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Davidson, David Lomas (1893–1952)

by G. C. Bolton

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

David Lomas Davidson (1893-1952), town planner, was born on 7 July 1893 in Sydney, eldest son of native-born parents George Thom Davidson, police constable, and his wife Florence, née Taunton. Said to have attended Fort Street Model School, David was trained as a draughtsman. At Newtown on 3 June 1912 he married an 18-year-old typist Daisy May Paynter with the forms of the Churches of Christ; they were to have a son and two daughters. Davidson studied in the department of military science at the University of Sydney in 1914. Enlisting in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force on 11 August, he took part in the campaign in German New Guinea and was a lance sergeant when discharged in Sydney on 4 March 1915. He was to be commissioned in the Militia in 1933 and transferred to the Reserve of Officers in December 1940.

Having served two years in Malaya as a licensed surveyor, Davidson was registered to practise in New South Wales in June 1920 after nine months work under the supervision of H. F. Halloran, his mentor in town planning. An associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and of the Royal Sanitary Institute of Great Britain, Davidson was employed in 1920-29 as a surveyor and architect by the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board. In 1928 he became president of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales and lobbied for improved legislation so that the mistakes made in planning Sydney's growth should not be repeated in smaller towns. On 4 February 1929 the senate of the university chose him to be Vernon memorial lecturer in town planning (a post previously held by Sir John Sulman), but Davidson did not take it up, possibly because the faculty of architecture protested against the 'unfortunate appointment'. On 30 July he accepted instead the newly created commissionership for town planning in Western Australia. Matrimonial difficulties may also have encouraged the move; divorced on 2 April 1935, he married a 25-year-old stenographer Esme Mary Powell on 6 July that year in the Church of Christ Chapel, Lake Street, Perth.

He arrived at a time when W. E. Bold and Harold Boas had given Western Australia's town planning movement considerable momentum, but, due to the Depression and World War II, Davidson had little opportunity of implementing the ideas he had formed in Sydney, though he did design the plan for the township of Walpole (gazetted 1932). He was soon at odds with municipal authorities—especially the Perth City Council—which further impaired his chances of constructive policy-making. His opportunity came in planning for postwar reconstruction. In 1943 he chaired the State government's six-man advisory committee on postwar housing. It recommended the erection of 20,000 houses in five years under the system operating for the Workers Homes Board, the improvement of sub-standard housing, and rent subsidies for low-income earners and Aborigines. In a reserved submission Davidson additionally proposed that each new house should have a hot-water system, a refrigerator, and flyproof doors and windows; he urged the establishment of a state housing authority and a co-operative credit scheme similar to that operating in New South Wales.

These enlightened ideas were not followed by postwar performance. Between 1945 and 1951 Davidson and his staff were reportedly working on a master plan for the Perth metropolitan region, yet it did not materialize. Public servants in neighbouring departments found him secretive and choleric, perhaps because of his deteriorating health, and his relations with local authorities remained poor. The Western Australian government continued to support him, fortified by favourable comments from visiting authorities such as Sir Patrick Abercrombie and Professor William (Baron) Holford. Late in 1951 the government legislated for the creation of a Metropolitan Region Planning Authority on which Davidson would play a leading role, and his performance was inconclusively debated in parliament. He never had the chance of responding to this development: he died of hypertension and uraemia on 20 June 1952 at Harrow Hospital, Subiaco, and was cremated; his wife and their son survived him, as did the children of his first marriage. Davidson was remembered as a forceful administrator handicapped by a cranky temperament. Throughout his period in Western Australia he apparently never owned a home.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of the State Advisory Committee on Postwar Housing (Perth, 1943)
  • Parliamentary Debates, 1951-52, p 1084
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Aug 1927, 24 July, 27 Nov 1928, 10 Jan, 11 Feb, 18 Apr, 18, 31 July, 1 Aug, 3 Sept 1929, 8 Feb 1932
  • West Australian, 12 Sept, 30 Oct, 10, 14, 16, 18, 31 Dec 1929, 20 July 1936, 21 June 1952
  • H. Boas, The Evolution of Town Planning in Western Australia (manuscript, 1956, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Town Planning newsclippings, 1929-35 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Town Planning Assn minutes, Apr 1931-Nov 1935 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Davidson papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Davidson, David Lomas (1893–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/davidson-david-lomas-9908/text17543, 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

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