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Christie, Sir Vernon Howard (1909–1994)

by B. J. Costar

This article was published online in 2018

Sir Vernon Howard Colville Christie (1909–1994), businessman and politician, was born on 17 December 1909 at Manly, New South Wales, second child of locally born parents Charles James Colville Christie, accountant, and his wife Ilma Marion, née Allen. He was the grandnephew of the New South Wales politician Sir Arthur Renwick. In 1914 the family moved to Mount Morgan, Queensland, where Vernon attended the local primary school. The family relocated to Tasmania in 1922 and he enrolled at Hobart High School. By 1924 they had returned to Sydney where he completed his secondary education at North Sydney Boys’ High School. At night school he qualified as an accountant and a company secretary while holding clerical jobs in the pastoral and freight industries, including with Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd, and Austral Estates Ltd. He then worked as freight and passenger agent based in the Sydney office of the Canadian Pacific Railway Co. before establishing his own accountancy practice.

On 24 October 1936 at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Northbridge, Christie married his ‘first and only girlfriend’ (Foster 1969, 17), Joyce Crozet Hamlin, a stenographer. Earlier that year he had failed to win a seat on the Manly Municipal Council. In 1939 the Christies moved to Melbourne. During World War II he was executive assistant to (Sir) John Storey, a director in the Department of Aircraft Production. He remained in the manufacturing industry, later working as managing director of several prominent firms including Webb Industries Pty Ltd and Winchester Western Australia Pty Ltd.

In 1955 Christie won the metropolitan State seat of Ivanhoe for the Liberal and Country Party. It was fortuitous timing; he entered the Victorian Legislative Assembly just as the split tore the Australian Labor Party (ALP) apart, allowing the Liberals nearly three decades of uninterrupted rule. During his eighteen years in parliament he served on several committees, including those overseeing public accounts, library, printing, standing orders, and house. He was chairman of committees from 1956 to 1961 and again from 1965 to 1967. ‘Because of his rebellious attitude within the party room’ (Muir 1973, 96), he fell foul of Premier (Sir) Henry Bolte, and was excluded from the ministry.

After the 1967 election Bolte decided to move (Sir) John Bloomfield—who had not been a success in the education portfolio—to the Speakership but, in a rare rebellion, the party room chose Christie as its nominee. He was duly elected by the Legislative Assembly and served in the role until 1973. A decisive Speaker, he had ‘a great deal of personal confidence in his own judgment’ (Vic. LA 1994, 1472). A strong believer in the Westminster tradition, he earned the respect of both sides of politics for his impartiality and independence. He frequently reprimanded ministers as well as members of the Opposition. On one occasion he sent a message to Bolte, who had enjoyed a long dinner, to ‘watch his ebullience or he would be “named”’ (Murray 1994, 10).

Outside parliament Christie was a keen bushwalker, yachtsman, and fisherman, and an enthusiastic conservationist. In 1958 he established the Save the Yarra Valley League, putting him at odds with government policy. He persistently lobbied to have the Yarra Valley protected from the government’s freeway developments. Eventually he obtained concessions from the Hamer government that safeguarded the valley. His extra-parliamentary activities extended to philanthropy and patronage of the arts. He was vice-president of the Ivanhoe branch of the Helping Hand Association for Mentally Retarded Children, president of the Heidelberg Choral Society and the Queensland Ballet Company (1976), and a director of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (1969–78) and the Australian Ballet Foundation (1971–83).

Christie was knighted in 1972 and the next year he relinquished his seat and retired to the outer Brisbane suburb of Redland Bay. He remained politically involved and became a critic of what he saw as the excesses of the National Party government of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, telling voters that if they ‘wanted to “cleanse the place”’ to vote for the ALP (Bowers 1986, 3).

Sir Vernon was a handsome man. Robert Murray observed that, ‘dark-haired when younger and silvery as a politician,’ Christie was ‘big and burly—“built like a Sydney life-safer,” which he had once been’ (1994, 10). Although a Queensland resident, he died at Heidelberg, Victoria, on 4 November 1994. Predeceased by his wife in 1993, he was survived by their son and one of their two daughters. He was cremated following a state funeral at St John’s Anglican Church, Heidelberg.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Bowers, Peter. ‘The Pollster’s Lot Is Not an Easy One.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October 1986, 3

  • Foster, Dorothy. ‘Mr Speaker.’ Herald (Melbourne), 29 January 1969, 17

  • Herald Sun (Melbourne). ‘Speaker Known for Stirring and Remaining Independent.’ 9 November 1994, 64

  • Muir, Barry. Bolte From Bamganie, Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1973

  • Murray, Robert. ‘Speaker a Stickler for Rights.’ Australian, 17 November 1994, 10

  • Victoria. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates vol. 420, 1994, 1471–74

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Citation details

B. J. Costar, 'Christie, Sir Vernon Howard (1909–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/christie-sir-vernon-howard-21445/text31757, published online 2018, accessed online 18 April 2019.

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