Frank Wilkes

The Honourable
Frank Wilkes
Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly
for Northcote
In office
21 September 1957  30 September 1988
Preceded by John Cain
Succeeded by Tony Sheehan
Personal details
Born Frank Noel Wilkes
(1922-06-16)16 June 1922
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died 20 August 2015(2015-08-20) (aged 93)
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Wilma Richards

Suzanne Jennifer Wilkes

Helen Buckingham
Military service
Allegiance Australia
Service/branch Australian Army
Years of service 1943–1945
Rank Signalman

Frank Noel Wilkes AM (16 June 1922 – 20 August 2015), Australian politician, was Leader of the Labor Opposition in Victoria from 1977 to 1981. Wilkes was born in Melbourne and educated at Northcote Primary and Secondary Schools and Preston Technical College. During the Second World War he served in the southwest Pacific in the Australian Army as a radio operator. After the war he studied accountancy, and worked in his father's furniture factory, of which he later became manager. In 1954 he was elected to Northcote City Council, which he almost completely dominated.[1][2] Wilkes served as a Councillor until 1978, but he never became Mayor, as work commitments being both a councillor and a parliamentarian were too great.[3]

The state electorate of Northcote had been held since 1917 by John Cain, leader of the Australian Labor Party and three times Premier of Victoria.[4] Wilkes became a protégé of Cain's and joined the Labor Party in 1948, despite his family background in business. He was Cain's campaign manager at the 1952 and 1955 state elections. Upon Cain's sudden death in 1957, Wilkes was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly at the subsequent by-election. He became Labor Whip in 1959, and Deputy Leader in 1967.[5]

Wilkes was a loyal deputy to Clyde Holding,[4] who led the ALP in opposition from 1967 to 1977 and lost three elections to the Liberal Party, first to Henry Bolte and then to Dick Hamer. When Holding resigned after the 1976 election, Wilkes claimed the leadership by right of long and loyal service, rather than any outstanding ability. He was an uninspiring speaker and no match for the urbane Hamer in Parliament or on the hustings.

Nevertheless, at the 1979 state elections, Labor under Wilkes gained eleven seats, the party's best showing for many years.[6] The ALP even won constituencies in eastern Melbourne, a region from which it had been shut out for a quarter-century. However, due to the uneven nature of the swing, Labor came up nine seats short of making Wilkes premier.

While Wilkes had brought Labor within striking distance of victory at the next election, few within the party thought that he could take the party further. John Cain Junior, son of the former Premier and a man whom most believed to be of greater ability than Wilkes, had been elected to Parliament in 1976 and by 1979 was among the leading ALP parliamentarians. During 1980 and 1981 Cain's supporters destabilized Wilkes's leadership and eventually forced his resignation.[7]

When Cain led Labor to victory in 1982, Wilkes was made Minister for Local Government. He retired in 1988 from Parliament after more than 30 years of service. In the 1989 Queen's Birthday honours, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to government and politics and to the Victorian parliament.[8]

Wilkes' daughter Helen Buckingham[5] was a Labor member of the Victorian Legislative Council from 2002 to 2006. Wilkes died on 20 August 2015, aged 93.[9]


  1. Lyle Allan (1984), 'Ethnic transition in inner-Melbourne politics', in James Jupp (ed.), Ethnic Politics in Australia, George Allen and Unwin, North Sydney, New South Wales, page 143. ISBN 0-86861-334-7
  2. R.H. Badham (1977), 'Introducing Frank Wilkes', Nation Review, 9–15 June.
  3. Andrew Lemon (1983), The Northcote Side of the River, Hargreen Publishing Company, North Melbourne, Page 269. ISBN 0-949905-12-7
  4. 1 2 Max Hollingsworth (7 June 1977). "Wilkes: Man Most Likely to Succeed?". The Age. p. 8.
  5. 1 2 H E Buckingham (12 September 2006). "Condolences" (PDF). Council Extract. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
  6. Michael O'Grady (1979), 'The party leaders: Hamer and Wilkes,' in Peter Hay, Ian Ward, John Warhurst (eds.), Anatomy of an Election, Hill of Content, Melbourne, Victoria, pages 91-104.
  7. "Northcote". ABC Elections Victoria 2006. ABC News. 22 November 2006. Retrieved 2010-01-23.
  8. Wilkes, Frank Noel, It's an Honour, 12 June 1989.
Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
John Cain, Sr.
Member for Northcote
Succeeded by
Tony Sheehan
Political offices
Preceded by
Clyde Holding
Leader of the Opposition (Victoria)
Succeeded by
John Cain, Jr.
Preceded by
Lou Lieberman
Minister for Local Government
Succeeded by
Jim Simmonds
Preceded by
Ian Cathie
Minister for Housing
Succeeded by
Bunna Walsh
New ministerial post Minister for Tourism
Succeeded by
Steve Crabb
Preceded by
Andrew McCutcheon
Minister for Water Resources
Succeeded by
Bunna Walsh
Party political offices
Preceded by
Clyde Holding
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria
Succeeded by
John Cain, Jr.
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