SANDFORD, Charles Walter (1895–1966)
Senator for Victoria, 1947–56, 1957–66 (Australian Labor Party)

Charles Walter Sandford was born at Camp Hill, Creswick, Victoria, on 11 September 1895 to Edwin Thomas Sandford, born in New York State, USA, and his wife, Victorian-born Margaret Ann, née Jordan. According to family recollection, Edwin, the son of an English storekeeper who had migrated to America, had returned to England with his family before taking ship for Australia. He left the ship at Melbourne to become a miner on the Victorian goldfields. At the time of his birth, Charles had eleven siblings (three others had died in infancy). He probably received his early education at Creswick State School before moving to Melbourne, where he worked as a factory hand at MacRobertson’s chocolate factory and, from April 1913, as a labourer at Newport Railway Workshops. [1] 

Sandford was approaching nineteen when, on 19 August 1914, he enlisted in the AIF. He commenced military service as a driver in the 6th Battery, Australian Field Artillery, having already served in the militia with the 31st Battery Field Artillery for one and a half years. Leaving for overseas on 20 October 1914 on HMAT Shropshire, he served in Egypt from late 1914 to April 1915; at Gallipoli, where the 6th Battery had landed at Cape Helles on 4 May; and later in France and Belgium. In early 1916, at his own request, Sandford transferred from driver to gunner. He was discharged in Melbourne on 27 February 1919.[2]

On 24 December 1920 Sandford was re-engaged as a labourer in the rolling stock branch of the Victorian Railways, leaving to commence a carting business with his brother. He then worked on cable trams before returning to the railways as a labourer in the electrical engineering branch on 27 October 1924. Promoted to telephone attendant on 1 February 1926, he was made permanent on 4 April 1927. On 27 December 1924, Charles had married Ellen Greenough, a saleswoman, at St Michael’s Catholic Church, North Melbourne.

Sandford was a member of the Australian Railways Union and active in the Hotham and Greensborough branches of the Australian Labor Party. He was also president of the Essendon sub-branch of the RSL, and a member of the Victorian Railways Institute (VRI). The VRI was a focal point for the educational, social and sporting life of many railwaymen, and included an active debating society, of which Sandford became president in 1938. During the 1930s and 1940s, he became a regular commentator on the 3KZ Labour Hour, and a keen competitive debater, winning a singles debating championship in Victoria around 1946. In July 1943 he was granted leave from the railways to become an officer in the Manpower Directorate in Melbourne.[3]

By this time, Sandford had his eye on federal politics. Preselected by the ALP, he lost his bids for the House of Representatives seats of Balaclava at the 1940 federal election and Indi in 1943. In 1946 he tried for the Senate and was elected in second place for Victoria. At the double dissolution election in 1951, he was elected in third place, gaining a six-year term. At the 1955 election, which followed the Labor Party Split, he was defeated, leaving his seat at the end of his term on 30 June 1956. He returned to the Senate on 6 June 1957 to fill the casual vacancy caused by the death of Labor’s Senator John Devlin. Sandford served until the 1958 federal election when he was successful in winning the long casual vacancy caused by the resignation of the Liberal Party’s Senator John Spicer. Sandford benefited from the preferences of Communist Party candidate Ralph Gibson, and narrowly defeated Australian Democratic Labor Party (later known as DLP) candidate Jack Little for the sixth Senate place. At the 1961 election Sandford won a six-year term on the ALP ticket, this time in first place.

In his first speech in the Senate in October 1947, Sandford reflected on the success of the ALP in governing during the most ‘destructive war in human history’, a war in which approximately one million Australians had enlisted. He commended the Labor Government for providing ex-service personnel with loans for agricultural and commercial enterprises, and free education and training at universities and other educational institutions. His years in the First AIF had left an indelible mark on him, and deepened his concern that those who had served in war should have adequate service pensions and repatriation benefits. He warned against repeating the mistakes made after World War I, referring to the failure of the soldier settlement scheme of that period. In Opposition, he raised individual cases of particular need, ranging from a married ex-servicewoman’s pension entitlement through to the eviction from public housing of a former prisoner of war. His interest in veterans included those of the Boer War, and he followed closely the development of the repatriation hospital at Heidelberg, Melbourne. In 1965 he led the debate on the Repatriation Bill in the Senate.[4]

Sandford was articulate and well informed, speaking with verve and dash as he expounded ALP policy. In 1951 he accused the Menzies Government of trampling upon the rights and privileges of Parliament, because the Government had directed service chiefs not to give evidence before the Senate’s Select Committee on National Service in the Defence Force, of which he was a member. Describing the Country Party’s Senator Maher as an ‘avowed fascist’, Sandford warned that such ‘directions may well lead us to a state of totalitarianism’. Sometimes ‘cheeky’, he enjoyed needling his opponents, as in 1957, for instance, when he mocked the fervent anti-communism that led the DLP to support the Japanese Trade Agreement: ‘from the launching of the earth satellite to the selling of peanuts and lollies’, the DLP was always looking for ‘the little red rabbit’.[5]

Sandford was assiduous in having copies of relevant parliamentary papers, budget papers, industrial awards and Acts of Parliament sent to officials of various trade unions and others. He had a reputation for knowing his way around government departments in order to obtain information for his constituents.

Sandford became ill aboard a flight between Hong Kong and Sydney, on his way home from an Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Teheran in 1966. He died on 20 October 1966 in the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Ellen had died two years previously. The couple were survived by their two children. In the notice of his passing in the Sun News-Pictorial, Sandford was described as ‘loved husband and pal’ of Ellen. Known to his friends as Charlie, and to Ellen as Chas, Sandford was a short, dapper man with a warm and sincere character. One of his last questions in the Senate on 22 March 1966 related to Vietnam. Sandford wanted to know ‘without equivocation whether or not we are at war again’.[6]

Patricia Clarke

[1] The author is indebted to Sandford’s son, Jack Sandford; Charles Walter Sandford, Victorian Railways employment history records, Public Transport Division, Department of Infrastructure, Melbourne.

[2] Sandford, Charles Walter—Defence Service Record, B2455, NAA; AIF war diary, 6th Battery, Australian Field Artillery, Aug. 1914–Jan. 1916, AWM4, 13/68/1–11, AWM.

[3] Sandford, Victorian Railways employment history records; Labor Call (Melb.), 22 Aug. 1946, p. 8, 29 Mar. 1951, p. 5; Victorian Railways Institute, Annual reports, 1939–40, p. 7, 1940–41, p. 8; Labor Call (Melb.), 1 Feb. 1945, p. 5; Shepparton News, 15 July 1943, p. 1.

[4] CPD, 16 Oct. 1947, pp. 841–5, 22 Sept. 1948, p. 685, 17 Oct. 1957, p. 643, 22 June 1949, p. 1247, 11 May 1966, p. 925, 20 Apr. 1955, p. 12, 22 Sept. 1965, pp. 523–7.

[5] CPD, 8 Mar. 1951, pp. 151–4, 25 Oct. 1966, p. 1376, 16 Oct. 1957, p. 629.

[6] Senate Registry File, A8161, S242, NAA; CPD, 25 Oct. 1966, p. 1377; CPP, 41/1967; Age (Melb.), 24 Oct. 1966, p. 7; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 26 Oct. 1966, p. 50; CPD, 22 Mar. 1966, p. 120.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 14-16.

SANDFORD, Charles Walter (1895–1966)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1947–56, 1957–66

Senate Committee Service

Standing Orders Committee, 1947–49

Printing Committee, 1947–56, 1959–66

Select Committee on National Service in the Defence Force, 1950–51

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1951–56

House Committee, 1959–66

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1962