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Dumas, Sir Frederick Lloyd (1891–1973)

by S. Cockburn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Sir Frederick Lloyd Dumas (1891-1973), journalist and newspaper executive, was born on 15 July 1891 at Mount Barker, South Australia, one of five children of native-born parents Charles Morris Russell Dumas, printer, and his wife Amelia, née Paltridge. Lloyd's grandfather Victor Dumas had emigrated from Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. The family was Huguenot in origin: speculation that they were descended from the French novelist Alexandre Dumas remains unconfirmed. From 1880 Charles Dumas had been founding editor and sole proprietor of the Mount Barker Courier; he was also a member of the House of Assembly in 1898-1902.

Lloyd was educated at public schools in Adelaide and Victor Harbor. He and his eldest brother (Sir) Russell were among the top state scholarship schoolboys of their day. Leaving Teachers' Training College at 15, Lloyd began a cadetship on Adelaide's morning newspaper, the Advertiser. In 1911 he was one of the founders of the State branch of the Australian Journalists' Association. After achieving recognition as a sports and parliamentary reporter, he joined the Melbourne Argus in 1915 and rapidly rose to be its Federal political roundsman. On 23 November 1915 at St Oswald's Anglican Church, Parkside, Adelaide, he married a stenographer Daisy Minna Hall (d.1962), daughter of a bank-manager and great-granddaughter of Edward Smith Hall.

During the second conscription campaign (1917) Prime Minister W. M. Hughes invited Dumas to join his staff. Next year he accompanied Hughes to the Imperial Conference in London. In 1919 Dumas rejoined the Argus and in 1921 became its youngest ever chief of staff. Three years later he was appointed editor of the Sun News-Pictorial. In 1927-29 he worked in Fleet Street, London, as editor and manager of the Sydney Sun's and Melbourne Herald's United Cable Service. By this time he had attracted the admiration and friendship of many of the newspaper industry's leaders throughout Australia, not so much for his literary gifts as for his administrative talents, energy, clear mind, reporting flair and news sense, and for his capacity as a mediator.

In 1929 a syndicate headed by (Sir) Keith Murdoch, managing director of the Melbourne Herald, acquired the Advertiser for £1,387,000 and invited Dumas to be its managing editor. The paper's issued capital was £475,000, its circulation 85,000, and it had three hundred employees. When Dumas retired as chairman of Advertiser Newspapers Ltd in 1967, the issued capital had risen to £12 million, circulation to 208,000 and the staff totalled 1500. From the outset, he was widely regarded as a shrewd but decent man, sensitive to the feelings of others, anxious to be a good employer and equally anxious to run a newspaper which supported 'sound' government and which would be recognized as giving genuine public service to the community. With the paper's major owners and shareholders in Melbourne, Dumas' power was considerable, and he was soon handling it comfortably and confidently, with little interference from his Melbourne principals. In 1930 he joined the Adelaide Club. Although the Depression coincided with Dumas taking the managing editorship, he was fortunate in the political and social circumstances in which his career prospered.

With Murdoch's agreement, he at first swung the Advertiser behind Lionel Hill's government and continued to back Hill and his followers after their expulsion (August 1931) from the Australian Labor Party for implementing the Premiers' Plan. The paper's support, coupled with that of prominent Liberals, enabled Hill's Parliamentary Labor Party minority government to survive. Dumas justified his actions by the need to rescue the State from the Depression. In 1932 he arranged key meetings in Adelaide and interstate, designed to form a National Party by uniting the P.L.P. with the Liberal Federation. Led by (Sir) Richard Layton Butler, the Liberals refused to co-operate. They united with the Country Party and won the election in April 1933. Dumas and Murdoch promoted Hill's appointment as agent-general in London and gave him financial help each year until his death.

In November 1938 (Sir) Thomas Playford came to office as leader of the Liberal and Country League government. He and Dumas met privately soon afterwards. The premier outlined his plans to industrialize South Australia and to restore prosperity: the Depression had battered the State, with unemployment peaking at over 30 per cent of all trade unionists. Dumas believed that, if Playford were successful, the entire community would benefit and population would increase, lifting the circulation of the Advertiser which then enjoyed a metropolitan morning monopoly. He promised Playford that the paper would back his policies vigorously.

World War II stabilized and unified South Australia. When the war ended a malapportioned electoral system—coupled with Playford's intelligent leadership—gave premier and editor the opportunities they needed. A weak Labor Opposition attacked what it saw as an unholy alliance between Playford and the State's dominant news medium. They dubbed the paper 'the L.C.L. House Journal'. Although neither Playford nor Dumas was a rigid conservative, 'sound government' did not, in the eyes of either, embrace the ideal of a modern welfare state. Their common priorities were the needs of business and industry. During what was to be a record term of nearly twenty-seven years, successive Playford governments were vulnerable to charges that they starved hospitals, schools, libraries and other social services of appropriate funding.

