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Daley, Charles Studdy (1887–1966)

by Peter Harrison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Charles Studdy Daley (1887-1966), administrator, was born on 4 July 1887 at Maldon, Victoria, eldest son of Charles Daley and his wife Caroline Rose, née Bromfield. Charles Daley senior (1859-1947), a teacher with the Victorian Department of Education for forty-six years, was a prominent member of the Victorian Field Naturalists' Society. Specializing in the flora of the Bendigo district and the Grampians, he collected for Baron von Mueller; two of his publications The Grampians, Victoria (1931) and The History of 'Flora Australiensis' (1927-28) became standard works of reference. He was a notable member of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, and author of several historical works.

Charles junior attended Harvard College, Stawell, in 1899-1903 and the Stawell School of Mines in 1903-04; he later went to the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1914; LL.B., 1921). On 27 January 1917 at the Australian Church, Melbourne, he married Henrietta Jessie Shaw Obbinson (d.1943); they had two sons and three daughters.

Daley joined the Public Works Branch of the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs in Melbourne as a clerk in 1905 and for several years was secretary to Colonel P. T. Owen who, with J. S. Murdoch, encouraged him to attend classes in accountancy, architecture and engineering at the Working Men's College. Daley was later proud of his part in the construction of Australia House in London; but his career was centred on the development of Canberra. He closely observed the controversy preceding the selection of the site in 1909 and the conduct of the international competition for the design of the city in 1911-14. Sharing with many colleagues a suspicion and dislike of Walter Burley Griffin and disapproval of the eccentric King O'Malley, he nevertheless comprehended Griffin's design and in later years became its principal and, on occasion, its sole protector.

In January 1921 when the Hughes government finally resolved that the development of Canberra should proceed on the basis of Griffin's plan, Daley was appointed secretary of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee which established an effective programme of construction until its replacement in January 1925 by the Federal Capital Commission. At his own volition and with a fine sense of prospective history, Daley prepared the committee's over-viewing final report. The committee added a recommendation that Daley be awarded a £500 honorarium for his 'absolutely indispensable and invaluable' services, but it was never paid.

Daley became secretary of the Federal Capital Commission in 1924 and took up residence in Canberra. Dedicated to the work of the commission which, under (Sir) John Butters, was responsible for the construction of the city and the administration of the Territory, Daley was appointed O.B.E. in 1927. During this period he also took a prominent part in community affairs. An accomplished musician, he encouraged the formation of a city band, was a founder in 1928 and president in 1932-53 of the local Musical Society, and was honorary organist for 17 years of the Presbyterian Church of St Andrew. He was a founding member of the Literature and Arts Society (1927) and the Rotary Club (1928) and later of the Young Men's Christian Association (1940). He was at some time president of each institution.

The Federal Capital Commission was abolished in 1930 and the Department of Home Affairs took over the administration of the Territory. Daley retained his key position as civic administrator, Federal Capital Territory Branch. From 1932 until he retired in 1952, he was assistant secretary, Department of the Interior. He was also a nominated member in 1930-52 and chairman for three terms of the Capital Territory Advisory Council; his primary concern was to alert the minister to proposals thought to conflict with Griffin's intentions. In 1939, at Daley's instigation, the National Capital Planning and Development Committee, with himself as executive member, was set up as a body of review and advice. The committee strengthened his protective role during the war and post-war years when the approved plan was under the threat of temporary buildings and other expedients. In his evidence in 1955 to the Senate's committee inquiring into the development of Canberra Daley stressed the advantages of an independent commission; he described the period of the Federal Capital Commission as 'Canberra's golden age'.

Daley's community activities continued after his retirement. A member of the Interim Council of the Australian National University in 1945-50, he completed twenty-eight years on the Council of Canberra University College in 1958 and represented it at a university congress in Cambridge, England, in 1953. He was an early member of the Canberra and District Historical Society, founded in 1953, and president in 1958-61. In 1963 he was made an honorary associate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and in 1965 represented Australia in Japan at a meeting of the World Council of the Young Men's Christian Association. With clear recollections of his unique experience at the centre of Canberra affairs Daley was ever willing to recount them to all who had time to listen. Disappointed at not being commissioned to write an official history of Canberra, he recorded his memoirs in a weekly series of articles, 'As I Recall', published in the Canberra Times in 1964-66. Other important publications include 'The Canberra Plan and its Development' in the 1951 Federal Congress on Regional and Town Planning Records of Proceedings (Canberra, 1951) and 'The growth of a city' in Canberra: a Nation's Capital, edited by H. L. White (Sydney, 1954). These modestly impersonal accounts effectively disguise the importance of Daley's own role.

Daley died on 30 September 1966 at Canberra leaving an estate sworn for probate at £18,263. A service was conducted at the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist. The C. S. Daley Memorial Gardens were established at the Griffin Centre, housing the A.C.T. Council of Cultural Societies, in 1967. The C. S. Daley medal is offered annually by the A.C.T. Chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects for meritorious design in domestic building.

Select Bibliography

  • Victorian Naturalist, 64 (1947-48), p 1318
  • C. S. Daley papers (National Library of Australia)
  • C. S. Daley biographical file (Canberra & District Historical Society).

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Citation details

Peter Harrison, 'Daley, Charles Studdy (1887–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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