Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ferrier, Sir Harold Grant (1905–1976)

by John Perkins

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

Sir Harold Grant Ferrier (1905-1976), marine engineer and business leader, was born on 26 August 1905 at Drummoyne, Sydney, second son of Robert Robinson Ferrier, a marine engineer from England, and his native-born wife Elizabeth Ferguson, née Grant. Robert, who was of Scottish descent, established the firm of Ferrier & Dickinson in the early 1900s and later Electric Control & Engineering Ltd. Educated at Drummoyne Superior Public and Sydney Grammar schools, Grant was apprenticed with his father's companies. He travelled to Britain where, from 1926 to 1930, he gained experience in marine engineering with Weir, Drysdale Ltd at Glasgow, and in Belfast. On returning to Australia, he worked as a jackeroo before managing pastoral properties in western New South Wales; in his spare time he enjoyed surfing, rowing, riding and polo. In 1934 he was recalled to take control of his father's companies. Thereafter, his hankering for life on the land was restricted to enjoying several acres at St Ives, where he lived after he married Alice Heather Mitchell (d.1948) at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 21 May 1936. From the 1950s he owned a small farm at Moss Vale.

Although Ferrier was a trained engineer and a member (from 1945-46) of the Institute of Marine Engineers, his industrial career was essentially in management and in organizations that represented manufacturing interests. The family companies were linked with Weir, Drysdale Ltd from 1945 and amalgamated in 1947 to form Federated British Engineers (N.S.W.) Ltd (Federated Industries Ltd, 1957). Beyond the family companies, Ferrier was chairman of Pioneer Spring Co. Ltd (Pioneer Industries Ltd, 1962) and Commonwealth Portland Cement Co. Ltd (Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers [Australia] Ltd, 1964), and a director of York Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (Australasia) Pty Ltd and Ernest Hiller Holdings Ltd, clothing manufacturers. At St Stephen's on 25 November 1949 he married Margaret Barkell, née James, a 32-year-old divorcee with two daughters. In the late 1950s the family moved to Woollahra.

From 1948 to 1950, as State president of the Metal Trades Employers' Association, Ferrier rose to prominence during a time of industrial unrest. He was subsequently federal president (1950-53) of the Australian Metal Industries Association and represented Australian manufacturers at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. A councillor (from 1949) of the Chamber of Manufactures of New South Wales, he became its vice-president in 1961 and president in 1964; in the following year he was president of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia. In the mid-1950s, as a member of the Australian delegation, he began to attend the annual conferences of the International Labour Organization, held in Geneva. One outcome of this activity was a personal friendship with Albert Monk, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Another was his election as president in 1966 of the International Organization of Employers—he was the first Australian to occupy the position. He had been appointed C.M.G. in 1964 and was knighted in 1969.

A convinced supporter of the tariff and arbitration systems, the twin pillars of Australian manufacturing development, Ferrier advocated legislation requiring importers to deposit a proportion of the value of intended imports as a means of checking what he referred to as 'speculative imports' and of providing information on prospective trends. He criticized the 1948 amendments to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act (1904) for separating basic wage determination and the establishment of skill margins: the seemingly arbitrary decisions made by conciliators in regard to margins often ran counter to his views on encouraging young people to acquire skills through apprenticeships and technical education. None the less, he thought that the Australian wage-regulation system generally reconciled the interests of capital and labour. He was much opposed to what was later called 'enterprise bargaining' which he believed was favoured only by communists as a means of promoting industrial militancy.

Sir Grant belonged to the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Royal Sydney Golf Club, as well as to the Commonwealth Club, Canberra. He spent his last years at Leura in the Blue Mountains. Survived by his wife, and by the daughter of his first marriage, he died of cancer on 28 July 1976 in hospital at Katoomba and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Manufacturers' Bulletin (Sydney), 27 Sept 1963
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Jan 1948, 17 May 1949, 25 Feb 1950, 1 Jan 1964, 3 June 1966, 14 June 1969, 31 July 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

John Perkins, 'Ferrier, Sir Harold Grant (1905–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferrier-sir-harold-grant-10172/text17971, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 September 2014.

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

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