Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Gordon, Sir David John (1865–1946)

by Rob Van Den Hoorn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

David John Gordon (1865-1946), by Hammer & Co

David John Gordon (1865-1946), by Hammer & Co

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23418853

Sir David John Gordon (1865-1946), journalist and politician, was born on 4 May 1865 at Riverton, South Australia, son of Thomas Gordon, carpenter, miller and farmer, and his wife Ann, née Stewart; they were both from Scotland. David received an elementary education at J. S. C. Cole's Stanley Grammar School, Watervale. His family moved to Yorke Peninsula and at 11 he was on a farm working large teams of horses. He then took a job with the Port Adelaide branch of John Darling & Son, grain merchants and shipping agents. He also became a deacon of the Port Adelaide Congregational Church.

On 4 April 1888 Gordon married Anna Louisa Peel, a pianist and accompanist at his church. From that year he managed the local branch of the daily newspaper, the South Australian Register. He became known as a tenacious newshound by interviewing passengers on ships docking at the port. In 1891 the paper had him accompany Clement Giles into Central Australia and Gordon returned enthusiastically committed to development of the country's resources: he published numerous articles and pamphlets on the subject over the next twenty years.

In 1893 he became the Register's financial and commercial editor and agricultural editor of its weekly, the Observer, often writing under the pseudonym 'Wuronga'. Six years later he was promoted to the daily's editorial staff, becoming in turn leader-writer, acting associate editor, chief of literary staff and chief of Hansard staff. Gordon travelled his State extensively and became a popular advocate for the improvement of the farming and pastoral industries—production, transportation and sales. With his friend George Riddoch he persuaded the government to establish a freezing works at Port Adelaide and he was a vice-president of the River Murray League.

Gordon had spent considerable time in State and Federal press-galleries and around 1908 began to advance the affairs of the Australian National League. Next year he negotiated the fusion of this group with the remaining two anti-socialist groups in State politics. He was active on the executive of the Liberal Union and, after standing unsuccessfully for the Senate, in 1911 he was elected to the House of Representatives seat of Boothby. He continued to press for increased exploitation of South and Central Australia's resources and sat on the royal commission on the fruit industry. In 1913 he was defeated, but won the State Legislative Council seat of Midland.

In July 1917 Gordon was minister of education and repatriation in the Peake government, but he resigned next month after its coalition with the National Party. His distaste for Peake's action ran deep, for he rejected two subsequent offers of a post. In 1918 he became Liberal leader in the council and was its president in 1932-44. He had been knighted in 1925.

A highly principled man with a strong personality, Gordon was a friend of Herbert Brookes and supported his propaganda campaign waged via the Australian Liberal. Gordon's liberal individualism permeated his publications, nearly all of which were concerned with resource development. They include The central State (1903) and The 'Nile' of Australia (1906), numerous pamphlets, and several annual editions of the Handbook of South Australia (1908).

Gordon was an inveterate committee-man. In 1927 he chaired the Australian delegation to the International Economic Conference, Geneva. He was president of the Australian Liberal Union (1932-34), the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia (1921-22), and in South Australia the Adelaide Chamber of Commerce (1919-21), Toc H, and the Sailors' and Soldiers' Fathers' Association. His directorships included the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd, Broken Hill South Ltd, North Broken Hill Ltd, Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd, and the local branch of Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd. He joined the Adelaide Club in 1922.

He retired from the council in 1944 and died on 12 February 1946 at his home in Victoria Avenue, Unley Park, survived by two sons and two daughters. His wife had predeceased him in 1933. Gordon was buried in Mitcham cemetery. One son, Douglas Peel Gordon, was a legislative councillor for Midland in 1947-48 and the other, John Rutherford Gordon, in World War I was awarded the Military Cross as a pilot. An oil portrait of their father by George Webb hangs in the South Australian houses of parliament.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Rivett, Australian Citizen: Herbert Brookes (Melb, 1965)
  • Daily Herald (Adelaide), 10 June 1910
  • Mail (Adelaide), 17 May 1913
  • Liberal Leader, 1, 21 Feb 1923
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 13 Feb 1946
  • H. and I. Brookes papers, MS 1924 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Rob Van Den Hoorn, 'Gordon, Sir David John (1865–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gordon-sir-david-john-6427/text10993, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017