The 1980s was an era of flamboyant entrepreneurs who flew too close to the sun; household names like Alan Bond - the biggest fraudster in Australian history - and Christopher Skase, who died on the Spanish island where he sought refuge from extradition. Less well known were those who worked behind the scenes to bring those financial cowboys to account, corporate regulators like Charles Williams.
Charles was born in 1934 in Collins Street, in what is now known as the 'Paris end' but certainly wasn’t then - his neighbours were theatre types, doctors, dentists and people who worked in the city, like his stockbroker father. The family moved to South Yarra when Charles was six.
'I was going to Melbourne Grammar there, but not for very long because our school was moved to Healesville, and the American army moved in to the school grounds during the early part of the war.'
Melbourne Grammar had a big impact on his life, with his time as a choir boy instilling his deep-seated Christian beliefs.
Charles became an accountant and then a stockbroker before becoming chair of the Securities Institute; a professional body for stockbrokers and fund managers.
'We organised meetings with people from listed companies and generally tried to put information about investments into the public space.'
He became deputy chairman of the Securities Commission, the precursor to the Australian
Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), which combined all the states federal bodies into a single one.
'We were principally concerned with people who were in corporate positions, or in control of corporations, and who didn't waste a lot of time with tax experts or lunches with politicians,' he laughs.
'Each generation produces its own cowboys, and they're not always the same type,' Charles says. 'The people who deal in digital currency today are quite different from the "entrepreneurs" that we had then. It was very interesting.'
Charles’s involvement in bringing together state bodies to create a single federal body did not go unnoticed by Victoria’s then premier, Jeff Kennett.
Kennett was keen to amalgamate 210 local governments to form only 78 council areas.
'Not surprisingly, the local councillors didn't like it. So, Jeff said, "You're all sacked and I'm going appoint commissioners", and I was one of the commissioners,' Charles says.
'That was good fun because running a council was something I'd never done before - but I did know about the problem of merging bodies in government.'
Charles met his wife, Carolyn when he was in his mid-20s. She was an occupational therapist, specialising in rehabilitation.
'She was a combination of gentleness and discernment,' Charles says. Like her husband, Carolyn was a committed Christian.
The couple had three children who observed their parents running an orchard on the northern rivers of NSW, with Charles watching the work in progress from the house.
'My family called this activity "Verandah Management",' he laughs.
In their retirement, the couple independently embarked on pilgrimages.
'I did two pilgrimages to the Scottish Island of Iona and two to Spain, one on the Camino (de Santiago) and one with the Sarum College.'
Charles and Carolyn served the Anglican Diocese in different ways. Carolyn served the Cheltenham Anglican Community, and Charles with the Council of the Melbourne Anglican Diocese.
Reviewed 21 November 2022