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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cronin, Michael Joseph (1892–1970)

by Jan Cooper

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

Michael Joseph Cronin (1892-1970), surveyor, valuer and administrator, was born on 21 July 1892 at Glebe, Sydney, second son of Irish-born parents William Cronin, policeman, and his wife Brigid, née Keogh. Joe attended the Patrician Brothers' school, Glebe, and Cleveland Street Public School, leaving early, like his elder brother, to assist in paying for the education of five younger siblings. He joined the Department of Lands as a clerk on 10 December 1909, became a draftsman, went into the field in 1913 (based at Dubbo) and in 1916 was appointed a licensed surveyor. Working closely with Francis Peter 'Valuation' Brown, head of the Forbes Land Board, Cronin established his expertise as a valuer after 1920. At St Brigid's Catholic Church, Dubbo, on 30 September 1922 he married Beatrice Mary Kathleen Digges, daughter of a Coonamble grazier.

Secretary and treasurer of the New South Wales Staff Surveyors' Association in 1924-25, Cronin remained active on that body until 1931. He advocated the early resumption of land adjacent to the incomplete Wyangala dam at current value. Both he and Brown urged surveyors to adopt a provable 'sales' or market approach in order to present a more professional image before the Land and Valuation Court. In 1931 a royal commission into the Western Division praised his thoroughness which had assisted in establishing the incompetence of the Western Lands commissioner and two of his officers. With Brown, Cronin became a member of the Closer Settlement Advisory Board in 1931 (chairman from 1944) and moved his family to Chatswood, Sydney. In 1942 he was promoted assistant under-secretary for lands.

On 23 April 1946 Cronin was appointed Western Lands commissioner. His task was to implement Labor government policy on soldier and closer settlement in the Western Division, and to break up stations into smaller holdings. Despite widespread belief that the areas were too small, by 1957—after the Korean War and the wool boom—204 soldier settlers in the division were reported as generally being in a sound position; 59 of the 91 who had borrowed from the Crown had repaid loans. The combination of the State's new legislation and price-control introduced by the Federal government gave Cronin what appeared to be formidable power as administrator: he was zealous, meticulous and, when questioned, unyielding. A number of large landholders felt that he was waging a vendetta against them. To achieve land redistribution, some title-holders (frequently women who had been bequeathed interests by their fathers) were required to divest themselves of equity and title. Cronin's adherence to the government's objectives was seen as too extreme by his successor, who applied some policies more flexibly.

An active Catholic, Cronin was a member of the Knights of the Southern Cross and belonged to the superior council of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia. He was appointed to electoral boundary commissions in 1952, 1957 and 1960. Having retired in 1957, he set up as a valuer and registered land agent, but in 1961 suffered a cerebral haemorrhage which left him largely speechless, though alert. He died on 16 June 1970 at Darlinghurst and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery; his wife, son and two daughters survived him. The daughters recalled his integrity, egalitarianism, public-speaking skill, patience and, particularly during his lengthy incapacity, his inner peace.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of the Western Lands Commissioner, 1949 and 1957, Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1948-50, 1, and 1956-57, 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1952, 19, 20 July 1957, 20 Oct 1960
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 25 June 1970
  • New South Wales Staff Surveyors' Association, Annual Report, 1929, 1932 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Western Lands Commission files (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jan Cooper, 'Cronin, Michael Joseph (1892–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2020.

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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