GILLIES, William Neal (1868-1928)


GILLIES, William Neal (1868-1928)
premier of Queensland
was born in the Allen River district of New South Wales, on 28 October 1868. His father, Dugald Gillies, was a farmer, and both parents came from Scotland. Gillies was educated at local schools and in 1882 went with his parents to the Richmond River country. There he took up farming including sugar-cane growing, and began to be interested in public affairs. He was an active member of the anti-alien league, and afterwards became president of the New South Wales sugar growers defence league. At the federal election of 1910 he unsuccessfully stood as a Labour candidate for the Richmond seat, and was again defeated when he stood for the New South Wales legislative assembly in the same district. In 1911 he took up land in Queensland and in 1912 won the Eacham seat for Labour in the Queensland parliament. He held this seat until his retirement from politics. He was assistant-minister for justice in the Ryan (q.v.) ministry from April 1918 to September 1919 and for a few weeks until 22 October, was secretary for agriculture and stock. He held the last position in the Theodore ministry from October 1919, and his practical experience as a farmer was found to be of great use. Many amendments were made in existing legislation relating to agriculture and no fewer than 14 new measures were passed. This period was marked by the establishment of the cotton industry and the stabilization of the sugar and farming industries. On the resignation of Theodore, Gillies became premier on 26 February 1925, taking the positions of chief secretary and treasurer, and vice-president of the executive council. He was premier during a period of great labour unrest with constantly occurring strikes. Himself a man of moderate views he found the more extreme section of the party very active, and he was beset with anxieties. He compromised as much as possible, but on 27 October 1925 was glad to resign and become a member of the newly-established board of trade and arbitration. He gave much study to the problems to be dealt with and carried out his work with conspicuous fairness. He, however, felt the strain very much and died suddenly on 9 February 1928. He married in 1900 Margaret Smith who survived him with a son and a daughter.
Gillies was a good type of politician, honest and hardworking, who did sound work for his party and his country. He did not, however, have sufficient personality to be a good leader when he found himself in difficult circumstances.
The Brisbane Courier, 10 February 1928; The Labour Daily, Sydney, 10 February 1928; C. A. Bernays, Queensland—Our Seventh Political Decade; The Bulletin, 15 February 1928.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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