Richard Cummins is the grandson of Robert Edwards Cummins, better known as RE, a former mayor of Moree who founded well-respected accounting firm Cummins & Wallace (now known as C&W) on June 1, 1920. One hundred years on, Richard wrote the below in honour of his grandfather's legacy.
RE was the grandson of our first ancestor in Australia who arrived from Tipperary in 1853. RE came to Moree in 1914 at which time he had qualified as an accountant.
His career choice was public service before moving to a commercial career in accounting.
He was town clerk at Moree Council from 1914 to 1919, alderman from 1921 to 1927 and mayor at age 35, from 1925 to 1927. On April 24, 1914, the Moree Gwydir Examiner had this to say about RE:
"Although unusually young for such a position (town clerk), Mr Cummins has already shown he is an expert at the work, and probably knows more about the Acts and Municipal procedure than anyone else in Moree, and he has a talent for organisation..."
During his time with council he was an enthusiastic participator and supporter of the council's tree planting policy. Jellicoe Park and its surrounds bear witness to his love of beautiful trees and he instigated the planting of many silky oak trees in the town. As clerk of works he erected the TR Hogan Memorial Fountain and actively supervised and was responsible for the laying of the first bitumen in Heber Street in front of the AC Reid building. During World War I he was not accepted in the forces due to poor eyesight. He organised many patriotic days during those times.
In 1919 he commenced employment with Mr JT Crane in his stock and station agency business.
On 1 June 1920, he started his own accounting firm in a small office on the corner of Heber and Frome Streets and his first employee was Mrs Rowlands.
On 1 June 1922, William John Wallace (Bill) was his first business partner and the name was changed to Cummins & Wallace. Bill left the partnership in 1925 and RE continued the practise on his own until 1953, retaining the partnership name. The early years of the firm substantially revolved around the work of one man who worked day and night to make a success of his venture.
The business quickly expanded and in 1936 the business employed 28 people. The front window presented it as 'Public Accountants, Auditors and Taxation Adjusters'. The office gradually expanded along the frontage of Heber Street and in 1940 larger premises were leased in Heber Street from the Methodist Church.
In 1929, RE opened a branch office in Goondiwindi, a branch in Narrabri in 1930 and a branch at Walgett in 1937. These branches were subsequently closed. There was a shortage of staff, particularly during the war years and with better roads and cars it probably became easier to manage the whole business from Moree. By 1953, the business was one of the largest singularly-owned accounting firms in Australia, outside the capital cities. At about that time my father, Bruce Cummins, Barry Roberts and Max Spencer became partners in the firm.
RE also held many other positions in Moree. He was hospital secretary from 1921 to 1947 at which time his son, Bob occupied the role until 1952. He was president of the P &A Society in 1925, secretary and in 1935 president of the Moree Chamber of Commerce. On April 6, 1932, the Sydney Morning Herald reported RE as saying "The Scope of the Chamber was unlimited. If given the support it merited it would increase trade in the town tenfold, help relieve unemployment, improve living conditions and build better businesses in the town".
He was a foundation member of the Moree Rotary Club; Patron of the Moree District Band and treasurer of the Moree Caledonian Society. He had continuous membership of Lodge Courallie for 43 years and held all the highest offices. He was largely responsible for organising the Church of England Finance Company in Moree. Like many accountants he was also the honoury auditor for many local charities.
To provide opportunities for telephone services for those in remote areas RE conceived the idea and formed the Western Telephone Trust which was conducted from the firm's business premises as did several building societies that he helped form.
Former partner, John Humphries recently told me a story he had heard about RE driving his new car to the Narrabri branch around 1930. RE noticed the car was very loud and wondered if it needed attention. The patient and possibly very nervous young employee who accompanied him respectfully pointed out the vehicle would not be as noisy and would go much faster if he was prepared to take it out of second gear.
I had heard RE was quite strict on occasions. Dress was quite formal at that time with suits and hats for men expected to be worn. On hot days, RE did make concessions and gentlemen were permitted to remove their jackets in the office. Ladies were expected to wear gloves. He was fortunate to have a loyal and dedicated staff, many of whom remained with him for the whole of his working life.
Cummins and Wallace's 16th birthday party
On May 25, 1936 the Gwydir Examiner reported the 16th birthday party of the firm. The party was held at the home of Mr and Mrs Leo Smith. Leo worked at the firm and later of course commenced his own accounting practise. There were 40 guests, including 26 of the 28 staff members.
RE said he was very proud of his staff and added that the firm, he understood from travellers and others, was the largest outside the city. This, he said, was a tribute to the staff and the loyalty and co-operation that had been forthcoming over the years.
He urged his staff to not merely regard the firm as a means of gaining personal wealth but as a means of achieving something for the progress of the town and district.
