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Bluett, Albert Robert (1879–1944)

by Anthea Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Albert Robert Bluett (1879-1944), local government official and solicitor, was born on 17 November 1879 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, fifth surviving son of Francis William Anstruther Bluett (d.1889), a pound keeper from Jersey in the Channel Islands, and his Adelaide-born wife Jessie, née Wallace. Educated at Bathurst and at Fort Street Model School, Sydney, Albert served his articles in the securities department of the Savings Bank of New South Wales and was admitted as a solicitor on 9 March 1907. On 30 November 1904 he had married Maude Alice Wayland (d.1936) at St Peter's Church of England, St Peters, Sydney. They were to have a daughter and two sons. Bluett was appointed secretary and solicitor of the Local Government Association of New South Wales in 1910 and of the Shires Association of New South Wales in 1922.

His older brother Edward Campbell Bluett (1874-1958) had been born on 10 October 1874 at Wagga Wagga and after attending school there entered Fort Street Training College, Sydney. Edward married Ruby Florence Blair on 26 March 1902 at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney. Following a posting to a one-teacher school at Wolumla, in 1909 he returned to Sydney and, encouraged by Albert, left the Department of Public Instruction to become secretary of the newly formed Local Government Clerks' Association. In this role he helped to formulate the revenue basis on which all town and shire clerks' salaries were paid.

Albert (often known as 'A.R.'), the acknowledged expert in local government law, was closely involved in drafting the Local Government Act (1919). Next year he was invited to join a conference rewriting building ordinances: he was co-author of Regulations & Law as to Erection of Buildings in New South Wales (1922). In August 1941 he compiled a report for the committee considering a scheme to create a 'Greater Sydney' council. His submission to the annual conference of the Local Government Association in August 1943 argued that Australia had the 'feeblest and most restricted form of local government that is known to the English speaking world'. Suggesting that greater local powers would enhance democracy, he advocated the formation of regional councils that would undertake a broader role such as providing health and social services.

A member of the Sydney Press Club, he wrote a weekly column for the Sydney Morning Herald for some twenty years and provided syndicated leaders for the country press. He edited the Shire and Municipal Record for thirty-six years from its first publication in 1908. With R. J. Browning he wrote legal textbooks, including A Digest of Australian Cases Relating to Local Government (1919) and Local Government Law and Practice: New South Wales (1929). Bluett also compiled The Law and Procedure at Meetings of Councils (1924). Perhaps his greatest legacy is the Local Government Handbook, which was first published in 1920 and in 2002 was in its fourteenth edition.

He had a photographic memory and was prolific in opinions, reports and articles, estimating that he had furnished more than 80,000 opinions on local government law during his career. To Smith's Weekly his only possible weakness was that he had too many friends, being 'one of those extraordinary busy men who always has time to see anyone'. His recreations included reading, bridge, fishing and watching cricket.

On 31 January 1940 he married Margaret Reilly at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney. He retired in 1943. Bluett died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 21 April 1944 at his Lindfield home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and the children of his first marriage survived him. In 1945 the A. R. Bluett memorial awards were established; presented annually to an urban and a rural council, they recognize outstanding progress in services to the community. The Mitchell Library holds a caricature of him, by R. W. Coulter, which was printed in the Bulletin in September 1924. It shows a thin, slightly harrowed man with a prominent forehead.

While Albert was the secretary of the employers' organization, Edward represented the employees. As the clerks' association could not afford to pay him a full salary, he also established the Shire and Municipal Supply Co. Determining which products individual councils would require, from disinfectant to water-carts, he liaised between manufacturers and councils to procure them. A keg of beer in the corner of his office in O'Connell Street, Sydney, was kept to entertain visiting town clerks. He retired from the L.G.C.A. in 1939.

In 1915 Edward had established the Local Government Coaching College to give candidates a grounding in local government before they sat the examination to qualify as a town or shire clerk. The college was a success: at one time 80 per cent of the State's town and shire clerks had qualified there. It operated until the 1960s when the Sydney Technical College took over the role. 'E.C.' was a tall, well-built man who was popular within local government circles. He died on 22 May 1958 at Ulladulla and was buried with Anglican rites at Milton, survived by his wife and two sons, one of whom, Roger Blair Bluett (1905-1990), was also prominent in local government.

Select Bibliography

  • Shire and Municipal Record, 28 June 1939, p 73, 28 July 1939, p 131, 28 Apr 1944, pp 1, 3, 28 May 1944, p 31, 28 July 1944, p 78
  • Bulletin, 4 Sept 1924, p 20
  • Smith’s Weekly, 11 Oct 1924, p 2
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Apr 1944, p 3
  • D. J. A. Moloney, A Great Many Interests in Common: A History of the Local Government and Shires Associations of New South Wales (M. Letters paper, University of Sydney, 1996)
  • private information.

Citation details

Anthea Kerr, 'Bluett, Albert Robert (1879–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bluett-albert-robert-12805/text23111, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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