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Stanley R. Whitford (1878–1959)

by A. R. G. Griffiths

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Stanley R. Whitford (1878-1959), by unknown photographer, 1930

Stanley R. Whitford (1878-1959), by unknown photographer, 1930

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5889

Stanley R. Whitford (1878-1959), politician, was born on 5 June 1878 at Moonta, South Australia, youngest child of Richard Whitford, a miner from Devonshire, and his Cornish wife Emma, late Prior, née Matthews. Stanley attended local primary schools, then was employed for seven years by a blacksmith. In 1898 he attended night-classes at the Moonta School of Mines and learned mine surveying on Saturdays. He worked on the Western Australian goldfields in 1899-1908 and next at Wallaroo, near Moonta. Having been a navvy, in 1909 he joined the South Australian Railways as a porter. On 1 October 1910 in the Methodist Church, North Adelaide, he married Edith Thyra Dixon, a schoolteacher.

Stan, as he preferred to be called, kept his Cornish accent. He became an organizer and secretary of the Australian Railways Union and, later, the Australian Workers' Union. His reading included the work of Henry George, Tom Paine and Karl Marx. After opposing conscription in World War I, as a Labor candidate he unsuccessfully contested the Federal seats of Barker (1917) and Boothby (1919); he was president of the State branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1919-20. Whitford was defeated for the House of Assembly seat of Victoria in 1918, but won North Adelaide in 1921. A Freemason, he was a member of the Adelaide City Council (1922-24), a delegate to the South Australian Football League and president (1923-24) of the Workers' Educational Association. Losing his parliamentary seat in 1927, he became a clerk on the wharfs before Sir Wallace Bruce, a businessman and a leading conservative, gave him a job in the Adelaide Cement Co., a house and gifts of money.

In 1929-41 Whitford was a Labor member for Central in the Legislative Council where he was briefly minister of immigration, repatriation and irrigation in 1930, minister of agriculture and commissioner of forest lands in 1930-33, and chief secretary from October 1930 to April 1933. He was almost surprised to find 'that zig-zagging through the State by bike, coach and train, I became Chief Secretary and Acting Treasurer'. Balding and bespectacled, he dressed the part: wing collars, polka-dot ties and a pipe. His most humane legislation was the Destitute Persons Relief Act (1931).

Modest and self-effacing, he owned prize-winning coursing dogs. Trotting enthusiasts applauded his bill to allow totalizators at meetings, though it was not passed. He also had support from the right-wing Citizens' League of South Australia. In 1931 Whitford was expelled from the A.W.U. and the A.L.P. for supporting the Premiers' Plan. Backed by the Liberal Federation, he and like-minded colleagues held office as the Parliamentary Labor Party under L. L. Hill and R. S. Richards until 18 April 1933. Thereafter Whitford was an Independent Labor member, as well as a commercial traveller.

A self-trained elocutionist, he entertained at lodge meetings and concerts. In 1939 he described workers as maggots and praised Hitler: 'can't we take our hats off to such an organiser? I do'. During World War II he lost his seat and his advertising agency for Scotch whisky; he then worked in a munitions factory until 1943. Crippled by arthritis, he spent his last eleven years bed-ridden in hospital where he wrote his unpublished autobiography. Survived by two sons, Whitford died on 13 December 1959 in Royal Adelaide Hospital and was buried in West Terrace cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Daily Herald (Adelaide), Labor's Thirty Years Record in South Australia (Adel, 1923)
  • Universal Publicity Co, The Official Civic Record of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • Labour History, no 31, Nov 1976
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Dec 1959
  • S. Whitford, autobiography (manuscript, State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

A. R. G. Griffiths, 'Whitford, Stanley R. (1878–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Stanley R. Whitford (1878-1959), by unknown photographer, 1930

Stanley R. Whitford (1878-1959), by unknown photographer, 1930

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 5889

Life Summary [details]


5 June, 1878
Moonta, South Australia, Australia


13 December, 1959 (aged 81)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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