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Chandler, Sir Gilbert Lawrence (1903–1974)

by Rupert Hamer

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

Sir Gilbert Lawrence Chandler (1903-1974), horticulturist and politician, was born on 29 August 1903 in North Melbourne, eldest of five children of Alfred Elliott Chandler, nurseryman, and his second wife Marie, née Intermann, both Victorian born. Educated at Scotch College, 'Gib' joined the family's Everson Nursery at The Basin, Bayswater, as a partner. On 22 November 1930 at Christ Church, Hawthorn, he married Thelma Alice Coon with Anglican rites.

His career followed that of his father. In 1935-55 Gilbert served on the Fern Tree Gully Shire Council (president 1938-39) and in March 1935 succeeded Alfred as a representative of South-Eastern Province in the Victorian Legislative Council. He stood as a United Australia Party candidate. At that time the minimum age for election was 30 and there was a property qualification of £1000 by municipal valuation. 'I just scraped through on both qualifications', Chandler later recalled. Following electoral redistributions, he represented Southern Province (1937-67) and Boronia Province (1967-73).

He was to spend thirty-eight years in parliament. After a short stint as minister without portfolio (1943-45) in the Dunstan-Hollway coalition government, in June 1955 Chandler became minister of agriculture (by his own choice—the new premier (Sir) Henry Bolte had wanted him to be minister of education) and continued to serve in that portfolio until his retirement from parliament in May 1973. Under his leadership the Department of Agriculture began a remarkable development which contributed to the advancement of Victorian primary industry, especially in animal husbandry, research into animal and plant diseases, and the economic management of farms. The Gilbert Chandler Institute of Dairy Technology at Werribee was named in his honour.

Deputy-leader of the government in the council from 1955, Chandler was leader in 1962-73. His colleagues and opponents equally admired his honest and straightforward handling of the role. I. A. Swinburne, leader of the Country Party in the Upper House, described him as one of Victoria's 'greatest statesmen', while the Labor leader Jack Galbally referred to him as 'a saintly man'.

Tall, with an athletic build, Chandler had been a keen sportsman in his earlier years. He played Australian Rules football (1928-29) for Hawthorn in the Victorian Football League and district cricket (1927-33) for Richmond, and subsequently served as president of football clubs in his locality. He was a member of the organizing committee for the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 and a trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (chairman 1973-74).

Possessing a kindly, avuncular manner, which tended to mask his deep convictions and very great capacity, Chandler undertook community service far beyond his parliamentary and ministerial duties. As chairman of the Churchill National Park's committee of management and a committee-member of the Fern Tree Gully National Park, he showed a wide-ranging interest in conservation and in preserving the beauty of the Dandenong Ranges. He chaired (1944-46) the government's bush fires relief committee and served as president of the Boronia Basin division of the St John Ambulance Brigade. Appointed C.M.G. in 1958, he was knighted in 1972.

Sir Gilbert died of a coronary occlusion on 8 April 1974 at Fern Tree Gully in the (Sir) William Angliss Hospital which he had served as foundation president for thirty-five years. Survived by his wife and two sons (both of whom had joined him in the family business), he was cremated after a state funeral at the Boronia Methodist Church, of which he had been a loyal member. The officiating clergyman described him as 'a man of quiet strength who was one with the people'. Chandler's estate was sworn for probate at $495,983.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Coulson, The Family of William Chandler, Horticulturist (Kilsyth, Vic, 1978)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, Victoria), 5 Sept 1972, 12 Apr 1973, 9 Apr 1974
  • Parliamenary Debates (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 9 Apr 1974
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 Apr 1973, 9 Apr 1974
  • Knox and Mountain District Free Press, 16 Apr 1974
  • Lilydale Shire Express, 17 Apr 1974.

Citation details

Rupert Hamer, 'Chandler, Sir Gilbert Lawrence (1903–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chandler-sir-gilbert-lawrence-9723/text17169, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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