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Alam, Anthony Alexander (Alec) (1896–1983)

by Alan Ventress

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Anthony Alexander (Alec) Alam (1896-1983), politician, merchant and builder, was born on 23 January 1896 at Plattsburg, New South Wales, eldest child of Syrian (Lebanese)-born parents Joseph Alam, dealer, and his wife Mary, née Hashem. Alec was educated at De La Salle College, Armidale. He lived at various country centres in New South Wales and worked in the family business J. J. Alam, merchants, of The Rock, Dubbo and Dunedoo. Alam married Theresa (Therese) Anthony on 26 April 1924 at St Columba’s Catholic Church, Charters Towers, Queensland. They moved to Sydney in the 1930s and lived at Drummoyne, then Mosman. Alec was managing director of the Australian Fur Export Co. and later a contract builder, and director of Mala (Alam spelt backwards) Homes Pty Ltd, Alam Homes Pty Ltd and Zebra Motels Pty Ltd.  

Active in the Australian Labor Party, Alam was president of the Gwydir, Dubbo and Wammerawa branches. He represented Labor in the NSW Legislative Council for almost forty-two years in 1925-58 and 1963-73, and was the third-longest-serving member of the council, after Frank Spicer and John Mildred Creed. In 1941 Alam, then president of the Phillip electorate council, had unsuccessfully contested the Macquarie ward at the Sydney Municipal Council elections. In October 1948 he was defeated in a preselection ballot conducted by the State ALP executive for the Phillip ward.

Alam’s time in State parliament was contentious and he was frequently the subject of censure, more often than not from his own party. He was criticised for absences from the Legislative Council due to travel overseas, for using parliamentary privilege to impugn a policeman and for opposing reform of the council. Some Labor Party members could not reconcile his support for the party with his personal wealth: his attendance at a State ALP conference as a delegate of the Shop Assistants’ Union seemed incongruous in view of his substantial business assets and investments. Alam could not see why `just because a man is Labor, he should not be a better businessman than a Liberal. I am’.

In 1957 Alam was not selected for the ALP ticket for the Legislative Council elections. His success in a council by-election in 1963, when he was formally nominated by Premier R. J. Heffron, caused divisions in the party. Because of Alam’s age (67) and that of others, the wisdom of a twelve-year term for council members was questioned. Despite his ambivalent relationship with the ALP hierarchy, late in 1971 Alam said that he would give away some of his parliamentary pension to the ALP, because he wanted to put it to good work: in his view all the great social legislation, including that affecting widows’ pensions, workers’ compensation, the status of women, and maternity wings in hospitals, had emanated from the ALP.

Therese Alam was a driving force behind fund-raising efforts during World War II in the Lebanon League of Australia, of which she was president. The community raised £352,000 for Commonwealth War Loans as well as funds to purchase ambulances and medical equipment for the Australian armed forces. On one occasion in 1943, the Lebanon Ladies War Comforts League of Australia had raised £6000 mainly through a then popular `ugly man’ competition at the Sydney Town Hall. After the war Therese Alam continued her fund-raising activities for projects in Australia and the Middle East.

Both the Alams helped migrants to settle in Australia. Alam was awarded many honours by foreign governments and the Lebanese community in Australia. He was appointed to the National Order of the Cedar (Lebanon), the Order of Nichan Iftikhar (Tunisia), the Légion d’honneur (France) and the Royal Order of the Phoenix (Greece). Therese Alam was awarded the Order of Merit (1st class) of the Lebanon. Alam died on 9 August 1983 at Darlinghurst. Survived by his wife, he was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. They had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 20 Jan 1926, p 4186, 4 Aug 1937, p 22
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1923, p 9, 14 Oct 1926, p 9, 6 Aug 1937, p 11, 24 Aug 1956, p 5, 6 Nov 1963, p 5, 8 Nov 1963, p 2, 13 Nov 1963, p 16, 18 Nov 1963, p 2, 20 Nov 1963, p 1, 31 Oct 1969, p 4, 12 Nov 1971, p 10
  • Australian-Lebanese Historical Society, Newsletter, Nov 2000, p 3.

Citation details

Alan Ventress, 'Alam, Anthony Alexander (Alec) (1896–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/alam-anthony-alexander-alec-12125/text21721, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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