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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hillgrove, Arthur Duncan (1909–1979)

by J. E. Senyard

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

Arthur Duncan Hillgrove (1909-1979), contractor, was born on 4 September 1909 at Birchip, Victoria, fourth son of Victorian-born parents Donald Hillgrove (d.1920), farmer, and his wife Clara Jane, née Bolden. Educated at Birchip Higher Elementary School, Arthur obtained his Intermediate certificate, but left in 1923 to work as a farm labourer. Five years later he bought a wheat pickler and a truck to handle seed wheat for local farmers; at the same time he acquired a team of horses and successfully tendered for road works with the Shire of Birchip. By the 1940s Hillgrove was a major figure in the district. In 1943 he was elected to the shire council. He was president of the local football club and, for seven years, of the Tyrell Football League. On 6 August 1948 he married Verna Louisa Hill at Dandenong with Methodist forms.

After World War II Hillgrove's business interests grew considerably. 'A.D.', as he was commonly known, embraced technological innovation with enthusiasm. In 1944 he moved into contract shearing with his own team and equipment. Having purchased the latest heavy earth-moving plant in 1948, he serviced local needs by clearing and levelling land and sinking dams; he then successfully tendered for work throughout the State. Among his major projects were drainage contracts for the Geelong Water Trust and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, land development at Horsham and Kerang, sewerage works at Shepparton and Robinvale, reservoirs at Hopetoun, Allansford and Churchill, and road by-passes on the Hume and Princes highways. In 1958 he formed A. D. Hillgrove (Constructions) Pty Ltd (from 1965 Transvic Contractors Pty Ltd), with an office in Melbourne. Other enterprises included tin-mining in western New South Wales in 1958 and drilling for water in the late 1960s.

Hillgrove became the largest individual employer in the Birchip area. He gathered a loyal workforce and, from his base, conducted an ever-widening commercial empire. In 1950 his wheat pickling business became Hillgrove Grading Service; by the 1970s it operated fifteen machines in northern Victoria and the Riverina. He bought and developed land in many parts of the State and in the 1950s built up a large holding in the Shire of Birchip, including his father's original selection. In 1950 'A.D.' had entered into a partnership in a hardware store in Birchip, in 1960 he built a large workshop to maintain his machinery and in 1967 he opened a tyre service. He established a branch of J. I. Case (Aust.) Pty Ltd in 1964 and began assembling tractors and auto-headers from imported parts. Branches were opened in other Victorian country towns.

Four times shire president, a government nominee on the Mallee Regional Committee and a foundation member of the Port of Portland advisory committee, Hillgrove was named Birchip's citizen of the year in 1969 and appointed A.M. in 1977. He died of a coronary occlusion on 30 June 1979 at his Birchip home and was buried in the local cemetery; his wife, son and daughter survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at $1,074,161.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Senyard, Birchip (Birchip, Vic, 1970)
  • Warracknabeal Herald, 6 July 1979
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

J. E. Senyard, 'Hillgrove, Arthur Duncan (1909–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 12 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 14

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