I think this last sentence demonstrates his ambition of building something to benefit the whole community and to be an exemplary public servant. I think he saw accountancy as a means of doing this.
RE died on September 26, 1958 while watching Witness for the Prosecution at the indoor picture theatre in Balo Street. He was described as a modest man and few knew of his deeds and achievements.
It was not until his death that it became known he was awarded a Queen's Coronation Medal at the time of her coronation in 1953.
Some stories and achievements
World War II evacuation planning
When it seemed inevitable during WWII that Australian mainland cities would be bombed by the Japanese army, Prime Minister John Curtain and the British High Commissioner expressed the wish that people be taken to inland centres. Mr Heinrich, mayor of Moree organised a public committee to undertake the task in Moree and RE was appointed chief organiser. RE appointed Jack Cavanagh to act as liaison officer between the local committee and the representatives of overseas governments and Commonwealth and state departments. Jack Cavanagh interviewed hundreds of families in Sydney and arranged transport to Moree.
RE co-opted all the Cummins and Wallace staff and other citizens and with his drive and energy had, in a matter of hours, set the organisation in motion. During a few weeks in February/March 1942 over 450 evacuee women and children were brought to Moree and most remained for the duration of the war.
They were all accommodated in private homes, guest houses and hotels. This huge project, carried out so quickly and successfully was indeed a tribute to the drive and initiative of my grandfather, his staff, Jack Cavanagh, and no doubt many others. I was also told he gave his car to the Salvation Army during WWII because, he reasoned, they needed it more than he did.
As secretary of Moree Hospital (1921 to 1947), RE was initially paid six pounds per week for the role and the firm did all the accountancy work for no additional charge for many years. His retirement as secretary was brought about by the Hospitals Commission insistence that the secretary must work on the premises. His son, Bob took over as secretary from 1947 to 1951. It is reported RE's energies had no limits when it came to hospital affairs and there are many stories about his achievements. After the retirement of Mr JT Crane as president of the Hospital, RE began a long association with the new president, Mr Alf Jones.
Few people know how they battled for the hospital or how many times they were able to find money during the Great Depression to pay the hospital staff wages which they did in turns. In 1946 a children's ward was built and 'The Cummins Ward' was named in his honour.
Unfortunately when the new hospital was built the name did not transfer across.
Helping with home ownership in Moree
RE was aware of the great number of people of "average" income who desperately wanted to own their own home. One of his great achievements was the number of homes erected through the auspices of the numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 Building Societies. These efforts resulted in 120 people being able to acquire their own homes, 83 of which were new homes constructed in the town.
Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell
In 1936, decorated WWI soldier, Lieutenant Joseph Maxwell joined the firm in Moree. Joe was claimed as the second most decorated soldier of WWI. He received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M) for bravery during the third battle of Ypres in 1917; in 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross Medal (M.C) for bravery near Ploegsteert. Later in 1918 he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross for more bravery.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross after an attack on the Beaurevoir-Fonsomme line near Estrees in October 1918. In just over 12 months he was awarded the D.C.M, the M.C, and Bar and the V.C. He was only 22 years of age when the war ended. He also received coronation medals for King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth II.
Joe lived with my grandparents for a while and accompanied them on a few occasions when RE decided they should drive across to the coast for some fresh air. When the road surface was a bit rough my grandmother would ask RE to stop the car so she could get out and walk for a while.
Tributes on his death in 1958
On his death on September 26, 1958 there were many tributes to RE.
Archdeacon RIH Stockdale, Church of England, Moree said, "We know that Robert Cummins brought comfort and help to many anxious and troubled folk. There are many in this community who are wondering how they are going to manage... He was a gentleman in the best sense of the word, gentle in his ways and yet a man with the firm courage of his convictions. His kindliness and courtesy were a simple natural part of the whole man". Archdeacon Stockdale went on to praise him as a selfless public servant.
The North West Champion reported, "Moree has paid tribute to many of her sons but never in living memory has such affection been shown as to the late Robert Edward Cummins... The funeral service at the church had to be relayed by loud speakers to a vast number of people who could not gain entry. The funeral cortege was the largest ever seen in Moree and several hundred cars carried mourners in great numbers from all walks of life to pay their last respects to one who had served his fellow man faithfully and well".
So congratulations to all at C&W on this 100 year anniversary. The C&W name has a proud history of being a good corporate citizen and for providing good services to clients of the firm.
Thank you to former C&W partner John Humphries for never being too busy to meet with my Aunt Audrey (RE's daughter) at the office for a coffee when she visited Moree. It meant a lot to her.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to past and present partners for their own special individual and collective contributions and to the thousands of people who have worked at the firm over the past 100 years. My grandfather would be so proud that his legacy has survived to reach this milestone.
But most of all I want to thank the clients of the firm, without whom there would be nothing to celebrate.