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Heath, Albert Edward (1887–1955)

by D. B. Webster

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

Albert Edward Heath (1887-1955), timber merchant, was born on 9 November 1887 at Maryborough, Queensland, eldest child of Queensland-born parents Henry Arthur Heath, grocer, and his wife Emily Evelyn, née Lockyer. He went to the Albert State School, but his education was interrupted when he was bitten by a snake, which affected his heart. He started work in a furniture factory at 5s. a week, but in 1905 went to Tasmania where he qualified as a chartered accountant.

Moving to Sydney in 1909, Heath worked for two firms of accountants and in 1912 set up on his own. At Hurstville he married Minnie Eastmure Swanton on 17 June 1911. In World War I he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, was commissioned in the 18th Battalion but, contracting enteric fever, was invalided out. In 1916 he became secretary of A. C. Saxon & Sons, timber merchants, a director in 1920 and, on the death of Saxon in 1926, general manager. Interested in business politics, Heath was president of the Sydney and Suburban Timber Merchants' Association in 1928-33; he was also a council-member of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce and of the Employers' Federation of New South Wales, a member of the Council for the Prevention and Relief of Unemployment in 1930, vice-chairman of the Metropolitan Transport Trust in 1930-31 and in 1932 chaired a Federal conference on transport. He was on the council of the Primary Producers' Advisory Council, and was an original member of the executive of the All for Australia League, but resigned in May 1931 'as a protest against machine politics'.

After the abolition of the position of agent-general by the Stevens government, Heath was appointed the New South Wales government's official representative in London on 15 February 1934; he had the task of restoring British and European confidence in the security of investments in New South Wales. He was a firm admirer of Stanley (Viscount) Bruce, with whom he established a close working relationship. Appointed C.M.G. in 1935, he regularly visited the Continent and attended congresses of the International Chamber of Commerce in Vienna (1933), Paris (1935), Berlin (1937) and Montreux (1947), where he expressed his vigorous opposition to tariffs, quotas and economic nationalism; in Berlin his views conflicted with Goering's opening address.

In 1937 Heath was appointed agent-general but resigned next year to become secretary of the Sydney and Suburban Timber Merchants' Association Ltd. He reorganized the industry which he considered 'a rabble', and established associations for different sections. Under his guidance member companies negotiated price-fixing agreements and set quotas. He was described as 'a sort of benevolent dictator' of the State timber industry. In 1955 an Industrial Commission inquiry found that these arrangements were monopolistic, returning members a higher profit margin and generally favouring large firms; it recommended voluntary reform of these objectionable features, and that the government should reintroduce price control.

Meanwhile Heath had been president of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce in 1940-42, 1944-46 and 1947-49; he was chairman of Babcock & Wilcox of Australia Pty Ltd and a director of the Union Trustee Co. of Australia Ltd, Beard Watson & Co. Ltd, Allen Taylor & Co. Ltd and of several timber companies. He was a director of the Institute of Public Affairs, New South Wales, from 1943, a trade adviser at the International Trade Organization conference at Geneva in 1947 and was appointed to the Capital Issues Board in 1951. Interested in Australian history, he and his friend Malcolm Ellis arranged for the maintenance of Governor Lachlan Macquarie's tomb on Mull. He was a member of the Australasian Pioneers, and Union clubs and of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron; he enjoyed fishing and motoring.

Heath died of myocardial infarction in hospital on 27 December 1955 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife and daughter, who inherited his estate, valued for probate at £27,240 in New South Wales and £3862 in Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1955-56, 3, p 884
  • Commerce (Sydney), 6 Sept 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Mar, 20 May 1931, 22 June 1932, 11 Jan, 9 Mar 1934, 27 Jan 1937
  • Bulletin (Sydney), 4 Jan 1956
  • DO 35/450/20254/5 (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. B. Webster, 'Heath, Albert Edward (1887–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heath-albert-edward-6624/text11409, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 September 2017.

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

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