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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hamilton, Leslie Bruce (1911–1989)

by Pam Crichton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Leslie Bruce Hamilton (1911-1989), public servant, was born on 4 July 1911 at Nook, Tasmania, second son of George Hamilton, farmer, and his wife Margaret Ann, née Peters, both Tasmanian born. Bruce attended Launceston Junior Technical School and the University of Tasmania. He joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a junior mechanic (in training) in the Postmaster-General’s Department in 1928 but, when this post was cancelled in 1931 due to the Depression, he worked as a telegraph messenger. Hamilton successfully sat the examination for the third division of the public service in 1933, following which he became a clerk in the Postmaster-General’s Department. He was appointed to the Department of Commerce in Victoria in 1934, and subsequently to the accounts branch of the Postmaster-General’s Department in Tasmania and the finance branch in Melbourne. In 1937 he transferred to the Department of the Treasury in Hobart. At Swan Street Methodist Church, Hobart, on 19 December 1936 he had married Amy Mary Adams, a public servant; they were to have two daughters and a son.

On his promotion to the finance branch of the Treasury in 1940, Hamilton moved to Canberra, where he lived for the rest of his life. During World War II he served (1942-44) part time in the Volunteer Defence Corps. Rising through the ranks of the Treasury, he worked in the banking, trade and industry branch and the social services branch, becoming assistant-secretary (1957-59) and first assistant-secretary (1959-65). The culmination of his career was his term as director-general of the Department of Social Services (1966-73). Among his achievements were Commonwealth provision of subsidies to the States to enable them to help mothers who had to raise children alone and who were not eligible for the normal Commonwealth payments (1968), and the development of community-based home-care services for the aged or invalids (1969). Even when responsible for more than four thousand people in the department, Hamilton still tried to know many of the staff personally. Colleagues regarded him as an `old-style public servant’, intending this as a compliment. He was appointed OBE in 1966 and CBE in 1972.

A staunch Methodist, and from 1977 member of the Uniting Church, Hamilton filled many roles in his church communities, from steward to treasurer to bricklayer. Initiated in 1949 into Lodge Canberra, he was worshipful master in 1957-58. His dedication extended into civic activities: he was treasurer (1961-65) of the Goodwin Centre Development Association, secretary (1975-78) of the board of the Australian Capital Territory division of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, and member of the council (1973-79) and treasurer (1977-79) of Burgmann College, Australian National University. A keen sportsman, he had been a good cricketer in his younger days and was an excellent croquet player in retirement.

Bruce Hamilton’s wife died in 1975. On 11 September 1976 he married Isobel Elizabeth Dahl, a public servant, at the Methodist Church, Reid. Survived by his wife and the two daughters of his first marriage, he died on 12 June 1989 at Royal Canberra Hospital and was cremated. Clive Gesling’s eulogy portrayed a humane, down-to-earth and much-loved man.

Select Bibliography

  • Department of Social Services (Commonwealth), Annual Report, 1966-72
  • Canberra News, 9 Jan 1973, p 8
  • Mercury (Hobart), 9 Jan 1973, p 6
  • Canberra Times, 12 July 1989, p 23
  • Canberra & District Historical Society, Newsletter, Aug-Sept 1989, p 11
  • C. Gesling, A Tribute to Bruce Hamilton (manuscript, 1989, copy on ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

Pam Crichton, 'Hamilton, Leslie Bruce (1911–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 25 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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