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Kenneth George (Ken) Booth (1926–1988)

by Jan Burnswood

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Kenneth George (Ken) Booth (1926-1988), schoolteacher, sportsman and politician, was born on 23 February 1926 at Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, second child of George Booth, member of parliament, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Payne, both born in England. He was educated at Kurri Kurri Public School and Maitland Boys’ High School. From 1944 to 1946 he attended Armidale and Sydney Teachers’ colleges (Dip.Phys.Ed., 1946). After teaching at Cessnock High School (1947-49), he was seconded to work in physical education and national fitness at the newly created Murrumbidgee area office at Wagga Wagga. In 1951 he lectured at Sydney Teachers’ College. He returned to the Hunter as student welfare officer (1952-60) at Newcastle Technical and Newcastle University colleges. On 23 January 1954 he married Irene Margaret Marshall (d.1979), a teacher, at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, with Anglican rites.

Ken’s father was an Australian Labor Party member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, representing Newcastle (1925-27) and Kurri Kurri (1927-60) and serving as chairman of committees (1941-59). Ken joined the party at 16 and, following his father’s death, became member for Kurri Kurri (1960-68) and then for Wallsend from 1968 until his own death. Father and son served for sixty-three years in the Assembly.

On the election of Neville Wran’s government in 1976, Booth became minister for sport, recreation and tourism, although in opposition he had been shadow minister for education. When administering the first autonomous department of sport and recreation in New South Wales, he implemented a capital grants program and became popular with sporting organisations throughout the State. In 1980 he became assistant-treasurer while retaining his other portfolios; the following year he was appointed treasurer. He introduced significant reforms in the State’s finances, including program budgeting and reorganisation of the parliamentary public accounts committee. Many changes were embodied in the Public Finance and Audit Act (1983).

Part of the loose left-grouping in the ALP caucus, Booth was also friendly with other members from the Hunter region. Jack Ferguson, deputy premier (1976-84) and a close friend, wanted Booth to succeed him as ALP deputy-leader in the Assembly when he retired, but divisions within the party’s factions led to the victory of Ron Mulock. After Labor’s defeat in 1988, Booth was appointed shadow minister for energy and mineral resources.

Throughout his life Booth was an enthusiastic sportsman. He played first-grade soccer in the Hunter region and in Sydney, first-grade cricket at Kurri Kurri and A-grade basketball at Newcastle, as well as Rugby League, Rugby Union, tennis and hockey. In the Newcastle district he was involved in sports administration. He also served on the councils of the University of New South Wales (1962-65), Newcastle University College (1963-64) and the University of Newcastle (1965-74), and on the board of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation (1962-68). On 21 February 1982 Booth married Gail Mary Mathieson, née Haigh, an office executive and a divorcee, in a civil ceremony at Redfern. Survived by his wife and by the daughter of his first marriage, he died of myocardial infarction on the night of 31 October–1 November 1988 at his home at Glendale and was cremated. As the plaque at the Ken Booth Gymnastics Centre at Glendale notes, he was `highly respected for his modesty, honesty, integrity and fairness’.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 8 Nov 1988, p 2877
  • Australian, 2 Nov 1988, p 4
  • Newcastle Herald, 2 Nov 1988, p 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Nov 1988, p 12
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Jan Burnswood, 'Booth, Kenneth George (Ken) (1926–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


23 February, 1926
Kurri Kurri, New South Wales, Australia


31 October, 1988 (aged 62)
Glendale, New South Wales, Australia

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