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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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Leslie William (Bill) Galvin (1903–1966)

by Charles Fahey

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Leslie William Galvin (1903-1966), by unknown photographer

Leslie William Galvin (1903-1966), by unknown photographer

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, rwg/6167 [detail]

Leslie William (Bill) Galvin (1903-1966), politician, was born on 30 April 1903 at Woollahra, Sydney, son of native-born parents Leslie Arthur Galvin, commercial clerk, and his wife Ethel, née Tisdale. Educated at Petersham Commercial School and, after his family moved to Melbourne, at Scotch College, Hawthorn, Bill was apprenticed in the Victorian Railways as a fitter and turner. In 1929 he transferred to the Bendigo railway workshops where he took an active interest in trade union affairs, becoming president of the local branch of the Australian Railways Union and twice president of the Bendigo Trades Hall Council. On 9 April 1932 at her Preston home he married with Presbyterian forms Annie Edith Ruby, a clerk.

In 1939 Galvin was elected to the Bendigo City Council. Mayor in 1944 and 1945, he continued to live in a small, four-roomed weatherboard house in a working-class suburb. He resigned from the council in 1952. About that time a journalist reported: 'He smokes, likes a beer, has a bet now and then and is a keen sport'. Galvin played interstate cricket for the railways in his youth and claimed that he bowled a fair googly. In later life he was president of the Golden Square Football and the Commonwealth Athletic clubs, and of the Bendigo Athletic Carnival. In addition, he played A-grade pennant bowls and was a keen golfer. For an aspiring local politician, this involvement in sport was a decided benefit in a provincial community. His wife also took a keen interest in local affairs and was a special magistrate of the Children's Court.

Galvin's preference was to enter Federal parliament, but in 1945 his friend John Cain convinced him to stand for the Legislative Assembly in a by-election for Bendigo. At the declaration of the polls on 29 May, Galvin assured Bendigo's electors that he would work for all residents, not merely Labor voters. In 1945-47 he was given the chance to do so as president of the board of land and works, commissioner of crown lands and minister of water supply. A staunch supporter of country interests, he energetically promoted soldier-settlement schemes and the extension of irrigation projects, and saw work commence on the Cairn Curran and Rocklands dams.

Following the Cain government's defeat in November 1947, Galvin was elected deputy-leader of the Opposition. He continued to advance country interests and in 1951 sat on the select committee which investigated the Egg and Egg Pulp Marketing Board. When Labor was returned in December 1952, Galvin became chief secretary and deputy-premier. Next year he was acting-premier while Cain attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. During the Labor Party split, Galvin remained loyal to the traditional party. Learning that Cain favoured A. E. Shepherd as his successor, Galvin shifted his support in caucus and cabinet from Cain to Barry. After a bitter campaign, Galvin lost the seat of Bendigo by twelve votes in 1955. The defeat robbed him of one chance to lead the Labor Party.

On Cain's death in 1957, Shepherd became leader of the Opposition. Although Galvin regained Bendigo in 1958, his leadership ambitions suffered a further blow that year when he was injured in a motorcar accident a few days before the vote that made C. P. Stoneham the successor to Shepherd. Galvin continued to support country interests, and in 1959-62 sat on the distribution of population committee. In 1964 he retired from parliament due to ill health. He died of hepatic cirrhosis on 1 July 1966 at Bendigo and was cremated; his wife and two sons survived him.

Jovial, bald and bespectacled, Bill Galvin was a large man with a raucous laugh. He was a keen interjector in the House, but opponents agreed that his interjections were made in a friendly vein, and that he could take a knock as well as give one. Sir Henry Bolte said of him: 'I often wondered whether Bill Galvin was Bendigo or Bendigo was Bill Galvin'.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Murray, The Split (Melb, 1970)
  • K. White, John Cain and Victorian Labor 1917-1957 (Syd, 1982)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 7 Sept 1966, p 41
  • Labor Call, 4 Dec 1947
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Jan 1953, 2 July 1966
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 Aug 1953
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 2 July 1966.

Citation details

Charles Fahey, 'Galvin, Leslie William (Bill) (1903–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012