The two men never became close friends, but Dumas used his newspaper to praise Playford's initiatives, with little challenge or dissent, especially during elections. The Advertiser upheld the traditional structures of the day—the government, the courts, the police, the churches, the family, and the Returned Services League of Australia. Both men saw the proper place of women as in the home, or in giving voluntary service to good causes. A mocking profile of the Advertiser came from the pen of the jurist and poet, Dr John Bray, in the Current Affairs Bulletin (May 1965): 'It reflects in so many ways the tone of South Australian life. A comparison with one of the great dailies of the eastern States is instructive. The Advertiser is more restrained; the editorials are heavier, the headlines less exciting; the social columns more extensive; the preference to and the reverence for the local institutions and the local dignitaries more prominent. Those parts of it which are addressed to a popular audience are less vulgar; and those parts of it which are addressed to a quasi-intellectual or quasi-aesthetic audience more inadequate. There lingers about it still the aura of the nineteenth century provincial organ, the note of ponderous respectability, but also of ponderous responsibility'.

The power, influence and goodwill of Dumas and his newspaper were prime factors in helping the Playford government to retain office for so long. Under their joint benevolent despotism, however, South Australia was transformed from its mendicant status during the Depression. The population almost doubled, from 600,000 to more than one million; general prosperity increased dramatically; and unemployment was virtually eliminated. Meanwhile the State remained almost free from public scandal and corruption. The Dumas era at the Advertiser also saw the advent of commercial radio and television. The newspaper established radio 5AD and several rural subsidiaries, as well as the television station ADS-7 (1959); the small job-printing office at the Advertiser developed into the Griffin Press, one of Australia's largest printing-houses.

In his autobiography, The Story of a Full Life (Melbourne, 1969), Dumas wrote in a surprisingly folksy and unsophisticated style. He reviewed his experiences on the national and world stages, including a three-month visit to overseas war zones in 1943 as leader of a party of Australian editors who reported to Prime Minister John Curtin on the British war effort. They interviewed General Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (Sir) Winston Churchill, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The book artlessly revealed his immense pride in his many achievements: helping to resolve the 'bodyline' crisis in Test cricket between England and Australia in the 1930s; his mediation between Playford and the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. which Playford nationalized in 1946, the year in which Dumas was knighted; and his crucial role in establishing, and securing financial backing for, the first Adelaide Festival of Arts in 1960. He ended his book with the words, 'I must sign myself ''The Luckiest Man in the World"'.

Dumas was a foundation director (1938-67) of Australian Newsprint Mills Pty Ltd at Boyer, Tasmania, a board-member (1946-67) of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd and chairman of directors (1950-53) of Reuters News Agency, London. He was also a governor of the National Gallery of South Australia from 1945 and chairman of its board in 1955-63; an extension to the main building has been named the Sir Lloyd Dumas Gallery. In addition, he sat on the board of directors of Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd in 1941-67 and was a governor (1942-67) of the Wyatt Benevolent Institution which gave financial support to people 'above the labouring class' who were in reduced circumstances.

Although Dumas had been obliged to resign from the A.J.A. when he became chief of staff of the Argus, he never treated his employees as ruthlessly as did some other Australian newspaper managers. Arbitration awards provided for most employees to receive their full salaries for up to three months when ill, but the Advertiser overlooked these limits and, in some cases, carried sick workers of all ranks and status on full pay for six months. On his retirement, the A.J.A. gave a dinner in his honour and readmitted him to life membership. The State president recognized that Sir Lloyd had 'always been a journalist at heart and an unwavering friend of the AJA'. These sentiments lent point to a comment by (Sir) Robert Menzies in 1952: 'Dumas is one of the least bloody-minded of his breed'.

Sir Lloyd was a lover of good food and fine wine, and a genial host; during the latter part of his life he failed to control his weight. He had been raised as an Anglican, but was not a regular churchgoer. Yet, he defended those who were: 'those who have faith draw comfort and encouragement and hope from their religion, whether it be Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, or some other, and academics should respect that faith and not sneer at it'. Survived by his three daughters, he died on 24 June 1973 at Calvary Hospital, North Adelaide, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $223,332. A portrait by (Sir) Ivor Hele is held by Dumas' daughter Mrs H. De Pledge Sykes.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Whitelock, Festival! (Adel, 1980)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (Adel, 1991)
  • Advertiser Pi, May-June 1973
  • Current Affairs Bulletin, 24 May 1965
  • Labour History, no 31, Nov 1976, p 14
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 9 Mar 1967, 18 Oct 1969, 26 June 1973
  • Mount Barker Courier, 1 Oct 1880, 1 Oct 1980 (centenary souvenir)
  • Dumas papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

S. Cockburn, 'Dumas, Sir Frederick Lloyd (1891–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dumas-sir-frederick-lloyd-10058/text17741, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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