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Hytten, Torleiv (1890–1980)

by R. P. Davis

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

Torleiv Hytten (1890-1980), professor of economics and university vice-chancellor, was born on 17 February 1890 at Drammen, Norway, son of Oscar Emil Hytten, a master shoemaker, later bankrupted, and his wife Marie Charlotte, née Knudsen. The eldest of nine surviving children, Torleiv showed ability at school at Tönsberg, but poverty denied him further education in his youth. In 1910 he emigrated to New South Wales. There, among other jobs, he laboured on land reclamation at Newcastle and with a ship chandler in Sydney, before being employed as a truck driver and in other occupations at Broken Hill from 1913 to 1918. An active trade unionist, 'Tom' read the writings of Karl Marx until he was weaned away by a visiting Workers' Education Association lecturer, Herbert Heaton. With a physique too light for heavy manual work, Hytten turned to journalism and contributed to several newspapers during his time at Broken Hill. In 1918 he 'drifted' to mining towns on the west coast of Tasmania where he wrote for the Zeehan and Dundas Herald. Heaton encouraged him to become secretary of the W.E.A. in Hobart. Having matriculated in 1920, Hytten studied at the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1922; M.A., 1929) while working as a journalist on the Labor World and the News. At Burnie on 11 April 1922 he married Margaret Frances Gill Compton with Presbyterian forms. He was naturalized in the following year.

After a brief experience of journalism in South Australia, in 1926 Hytten was appointed to a temporary lectureship in economics at the University of Tasmania. He associated with a brilliant group of Tasmanian economists which included (Sir) Douglas Copland, James Brigden, L. F. Giblin and Heaton. Giblin, in particular, was an important influence. In 1929 Hytten obtained a master's degree with first-class honours for his thesis on transport economics, and succeeded Brigden as professor of economics. Hytten was an economic adviser (1929-35) to the Tasmanian government and chairman (1932) of the State Employment Council. He accompanied S. M. (Viscount) Bruce to the League of Nations in 1935. That year he was appointed economic adviser to the Bank of New South Wales; based in Sydney, he regarded his fourteen-year association with the bank as 'the happiest of his life' and belonged (1938-50) to Round Table. Considering himself a pragmatist, Hytten believed that the cost-cutting Premiers' Plan (1931) was the only answer to the Depression, and kept Keynesian views at arm's length. In the late 1940s he worked against J. B. Chifley's bank nationalization policy.

In 1949-57 Hytten was the first, full-time vice-chancellor of the University of Tasmania. An effective fund-raiser, he was largely responsible for establishing a residence (later named Hytten Hall) for men on the new campus at Sandy Bay. His term coincided with a revolt of Tasmanian academics against low salaries and relatively poor conditions. According to his own account, Hytten's business training in quick decision-making was unpopular with the professoriate. In 1955 a royal commission into the university concluded that the situation required 'a more forceful approach' than Hytten's, and that the vice-chancellor 'preferred to cleave to the Council and to the Chancellor' against the professorial board, instead of taking an independent line. Many blamed Hytten for the summary dismissal in 1956 of Professor Sydney Sparkes Orr who was considered to have been the chief instigator of the commission. Hytten, however, maintained that he had been forced by the council, against his better judgement, to remove Orr for sexual impropriety. The case involved principles of natural justice and matters of academic tenure. It dragged on for ten years and led to a national boycott of the university's chair of philosophy.

In addition to producing unsigned government reports, Hytten published in economic and political journals, among them the Economic Record and Australian Quarterly. He was a board-member (1954-59) of the Commonwealth Bank, an adviser to State and Federal governments, and served on numerous public committees. A foundation member and chairman (1933-39, 1946-47) of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand, he was chairman (1956) of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee. Hytten combined 'shrewd observation and the gift of silence'. While sceptical of Christian dogma, he believed in Christian principles. He was appointed C.M.G. (1953), a knight (1951) of the Order of St Olav (Norway) and a chevalier (1957) of the Order of the Crown (Belgium). Following his retirement in 1957, he moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, to be close to his son. Hytten died there on 2 January 1980, survived by his wife and son, the other son having died in infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Foster, High Hopes (Melb, 1986)
  • R. P. Davis, Open to Talent (Hob, 1990)
  • Royal Commission on University of Tasmania, Report, Parliamentary Papers (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1955 (18), p 56
  • People (Sydney), 29 July 1953
  • Mercury (Hobart), 4 Jan 1980
  • T. Hytten, To Australia—With Thanks (manuscript, 1971, University of Tasmanian Archives).

Citation details

R. P. Davis, 'Hytten, Torleiv (1890–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hytten-torleiv-10586/text18805, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 November 2018.

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

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