belmore. He was 'something of a pint-sized Falstaff' with 'a rollicking sense of humour and a magnificent command of Australian colloquialisms'. A member of the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, he enjoyed boating, fishing and playing bowls. He died on 21 October 1963 at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, and was buried with Methodist forms in Woronora cemetery. His wife and their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Sept 1934, 16 May, 9 July 1950, 26 July 1956, 22 Oct 1963
  • railway service record (State Records New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. M. Audley, 'Winsor, Reginald (1891–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/winsor-reginald-12054/text21621, accessed 26 September 2017.

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