Fremantle Stuff > people >William Laird Somerville (1869-1954)
The elected worker representative on the Western Australian Court of Arbitration from 1905, Somerville is now perhaps best remembered in Perth by the name of the Somerville Auditorium, the 'cathedral of trees' on the campus of UWA used for screenings and performances particularly in association with the Festival of Perth. He is also remembered in the name of one of the main roads through the suburb called Winthrop, which has many names recalling the fact that the land was once the property of the University of Western Australia (of which Somerville was s chancellor).
Somerville was an assiduous speaker and newspaper correspondent: on nationalism, the White Australia policy, the tariff, economic development, conservation and education. Awarded an honorary LL.D. by the University of Western Australia in 1941, he had been chairman of its adult education committee and a foundation member in 1912 of its senate. Often acting chancellor, he frequently reminded the professors, in blunt and colourful language, of his undertaking to the premier John Scaddan that he would guard it as a university of the working class; (Sir) Walter Murdoch was an adversary. Less contentious were his efforts to beautify the grounds and to plant Norfolk Island pines, his 'cathedral of trees', on the university campus. The open-air Somerville Auditorium at Crawley is his memorial. He was also a member of the boards of King's Park and Rottnest Island, where he instigated an ambitious afforestation scheme, and a trustee of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of Western Australia (from 1908).s
Stuart Macintyre, ADB article, 1990.
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