SIMMONDS, Wilfrid Mylchreest (1889–1967)
Senator for Queensland, 1950–51 (Australian Country Party)

On 22 June 1950, Wilfrid Simmonds told the Senate: ‘I have a purpose to fulfil when I rise to speak . . . I shall not be side‑tracked from it by interjections’. Such resoluteness characterised Simmonds’ career as butcher, auctioneer, sugar farmer, federal and local politician, and community leader. Wilfrid Mylchreest Simmonds was born in Cairns, north Queensland, on 19 December 1889, the son of Henry Simmonds, a sugar industry pioneer and first chairman of the Mulgrave Central Mill Company, and Christina Annie, née Mylchreest.

Simmonds was educated at state schools in Nelson (later Gordonvale) and Cairns until the age of twelve, when he left school, following his father’s death. He lasted a week in a poorly paid position setting type at the Cairns Morning Post. He also milked cows and delivered milk for a year, worked as a hobble boy and skull-dragger with bullock teams, and experienced the ups and downs of sheep and cattle mustering. Simmonds recalled one droving expedition in Queensland’s Gulf Country when the cattle left a two-foot deep trench in the wake of their desperate stampede to reach water. His early hopes of studying law having been dashed, he successfully resisted his mother’s attempts to apprentice him to a blacksmith. He opened his own butcher shop when he was twenty.

In 1914 he settled on an old plantation near Babinda in north Queensland, and in the following year harvested his first sugar crop.[1] A pioneer of the sugar industry in the area, Simmonds served as chairman of the Babinda Sugar Farmers’ Advisory Committee from 1915 to 1917, as a member of the board of the Babinda Central Sugar Mill (1927–28 and 1936–58) and as its chairman (1936–39, 1950–53 and 1955–57). Between 1916 and 1959 he represented the Babinda district at the Australian Sugar Producers’ Association conference twenty-eight times.

Simmonds’ involvement in public affairs began early. Like his father before him he was a Cairns (later Mulgrave) Shire councillor (1915–17, 1920–24, 1927–36 and 1958–64) and was chairman of the council from 1930 to 1936. His first term was cut short by service with the 15th Battalion during World War I (August 1917 to September 1919). He was wounded in action in France. (Simmonds later recalled a visit to the front by Prime Minister William Morris Hughes. Hughes mounted a box from which to address the troops and, shaken by the sound of an exploding German shell, unceremoniously fell off the box.) Simmonds was actively involved in patriotic and recruitment campaigns during World War I and in civil defence initiatives during World War II. In 1950 he was made a life member of the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Simmonds’ interest in politics had grown steadily. At the general elections of September 1940 and August 1943 he contested the Queensland federal seat of Kennedy as a Country Party candidate, in order, as he put it, ‘to keep [the] flag flying’. On both occasions he was defeated by W. J. F. Riordan, who held the seat for the ALP from 1936 to 1966. Simmonds served also as president of the North Queensland Country Party.

He was elected to the Senate as a member of the Liberal–Country Party team on 10 December 1949. In accordance with the Representation Act 1948 the number of senators for each state had been increased from six to ten, and those elected candidates who were not ‘senator-candidates’ took up their seats on 22 February 1950. However, both houses of the Parliament were dissolved on 19 March 1951. For the forthcoming election in April Simmonds’ chances of re-election were slim. He had received the lowest number of votes among the four Queensland Liberal–Country Party senators elected in 1949, and the prospects of the coalition securing a seventh seat (as it had done in 1949) were considered remote. Accordingly, to maximise their vote, the Liberal and Country parties decided not to re-endorse Simmonds.[2]

Addressing the Senate for the first time on 15 June 1950, Simmonds spoke in favour of the Communist Party Dissolution Bill on the grounds that the tense international situation (the Korean War broke out ten days later) demanded ‘uncommon action’ in the form of ‘uncommon legislation’. He insisted that, despite its lack of a majority in the Senate—‘the highest legislative authority in the land’—voters had given the Liberal–Country Party Government a ‘mandate’ (a favourite word in his political lexicon) for its legislation. He went on to advocate bipartisan political support for the decisions of arbitration bodies, financial assistance to enable European farmers to settle in Australia, and, in order to reverse the ‘drift from the land’, increased subsidies and improved amenities for country dwellers. An ardent opponent of socialisation, Simmonds was assiduous in representing his north Queensland constituents at a time when non-political organisations such as the North Queensland Development League were complaining of ‘prolonged neglect’. To this end, he proposed the building of highways in poorly populated areas for the dual purpose of defence and development. Overall, he was convinced that ‘the game of extreme party politics does not appeal to the Australian people’.[3]

Simmonds was appointed MBE in June 1961 for his service in the field of local government and for his charitable work. Beneficiaries of his efforts had included, in addition to the Cairns and Mulgrave Shire councils and the sugar industry, Babinda’s hospital, the town’s fire brigade and the Cairns regional electricity, hospital and harbour boards. He numbered among his recreations cricket, horseback riding and lawn bowls. Simmonds died in the Babinda District Hospital on 2 January 1967. After a service at the Holy Cross Church of England, Babinda, he was buried in the local cemetery. On 31 May 1911, at All Saints Church of England, Nelson, Simmonds had married Beatrice Margherita Maddalena Moller. The marriage was dissolved in 1924 and on 27 December 1926, at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cairns, he married a trained nurse, Ida Louisa Burnett, a member of an old south Queensland farming family. Simmonds was survived by his second wife (his first had died in 1931) and a son, Wilfrid Henry, from his first marriage. Another son predeceased him. Simmonds wrote a brief, unpublished autobiography, which is among family papers held by his son. He remained to the end ‘essentially a North Queenslander’ with ‘a first class record in public life in the North’. He would have wished for no other epitaph.[4]

Derek Drinkwater

[1] CPD, 22 June 1950, p. 4735; Clive Morton, By Strong Arms, Mulgrave Central Mill Company, Gordonvale, Qld, 1995, pp. 13–18, 31, 43; J. W. Collinson, More About Cairns: The Second Decade, W. R. Smith & Paterson, Brisbane, 1942, pp. 46, 65, 100–1, 111, 117, 142; Cairns Post, 7 Oct. 1976, pp. 8–9; The author is indebted to Mr W. H. Simmonds for information on his father’s early life.

[2] Cairns Post, 4 Jan. 1967, p. 3; Australian Sugar Journal, Jan. 1967, p. 704; [Victor Kennedy], Souvenir of the Cairns Shire Council: Commemorating the 50th Year of its Foundation, Cairns Post Ltd, Cairns, 1930, pp. 13, 33, 35; Dorothy Jones, Trinity Phoenix: A History of Cairns and District, Cairns and District Centenary Committee, Cairns, 1976, pp. 460, 472; Simmonds, W. M.—War Service Record, B2455, NAA; Cairns Post, 9 Dec. 1949, p. 10; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 31 Mar. 1951, p. 1.

[3] CPD, 15 June 1950, pp. 4339-40, 22 June 1950, pp. 4733-5; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 16 Dec. 1949, p. 3; CPD, 18 Oct. 1950, pp. 934–7, 25 Oct. 1950, pp. 1321-3.

[4] Cairns Post, 10 June 1961, p. 1, 4 Jan. 1967, pp. 3, 10; Australian Sugar Journal, Jan. 1967, p. 704; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 4 Jan. 1967, p. 9.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 372-374.

SIMMONDS, Wilfrid Mylchreest (1889–1967)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Qld, 1950–51


Senate Committee Service

Printing Committee, 1950–51