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MR. W. (BILL) J. McKELL, GOVERNOR-GENERAL of AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA

There is no doubt in my mind as to whom this cover was addressed, but there are several ‘disconnects’ in this philatelically contrived cover. The slate blue 5½d ‘Emu’ definitive had a date of issue of 12.2.42 and the partially legible postmark reads AIR MAIL BRISBANE/ 8-12 ( )( )/ QLD AUST. There is an BY AIR MAIL vignette, the usual purple ‘Crown over Royal Geographical Society of Australasia/ Queensland’ vignette and a ‘21 st Birthday–Heir Presumptive First Day Issue Stamp’, a description which has certainly no connection to the stamp nor the addressee. To be charitable, perhaps the stamp was cancelled on 12.2.42, but did it go through the mail? (Figure 1).

 

 

The reverse has a reception roller cancel with CANBERRA/ 7-PM/ 29 JUL/ 1947 and a slogan of SEND MONEY/ BY POSTAL NOTE/ OR MONEY ORDER, so what was it doing in all that time (Figure 2).

 

 

Whatever the case, it is an excuse to document some of Bill McKell’s political life. Sir William John McKell GCMG, QC was born in Pambula on 26 September 1891, N.S.W. the son of Robert Pollock McKell, a butcher (who died when Bill was 10) and Martha Shepherd. He was educated at Bourke St. Public, Sydney and became a boilermaker, and their Secretary in 1915. He was elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly as Labour member for Redfern in 1917 and retained this or the Botany seat for 29 years 10 months and 14 days, until he became the Governor-General in 1947. In 1920 he married Mary Pye, and they had 1 son and 2 daughters. While in Parliament he studied law, and became a barrister in 1925. In Jack Lang’s governments of 1925-27 and 1931-32 he was both Minister of Justice and Minister for Local Affairs in 1930-31.

He was the leader of the Opposition in the 1930's displacing Lang as Labour Leader and in May 1941 he was Premier of N.S.W. and Colonial Treasurer until February 1947, having led Labour to a convincing victory. During WW 2 he became a close collaborator of the Labour Prime Ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley, and it was the latter, who appointed him on 11 March 1947, whilst he was still Premier, as the 12th Australian Governor-General. This caused an outcry from the Liberal opposition and the conservative press, and Robert Menzies called the appointment "shocking and humiliating". There was also to his appointment some resistance in London. McKell carried out his formal duties with dignity and succeeded winning over all but the most inflexible Anglophiles. When Menzies succeeded Chifley as Prime Minister in December 1949, relations with McKell were cordial, if not exactly friendly.

The most controversial moment in McKell’s career came in March 1951, when Menzies asked him for a double dissolution election. Many in the Labour Party, but not Chifley, thought that McKell should and would refuse Menzies’ request, but Bill agreed with little hesitation to provide one. He saw it his duty to act on the advice of his Prime Minister. His term as Governor-General ended on 8 May 1953, succeeded by Sir William Slim. In 1951 he was knighted by King George VI, an act that caused controversy in the Labour Party, whose policy denied knighthoods. But McKell had severed all connections with the Labour Party on assuming the highest Australian office. The title ‘Sir’ was gazetted in 1951, but not formally bestowed until 1953 by QE II in 1953. McKell retired in May 1953 and lived in Sydney for another 30 years, dying on 11.01.1985. His picture is seen in Figure 3.

 

 

 
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