William George McBeath was born in Fitzroy in 1865. He was educated at Nelson College, New Zealand, before returning to Melbourne to become a commercial traveller. In 1889 he married Annie McHutchison, and the following year became the Melbourne agent for a London silk firm, M. Makower & Co. When they opened a Melbourne branch he became a manager, then partner, and finally managing director of Makower, McBeath & Co. Pty Ltd. He built the firm into a leading wholesale warehouse with interstate and New Zealand branches. In 1925 he resigned in favour of his son and became chair of the directors.

McBeath was also a politician. He was a councillor for the Shire of Camberwell & Boroondara and later the Camberwell City Council from 1890 to1917, and was four times elected president or mayor. In 1911 he became a member of the board of commissioners of the State Savings Bank of Victoria, and became its chair from 1918 until his death. Under his leadership housing loans became widely available and the bank established a building department to design and oversee the erection of low-cost housing. He held other directorships including chair of directors of the Bankers and Traders' Insurance Co. of Victoria.

During World War I McBeath was a principal business adviser to the Commonwealth Department of Defence. He was chair of a royal commission on financial expenditure in the navy and defence administration in 1917, and was financial advisor to the Commonwealth during the demobilisation of the Australian Imperial Force in 1919. He was appointed CBE in 1918 and KBE in 1920. In 1925 he was a delegate to the League of Nations in Geneva. He was also sometime honorary consul for Japan.

McBeath maintained his political interests into the 1920s. He was a powerful figure in the National Party as a member of the National Union, a financing body, becoming a leading member of its four-person executive. His views were solidly conservative.

McBeath maintained ostentatiously large houses in Canterbury and later at Toorak and Mount Macedon with his wife, son and two daughters. He died on 2 April 1931.

Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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