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Gibson, Aubrey Hickes Lawson (1901–1973)

by Frank Strahan

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

Aubrey Hickes Lawson Gibson (1901-1973), businessman and patron of the arts, was born on 4 May 1901 at Kew, Melbourne, third child of John Gibson, a manager from Scotland, and his English-born wife Ellen Ann Meares, née Lawson. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Aubrey proceeded to the University of Melbourne where he passed in one subject, graphics. He also attended the National Gallery of Victoria school, for one year.

On 3 February 1930 Gibson married Marjorie Isabel Kimpton at the chapel of his old school; they were to have a daughter and a son before being divorced. After working as a salesman for Hoover products, in January 1933 he established A. H. Gibson (Electrical) Co. Pty Ltd, distributors of electrical appliances and parts. Having been appointed lieutenant in the Melbourne University Rifles in 1922, Gibson continued to serve in the Militia and rose to major. On 13 May 1940 he was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force. He performed adjutant and quartermaster-general duties in the Middle East (1940-42) and Australia, and transferred to the Reserve of Officers as lieutenant colonel on 13 May 1945; he was made honorary colonel on the Retired List in 1951. In Colombo, on 19 September 1947, he had married Gertrude Jean Balfour.

In 1949 his business was converted to a public company, A. H. Gibson Industries Ltd, with Gibson as chairman and managing director, but it was delisted in 1959. Additional business commitments included serving as chairman and managing director (1955-64) of Consumer Services Ltd, and as director of Volkswagen (A/sia) Ltd (1961-67) and Hoover (Aust.) Pty Ltd (1964-70). As a sideline, he farmed land at Berwick.

Gibson became prominent as a patron of the arts. A founding director (1954) of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, he was Victorian chairman (1955-67), president (1968-71) and chairman of the board (1971-72). This commitment entailed membership of the boards of the Australian Opera, the Australian Ballet and the Australian Council for the Arts. As A.E.T.T. representative on the board of the University of Melbourne's Union Theatre Repertory Company, later the Melbourne Theatre Company (deputy-chairman 1960-68), he was forceful in securing and refurbishing its Russell Street Theatre base.

Dedicated to the fine arts in particular, Gibson was a trustee (from 1956), treasurer (1957-59) and deputy-chairman (1959 and 1962-64) of the National Gallery of Victoria. He was a councillor (1951-56) and trustee of the Victorian Artists Society, he received the medal of the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1965, and he was a member (from 1966) of the Britannica Australia Awards Committee. Although his renowned personal collection was strong in Australian paintings and sculpture, it was international in span, and included silver works—featured in his book The Rosebowl (1952)—native carvings, furniture, figurines historiques and Oriental works, among them Japanese scrolls. In addition to being a co-founder, with Joseph Burke, of the Society of Collectors of Fine Arts, he was a councillor of the National Trust of Australia (Victoria) from its foundation in 1955. His clubs included the Naval and Military, Athenaeum, Savage, Metropolitan Golf, Victoria Racing and the Commonwealth (Canberra).

Rather than an innovator, Gibson was an imaginative, energetic, forceful, successful and generous promoter of the causes he espoused. His was a dynamic contribution to Australia's cultural development and well-being. He died on 26 March 1973 at Prahran and was cremated; his wife and their son survived him, as did the son of his first marriage. His estate was sworn for probate at $835,442. Portraits by Bryan Kneale and Noel Counihan are in the family's possession; a sketch by Louis Kahan is in the Clem Christesen collection, University of Melbourne, and another is held by the artist.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Sumner, Recollections at Play (Melb, 1993)
  • Art and Australia, 2, no 3, Dec 1964
  • Canberra Times, 16 Dec 1965
  • Australian, 24 July 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 29, 30 May 1973
  • Gibson papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • A. H. Gibson Industries Ltd file, Stock Exchange of Melbourne collection (University of Melbourne Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Frank Strahan, 'Gibson, Aubrey Hickes Lawson (1901–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-aubrey-hickes-lawson-10296/text18217, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 November 2018.

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

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