William George Rucker Gilfillan (1906–1990) was born in Fremantle and grew up in Melbourne, attending Camberwell Grammar School and Scotch College. He studied civil engineering at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1930. In 1929 he joined the Roads and Bridges Branch of the New South Wales Public Works Department and was involved in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In 1932 he transferred to the Department of Main Roads. He travelled overseas in 1938 and from 1940 to 1946 he was employed by the South African Government. In the same period he served in the Union Defence Force in South Africa and East Africa, attaining the rank of captain in the Signals Corps. Following his return to Australia, he worked with the Department of Works and Housing in Darwin and the Joint Intelligence Bureau in Melbourne.
In 1951 Gilfillan was appointed an Executive Engineer in the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, where he remained until his retirement in 1971. In the early years he lived at Corryong and was in charge of works in the Tooma, Khancoban and Geehi regions. In 1954 he moved to Cooma and held a number of positions, including Safety Engineer. In 1960 he was appointed Archives Officer and for 10 years he undertook a great deal of research, including oral history interviews, on the early history of the Snowy Mountains scheme. He assisted Lionel Wigmore with the research for his book Struggle for the Snowy: The Background of the Snowy Mountains Scheme (1968).
Gilfillan was extremely active in local government, church and cultural activities in Cooma and the Monaro region. He was an alderman in the Cooma Municipal Council, a member of the Monaro County Council, and a member of the Monaro–South Coast Regional Development Committee. He was secretary of the Cooma–Monaro Historical Society. He had a particular interest in the early exploration of the Snowy Mountains by John Lhotsky, Edmund Strzelecki and others, and contributed articles to the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society and other publications.
In his later years, Gilfillan lived in Canberra.
For over 30 years, Gilfillan had a close connection with the Library as a researcher and donor. He regularly donated Monaro newspapers, printed ephemera and manuscripts. In 1963 he presented records of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, the Cooma Municipal Council and the Monaro County Council. In 1991 his wife, Marcia Gilfillan, donated his collection of maps, publications and manuscripts.
The main groups of records collected by Gilfillan comprise official records, reports and correspondence of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority (1955–71) and minutes, agenda papers and correspondence of the Cooma Municipal Council (1956–62) and the Monaro County Council (1957–62). In addition, the collection contains an account book of the Snowy Mountains and Monaro Horticultural Society (1957–64) and records of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cooma (1966–67).
The Gilfillan Collection contains 777 maps and drawings, the great majority of which are Australian. They relate to all states and mostly consist of town and district maps, road maps and touring maps produced between 1946 and 1986 by the National Roads and Motorists Association, the Royal Automobile Club, Shell and Broadbents. There are also a series of Snowy Mountains topographic maps (1958–64), maps of the proposed federal territory (1909), Canberra suburb development maps (1965–86) and Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority maps (1957–68).
The overseas maps include South-East Asian navigation charts (1944–45), Asian and African maps produced by the British War Office (1922–42), maps of Europe and America produced by the National Geographic Society (1938–40) and survey maps of the Middle East and East Africa (1937–41).
Filed with the maps are a number of engineering drawings, mainly of bridges and road culverts, dating from 1924–25.
The papers include a diary (1893–94), possibly kept by Gilfillan, lecture notes and printed material on engineering subjects assembled by Gilfillan when he was a student, lecture notes produced by the Real Estate Institute (1956–60), papers on explosives and safety issues, notes for a biographical memoir of Sir William Hudson (1896–1978), typescript notes and articles by Gilfillan on the history of the Snowy Mountains and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority.
The manuscripts and personal papers of Gilfillan are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 854, MS 861, MS 862 (Cooma Municipal Council) and MS 863 (Monaro County Council). The personal papers occupy 15 boxes. A finding aid for the papers held at MS 854 is available online.
The maps and engineering drawings in the Gilfillan Collection are held in the Maps Collection.
Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. Staff branch file 2086. Series A11394, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.