Bill Douglas has enjoyed a long and fortunate life: From his love of the Southern Highlands, to building a Cricket Museum and working in the family’s successful business, W.C. Douglas Company. He now lives a happy retired life at the Annesley Bowral retirement village, were we caught up with him to learn more about his vibrant past.
Born in 1926, Bill grew up among cooks, pantry maids, and gardeners. He and his brother Gordon were ‘banished’ to the care of nurses. ‘My father worked full time. Saturdays he’d take his father to the races and Sunday he’d play golf. Mum looked after the house and the staff. She was an ice-skater and used to take part in events at the Glaciarium, the ice-skating rink near Central Station.’
For a long time, Bill has had a strong connection to the Southern Highlands. As children, the boys were sent to Bowral regularly for health and exercise: ‘We’d get driven by our grandfather’s chauffeur in the old Stutts, up over razorback—stop at the top because some of the passengers weren’t feeling too good—then finally onto Craigieburn, where there were many children, and much fun and games.’
Horse riding was a big part of the culture. Each school holidays, they attended gymkhanas at Loseby Park: ‘It was a fun day, everybody hoping to win a ribbon.’ Bill remembers riding at Eridge Park when there wasn’t a house in sight.
‘My favourite rides were when we were taken out to where the horses were paddocked on Centennial Road. We were allowed to canter around, then back to Craigieburn where we were staying. We’d dismount, put the reigns over the pony’s heads, tap them on the hind quarters and off they went, back on their own to their stables!’
Following in his father’s footsteps, Bill went to Cranbrook, then The Kings School. In 1945, he joined Mitchell Bowes & Craig accounting firm in Martin Place, and in the evening, he did accountancy with Hungerford Spooner.
He spent ten years on reserve in the 30th battalion, the Scottish regiment affiliated with the Black Watch. Bill had a few seasons playing rugby union with Randwick, and in 1946 he was invited to become a member of I Zingari cricket club.
The club was formed in Australia in 1888, and so far, I’ve had 77 years of association with them.’ In 2021, he had the honour of being invited to be the club’s Patron-in-perpetuity. Home ground was at Camden Park, and Bill organised the building of a cricket museum for their collection of memorabilia.
His grandfather started W.C. Douglas Company, Sydney’s successful grocery firm and makers of the famous Fountain Tomato Sauce. Bill joined the business as a young man and spent 23 years in the factory at Surry Hills.
“We were in competition with Heinz and had two divisions—a wet and a dry—and two unions. The wet section used to pack baked beans, spaghetti, and Fountain sauce. The dry section packed jelly crystals, flour, and porridge. I was Assistant Factory Manager. I used to go in on Saturday mornings and take my three girls with me. It was a maintenance day, so only the engineers and boiler makers would be there. The kids’ greatest joy was when I put them into cartons and sent them along the very long conveyer belt. All I’d hear was, ‘Another one! Another one!’ I was up and down like a yoyo! That was their morning’s activity.’
During his career, Bill was a successful manager who focused on good communication and respect for his workers. ‘My belief has always been that if you’re going to do something, do it well. But for things to function properly, you have to have people around you and help guide them towards a common vision. If you do that, you get the best out of people. My days with the army, and the cricket club, and the factory helped me to understand that. I believe in helping others.’
When Bill’s wife, Gail, first met him, she remembers being struck at once by his compassion. ‘I thought, “This is a special man, a man who thinks of other people before himself.”’ She describes her husband as humble and caring. ‘He’s a man of great capacity and empathy for others. He has very strong feelings about social justice. He’s also wonderful with children and animals. People love being around him. He loves his children and his grandchildren. He has a great capacity to love.’ They have been married fifty-three years.
With a heart as big as Bill’s, he wishes nothing more than health and happiness for those around him. His advice to the younger generation?
‘Help and support each other as best you can.’
Learn more about Annesley Bowral, NSW.
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