Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bennett, Alfred Edward (1889–1963)

by Philip Geeves

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Alfred Edward Bennett (1889-1963), broadcasting executive, was born on 26 September 1889 at Balwyn, Victoria, son of George Jesse Bennett, schoolmaster, and his second wife Harriet Ann, née Bentley. He was educated at Balwyn State School and at Hawthorn College and had become secretary of the Freezing Co. Ltd at Murtoa, when he married Ruby Adelaide Frauenfelder at St James's Old Cathedral, Melbourne, on 11 June 1912. Next year he moved to Shepparton as secretary of the Goulburn Valley Industries Co. Ltd, and about 1919 he went to Western Australia to manage a meatworks at Carnarvon.

In 1922 Bennett began business in Sydney as a public accountant. In 1926 he was appointed manager of the Theosophical Society in Australia's commercial radio station 2GB, which began broadcasting on 23 August. A Theosophist himself from 1920, he reassured doubters that 'we have no axe to grind … we have no right to use wireless unless we utilize it for the Nation's uplift and progress'. Although a tiro in show business, he shrewdly assessed public taste, enlisted popular talent from other stations and gave unknown performers a chance. Among those he promoted were Eric, brother of Hollywood actor Ronald Colman, 'Uncle' George Saunders, 'Bimbo' Arthur Hahn, Jack Davey and Charles Cousens.

On Armistice Day 1929, with G. S. Arundale Bennett founded the Who's for Australia? League and became its first president until 1931 when his elder brother Brigadier General Gordon Bennett, president of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales, took over. A. E. Bennett placed his faith in 'the discovery of a “strong man”' to lead Australia, and openly admired Mussolini. In March 1931 he became a vice-president of the All for Australia League and later that year, as a United Australia Party candidate, was defeated for the House of Representatives seat of Lang.

Bennett visited the United States of America in 1933-34 and in 1935. He obtained exclusive Australian rights to World Broadcasting Wide Range recordings, introduced radio transcriptions, and helped to found an Australian industry to produce radio programmes locally; he also set up American Radio Transcription Agencies (later Artransa). In 1934-36, as president of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting stations, he strongly urged them to defend themselves from government encroachment; he demanded equal status with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which, he argued, should 'cultivate a civic consciousness—a national sentiment—inculcate a high appreciation of music in Australian homes'. He was also a director of radio stations 3AW Melbourne and 5DN Adelaide.

In 1935 Bennett, feeling threatened by differences among local Theosophists, was appointed managing director of the Theosophical Broadcasting Station Ltd for seven years 'with extraordinarily full powers'. When next year 2GB combined with 2UE, he became managing director of the Broadcasting Service Association Ltd formed to run the two stations and soon sold his shares in the company. Asked to resign in 1937, next year he successfully sued the association for the agreed compensation, and in 1947, with (Sir) Garfield Barwick as counsel, he won a High Court appeal against the commissioner of taxation, maintaining that the compensation was a capital payment.

After Bennett retired he devoted himself to welfare work among children and old men, and became general secretary of the Australian Child Welfare Association. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of coronary vascular disease at the wheel of his car outside his home at Vaucluse on 17 April 1963, and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at £21,085.

Select Bibliography

  • I. K. Mackay, Broadcasting in Australia (Melb, 1957)
  • B. Muirden, The Puzzled Patriots (Melb, 1968)
  • R. R. Walker, The Magic Spark (Melb, 1973)
  • K. Amos, The New Guard Movement 1931-1935 (Melb, 1976)
  • Radio Trade Manual … of Australia, 1934
  • J. McCarthy, ‘“All for Australia”: some right wing responses to the depression … 1929-1932’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 57 (1971)
  • Wireless Weekly (Sydney), 3 Sept 1926
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Sept 1937, 10 Nov 1938, 24 July, 13 Aug 1947
  • Rischbieth collection (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Philip Geeves, 'Bennett, Alfred Edward (1889–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-alfred-edward-5207/text8763, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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