Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Bastyan, Sir Edric Montague (1903–1980)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Edric Montague Bastyan (1903-1980), army officer and governor, was born on 5 April 1903 at Seaforth, Lancashire, England, eldest son of Lieutenant Samuel James Bastyan, Royal Field Artillery, and his wife Maude Mary, née Dare. Educated at West Buckland School and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, Edric was commissioned in 1923, sent to India, Malta and Palestine, and trained as a staff officer. On 11 January 1934 he married Marjorie Dorothy Bowle at the parish church, Wivenhoe, Essex, England. He served in North Africa and Italy during World War II, became a staff officer in the Eighth Army in 1943, and was appointed O.B.E. (1942), C.B.E. (1943) and C.B. (1944). His work in 1945 as major general in charge of administration, Allied Land Forces, South East Asia, was praised by W. J. (Viscount) Slim. In Germany with the British Army of the Rhine in 1946-48, Bastyan was head of logistics during the Berlin airlift. Senior staff appointments in Britain followed. In 1957 he was promoted lieutenant general, appointed K.B.E. and posted as Commander of British Forces, Hong Kong, where he was also a member of the Executive and Legislative councils until 1960.

A divorcee, Bastyan had married Victoria Eugenie Helen Bett on 21 October 1944 in Rome. She had performed intelligence duties for the British in Italy, Gibraltar and the Middle East (1939-44), and been mentioned in dispatches. On retiring from the army in 1960, Bastyan accepted the governorship of South Australia and arrived in Adelaide on 4 April 1961. A dapper man with a high forehead and a well-groomed moustache, he was a fluent speaker, with a quick wit and a zest for meeting people; he loved sport and was to become the best known and most popular of the State's governors. He was appointed knight of grace of the Order of St John (1961), K.C.M.G. (1962) and K.C.V.O. (1963). Lady Bastyan, also an excellent speaker, was fluent in six languages; she supported hospitals, loyal societies and immigrant organizations.

In the 1962 State elections the premier Sir Thomas Playford lost his majority in the House of Assembly, the result being Labor 19 seats, Liberal 18 and Independents 2. Labor's leader F. H. Walsh waited upon the governor, claiming that with 54 per cent of the votes he had a mandate to form a ministry. Bastyan maintained that, as neither party had won a majority of seats, it should be left to the assembly to resolve the crisis when parliament met. Next year the Playford government bought a vice-regal holiday home at Victor Harbor—which Bastyan named Anookanilla (meaning 'thank you')—and gave the governor an overdue salary increase. Playford regarded Bastyan as the 'most intelligent' governor he had met. When Labor won office in 1965, Walsh, too, found Bastyan conscientious and helpful. Ignoring party policy that only Australians should hold gubernatorial office, Walsh extended Bastyan's term by two years. The governor even charmed Walsh's successor Don Dunstan. Though given to scorning imported governors as 'satraps', Dunstan publicly praised Bastyan and extended his term to 1 June 1968. From April to June 1967, during Baron Casey's absence, Bastyan had been administrator of the Commonwealth.

Labor lost two seats in the South Australian election of March 1968. An Independent, Tom Stott, held the balance of power and promptly announced that he would support the Liberals. The Opposition leader Steele Hall wanted to form a ministry, but Dunstan, with 52 per cent of the votes, advised Bastyan to let the assembly determine his government's fate. By orchestrating massive public protest against the electoral system in the ensuing six weeks, Dunstan undermined the incoming Hall government. The governor would have been denounced for partisanship if he had interfered in the crisis by insisting on Dunstan's resignation. Labor was defeated on the floor of the House. Bastyan admonished Premier Hall to brook no resistance from his party to electoral reform.

On 14 February 1968 it was announced that Bastyan had been appointed governor of Tasmania. Immigrants from twenty-two countries gave a farewell ball before he left Adelaide in June. Having visited Britain, he arrived in Hobart on 2 December. Although he and his wife were to succeed in Tasmania, they did not enjoy their time there as much: Hobartians seemed more informal and less punctual, and Sir Edric had developed emphysema. The 1969 elections gave Tasmania a hung parliament, with the Centre Party's Kevin Lyons holding the balance of power. When the Liberal leader W. A. Bethune showed the governor a written agreement that he and Lyons had made, Bastyan commissioned them to form a coalition government in March. After Lyons defected from the ministry in March 1972, on Bethune's advice Bastyan dissolved the assembly.

On 30 November 1973 Bastyan relinquished office. He retired with his wife to North Adelaide. A competent artist, he sold many drawings and paintings for charity, and held a solo exhibition at Hahndorf in 1974. Survived by his wife and son, he died on 6 October 1980 in North Adelaide; following a state funeral at St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, he was cremated. The principal building of the State Library of South Australia, and a power station and dam in Tasmania were named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Slim, Defeat into Victory (Lond, 1956)
  • N. Blewett and D. Jaensch, Playford to Dunstan (Melb, 1971)
  • D. Dunstan, Felicia (Melb, 1981)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Tasmania), (16), 1972
  • Adelaide Law Review, 2, no 3, 1969, p 303
  • Bastyan papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Bastyan, Sir Edric Montague (1903–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bastyan-sir-edric-montague-9451/text16619, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018