Wannon District Local History

Should anyone ever wish to write a history of the postal service in the Western District of Victoria, or the telephone exchanges, or roads, they could do worse than start with the Fraser archive.

The Political Memoirs, p.112

When Malcolm Fraser was elected Member of Parliament for the federal seat of Wannon in 1955, it was the second-largest electorate in the state, and one of the most diverse in industry and demographic. It stretched from the Mallee in the North to the ocean town of Portland in the South, from the South Australian border in the East to the eastern edge of the Grampian ranges.

The electorate had been held, except for a 3-year term, by Labor candidate Don McLeod from 1940 until his retirement in 1955. When Fraser stood for pre-selection in 1954, he was an unknown outsider – newly returned from Oxford and would be one of the youngest ever candidates. His campaigns (he lost the first in 1954 by only 17 votes, but the 1955 in a landslide) necessarily involved months of criss-crossing the huge district.

Fraser’s promise to his electors was to tour the district completely at least three times a year, which would take around three weeks to complete each time. In his campaigns he also regularly encouraged his constituents to write to him. Fraser noted in his memoirs “In those days, many of my electors had left school at twelve or thirteen. A lot of people didn’t know how to find their way around a government department.” His offer was taken up by countless numbers. People wrote to him to assist in personal matters or problems with any of the miriad ways governments of all levels impact the lives of individuals, or to advocate for the local clubs and organisations in which they were involved, or to inform him of their political opinions

That correspondence now sits in the University of Melbourne Archives, filling over a hundred and fifty archival boxes. This incredible resource speaks to the concerns of thousands of people across three decades from all corners of the district. The records document the relationship between a community and its Member of Parliament over three decades.

The correspondence files are complimented by other records of local history interest. For instance, Fraser and his office also regularly distributed bulletins on government measures to community groups and prominent constituents. The radio talks, the transcripts of which are available online, often speak to matters of local import. There are also subject files and photographs.

In sum, the Fraser collection is an unmatched collation of resources for local history research around the Wannon district.

Radio talks

Shortly before his election to parliament, Fraser began a weekly radio presentation, broadcast on local radio stations based in Hamilton and Warrnambool with the text sent to all local newspapers. Initially published under the title Our Australia, they continued almost without interruption until his retirement from parliament in 1983. His memoirs describe them as “a digest of Fraser’s developing political philosophy and a fair catalogue of the history of Wannon.”

The radio talks transcripts are available online and the text is searchable.

Electorate correspondence

Fraser and his electorate office devised a system to deal with the volume of letters, to ensure that personal matters were not lost in the bureaucracy of government communications. Therefore, most of the files contain both the original correspondence, Fraser’s replies, as well as any follow-up documents, including those from other members of parliament.

The electorate correspondence series are restricted access due to privacy considerations for correspondents. Researchers must complete a deed of undertaking before access. Please refer to the Access Management Framework for further information.

There are four series of electorate correspondence:

Series 2005.0073 - covers the period 1954 to 1975, with 224 files in 26 boxes. The files are listed by organisation or individual correspondent, or occasionally by subject, in alphabetical order. Many of the files do not originate in the district of Wannon but were originally filed in this series. The original NAA series number is M1274.

Series 2005.0107 – covers the period 1965-1975, this series contains over 3,000 files in 82 boxes. The files are listed by organisation or individual correspondent, or occasionally by subject, in alphabetical order. The original NAA series number is M1274.

Series 2007.0012 – covers the period 1968 to 1982 and contains 349 files in 21 boxes. The files are listed by organisation or individual correspondent, or occasionally by subject, in alphabetical order. Many of the files do not originate in the district of Wannon but were originally filed in this series. The original NAA series number is M1274.

Series 2011.0068 – covers 1971-1993, containing 138 files in 22 boxes. This series is organised alphabetically but contains numerous correspondents in each file. Thus, a keyword search on the individual or organismal correspondent may not retrieve all matches, and a survey of the contents of the actual file might be necessary. The original NAA series number is M1332.

Photographs and movies

Hundreds of photographs from the Malcolm Fraser collection have been digitised, including many showing Fraser’s life at Nareen or his campaigning around Wannon. The digitised photographs can be found online here.

The Fraser home movies include a video of the wedding of Malcolm and Tamie. Tamie Fraser was born into the Beggs family and was related by marriage to the Ritchie family. In his history of the Western district, Richard Zachariah described the milieu in which the two socialised: "[it] included a prime minister, Malcolm Fraser; his brother-in-law Hugh Beggs, who was active in woolgrower politics and would chair the Australian Wool Corporation; Fraser's sister-in-law, Victorian Liberal Party president Eda Ritchie; her husband Robin Ritchie, chairman of Geelong Grammar; and Hugh Beggs's wife Frankie, whose father, Sir David Fairbairn, was a minister in successive Liberal governments from the Menzies years on."

Other series

Subject files 2007.0023. Subject files maintained by Fraser from January 1954 to the defeat of the Liberal Coalition Government in December 1972. The files include some electorate correspondence or subjects relating to the Wannon district.

Subject files 2005.0078. Subject files dating from 1955 to 1969. Most of these do no relate to Wannon, but there are some Liberal Party branch files, and other personal files that might be of interest.

Federal election poll in Wannon
Image : Malcolm Fraser at the declaration of the Federal election poll in Wannon, Victoria, 1955. Malcolm Fraser collection, 2007.0053.00003