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Lamb, John (1885–1974)

by Nancy Cushing

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Lamb (1885-1974), businessman, was born on 22 August 1885 at Arbroath, Forfarshire, Scotland, son of John Lamb, railway stoker, and his wife Jane, née Cameron. Trained as a tailor's cutter, young John emigrated to Australia in 1911. He worked at Peapes & Co. Ltd, tailors and shirtmakers, in George Street, Sydney, before settling at Newcastle. On Christmas Day 1915 he married with Presbyterian forms Adelaide Crawford, daughter of a master tailor, at her mother's home at Boolaroo. Lamb joined T. A. Braye, a solicitor, as a partner in Elliott & Cowman, a Newcastle firm of tailors and mercers founded by the Lasker brothers in 1887. The business was promoted as 'The House that Value built' and was expanded to include a second shop in 1917. By 1920 the company had become Elliotts Ltd, menswear outfitters. An early form of consumer credit was available through the Workers Cash Order & Finance Co. Ltd which operated out of the main store.

Success in these ventures permitted investment in broadcasting. In 1947 Lamb bought Newcastle radio station 2KO from (Sir) Allen Fairhall. Having purchased Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Ltd for £165,000 from John Fairfax & Sons Pty Ltd in 1954, he took over as director of the ailing company. Under the Lambs' management 'it soon became a goldmine'. The Lamb family secured Newcastle's commercial television licence in 1960, two years before their station NBN-3 began broadcasting. After a court battle was fought to gain rights to broadcast (Sir Frank) Packer and Fairfax programmes, substantial shareholdings in Newcastle Broadcasting & Television Corporation Ltd were sold to Consolidated Press Ltd and News Ltd in August 1963.

Ability and astute investments enabled John Lamb to acquire other broadcasting interests in Adelaide, at Kempsey, New South Wales, and at Port Macquarie through his family company, Broadcast Investments Pty Ltd. He did not flaunt his wealth and influence, travelling by bus to work and by train to Sydney for 2UE board-meetings. Lamb was modest and quiet about his achievements, and generous in sharing the benefits they conferred. Few of his 'employees could understand a word of his thick Scottish burr'; his 'largely unintelligible speech' at the annual 2KO Christmas party was a cause of merriment.

Lamb attended St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Cooks Hill. He was an active member of the Rotary Club of Newcastle, the Masonic and the Newcastle City Bowling clubs; a bowling green was named after him. A rare photograph of Lamb in public shows him as a small, frail figure, bowling with his three admiring sons. He was a long-time resident of the Lake Macquarie suburb of Speers Point, but moved to Bar Beach, Newcastle, following the death of his wife in 1953. There he enjoyed a daily swim in the ocean until 1973. Lamb died on 16 January 1974 at Lingard Hospital, Merewether, and was buried in Sandgate cemetery. He was survived by his three sons: John (Jack) and Hugh worked in Elliotts until the business was sold in 1978; Stewart moved to Sydney to look after their interests in 2UE.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 18 Jan 1974, 15 Mar 1986
  • Newcastle Sun, 3 July 1978
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 7 Oct 1979
  • Good Weekend, 28 Dec 1991.

Citation details

Nancy Cushing, 'Lamb, John (1885–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lamb-john-10773/text19103, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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