People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William (Willie) Duncan (1894–1973)

This article was published:

William (Willie) Duncan (1894-1973) labourer, chemical worker, trade union official, industrial attaché in Russia 

Birth: 1894 at Footscary, Melbourne, Victoria, son of Richard Duncan (1866-1958), a labourer, later timekeeper, born at Liverpool, Lancashire, England, and his first wife, native-born Stella, née Stiles (1862-1904). Marriage: 1920 at Melbourne, to Daisy May Hagan (1897-1965). They had one daughter. Death: 10 September 1973 at Yarravile, Melbourne. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Was a labourer, living at Yarraville, Melbourne, when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 April 1917. Served as a gunner in the 36th Australian Heavy Artillery Brigade in France from April 1918 to July 1919.
  • Granted leave from July to September 1919 to study general farming and sheep breeding at Tutshill, Barnstaple, Devon, England. Returned to Australia aboard the Port Denison in November 1919 and was discharged in Victoria on 13 December 1919.
  • Resumed work as a labourer and by 1928 was a chemical worker. Elected general secretary of Federated Artificial Fertilisers and Chemical Worker’s Union. 1929 union delegate to Trades Union Congress. Employed by Cuming Smith & Co Pty Ltd, Yarraville.
  • In 1942 was appointed by Curtin government as industrial attaché in the Australian Legation to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, first at the temporary capital Kuybyshev and later in Moscow. The mission was led by his lifelong-friend William Slater. The Argus reported that Duncan’s industrial unionism experience “will prove a valuable link in fostering a spirit of co-operation with Russian workers”. Others in the delegation included Keith Officer, Professor W. M. Crawford, John Fisher, Miss I. Saxby and Mrs Fisher. Later Jim Maloney replaced Slater.
  • Duncan returned to Australia in 1945. Back in Australia, he, like Maloney, spoke critically about the Soviet regime. In a speech to Footscray rotarians he described it as “the most vicious and ruthless that the world has ever seen”, with “fifteen million people enslaved in Siberia”. He also delivered an address to the New South Wales branch of the Royal Empire Society reported in detail by Tribune in 1948 as ”anti-Soviet abuse”.
  • Described as a “public servant” living with family at Yarraville in electoral rolls from 1949 to 1972.
  • Cause of death: myocardial infarct and open prostatectomy.

Information from David Widdowson, 2000.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Duncan, William (Willie) (1894–1973)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


10 September, 1973 (aged ~ 79)
Yarraville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Key Organisations