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Bussau, Sir Albert Louis (Lou) (1884–1947)

by R. C. Duplain

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

Sir Albert Louis (Lou) Bussau (1884-1947), farmer and politician, was born on 9 July 1884 at Clear Lake (Natimuk), Victoria, sixth child of Johann Joachim Heinrich Adolph Bussau, German-born carpenter, contractor and farmer of Huguenot extraction, and his wife Maria Ernestina, née Rokesky. At 12 'Lou' Bussau left Warracknabeal State School to work for his father but, influenced by his mother's love of learning, he continued his education, first at night at a private college, and then by correspondence with the University of Melbourne's law faculty. He made weekly legal rounds from Warracknabeal to Hopetoun and Beulah for J. S. Wright-Smith and spent his spare time reading widely, attending Labor Party meetings and lay-preaching for the Baptist Church. On 22 April 1912 he married Ballarat school-teacher Mary Scott Baird and about three years later they moved to Hopetoun where Bussau represented the Wright-Smith firm.

He purchased 640 acres (259 ha) north of Hopetoun (Wilhelmina parish) after the disastrous drought of 1914-15 and later bought an adjacent block on which, with the aid of share-farmers, he successfully produced wheat, wool and fat lambs. Farm ownership and the possibility of furthering wartime marketing measures won Bussau over to P. G. Stewart's militant Mallee wing of the Victorian Farmers' Union about 1916. Typical of the new breed of country-town leaders, he became an outspoken critic on farming issues and was adept at manoeuvring meeting procedures.

Hopetoun provided opportunities for rapid advancement. Bussau became a councillor of Karkarooc Shire (1921-32), and was shire president in 1926-27. In 1924 he was chief president of the Australian Natives' Association, Victoria. He was an organizer in 1927 of the Victorian Wheat-growers' Association (later the Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers' Association), retiring in 1932. He left the V.F.U. to join the breakaway Country Progressive Party and was president in 1929; that year he stood unsuccessfully as the party's candidate for Lowan in the Legislative Assembly. When differences with the Victorian Country Party were settled, Bussau joined the new United Country Party, standing successfully for Ouyen in 1932. He became vice-president of the party and president of the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation.

In parliament, Bussau advocated rural rehabilitation measures reminiscent of Roosevelt's New Deal thinking: comprehensive marketing legislation, fixed produce-quotas, protection against foreclosure, a quaranteed consumer price, and bulk handling measures which would provide construction work for the unemployed who 'did not want doles … or charity'. He enjoyed bandying with the young (Sir Robert) Menzies and his lifelong friend John Cain who mocked him as 'the Socialist' and 'the radical member for Ouyen'. Bussau replied that he was merely protecting the most important section of the State: 'The City of Melbourne would fall without the country', city parties 'could only see the sun rise in the Dandenong Ranges and set on the Werribee Plains'.

When, after the 1935 election, (Sir Albert) Dunstan and the Country Party took office with Labor support, Bussau was made attorney-general, solicitor-general, minister of transport and vice-president of the Board of Land and Works. He proved an excellent minister and a political threat to other leaders — this partly accounts for his posting to London as agent-general early in 1938.

That year Bussau visited the Ruhr brown coal industrial centres. His travels complemented his vast reading knowledge on European and North American agriculture and afforestation. During the air raids, he was a celebrated 'fire watcher' and his daring as a spotter earned him the nickname 'the Mad Australian'. However, he was horrified by the devastation of English cities and relieved to return in 1942-43 via the North American wheat-belt to Victoria where he became air raid precautions adviser. In 1945 he was appointed first chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, a post which he held until his death.

Bussau's humble origins, German parentage and his recognition of the worth of hard-pressed Mallee 'battlers' generated a radical, forthright approach to public office. He was knighted in 1941 but remained 'Plain Lou' — unpretentious and self-made, a wiry, quick-spoken, impulsive person who always wore a smile and loved a verbal fight. Throughout his life, he was a keen sportsman, with special interest in cricket, football, golf and bowls. Shocked by fierce accusations from Country Party colleagues over Prime Minister Ben Chifley's New Zealand wheat-deal, he suffered three strokes and died at South Yarra on 5 May 1947. He was accorded a state funeral and was cremated. He was survived by his wife (d.1958) to whom he left £13,772; they had no children. In the words of John Cain, Bussau was a 'true democrat', an ambitious Mallee politician whose efforts advanced the cause of the rural sector.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Mitchell, Growers in Action (Melb, 1969): Woomelang Sun, 6-13 Feb 1931, 6 May 1932
  • Ouyen and North West Express, 13 May 1932, 7 May 1947
  • Countryman (Melbourne), 7 Mar 1947
  • Argus (Melbourne), and Horsham Times, 6 May 1947
  • Hopetoun Courier, 9 May 1947
  • J. A Senyard, A Mallee Farming Community in the Depression: The Walpeup Shire of Victoria, 1925-1935 (M.A. thesis, Monash University, 1974)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. C. Duplain, 'Bussau, Sir Albert Louis (Lou) (1884–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bussau-sir-albert-louis-lou-5441/text9237, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 November 2017.

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

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