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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Laurie, Edward Andrew (Ted) (1912–1989)

by Stuart Macintyre

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Edward Andrew Hevingham Laurie (1912-1989), barrister and communist, was born on 31 August 1912 at Hampton, Melbourne, third of five children of Victorian-born William Spalding Laurie, medical practitioner, and his New Zealand-born wife Minnie Mabel Monica, née Root.  Professor Henry Laurie [q.v.10] was his grandfather.  Ted grew up in Camberwell, where his father had a thriving practice, and was educated at Scotch College, serving as school captain (1930) and excelling at cricket and football.  At the University of Melbourne (LL.B, 1935, LL.M, 1944) he resided at Ormond College, studied classics and law, and won Blues in cricket and rugby.

After completing articles Laurie worked with Makower, McBeath & Co. Pty Ltd, wholesale importers, and in 1936 was transferred to their Brisbane office.  Released from the constraints of the Melbourne milieu, his social conscience drew him into political activism.  In 1939 he joined the Communist Party of Australia.  Returning to Melbourne, he took a job in the law firm Slater  & Gordon, and became an active member of the Federated Clerks’ Union.

From March 1941 Laurie served in the Militia with anti-aircraft batteries in Victoria, and on 1 June 1942 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.  Promoted to sergeant the following month, he embarked for Milne Bay, Papua, in August and was attached to anti-aircraft units.  On 30 March 1943 he was commissioned as a lieutenant.  Granted leave from the army, he stood for the party against (Sir) Robert Menzies for the Federal seat of Kooyong in 1943, and gained 8 per cent of the primary vote (he contested the seat again in 1946 and 1951, with declining support).  In November 1944 his AIF appointment was terminated and he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

After a period in the research bureau of the Queensland Trades and Labour Council, Laurie returned to Melbourne and signed the Victorian Bar Roll on 6 June 1946.  While still a novice, he appeared in 1949-50 before Sir Charles Lowe’s royal commission into the Communist Party in Victoria, with E. F. Hill, F. W. Paterson and M. N. Julius, and in 1950-51 before the High Court of Australia, in the successful challenge to Menzies’ legislation to ban the party.  He established a busy practice in industrial and common law, although his career was hampered by his politics.  His application to take silk in 1962 was blocked by Sir Edmund Herring, but on 16 November 1965 he became the second Australian communist to be appointed QC.

Within the Communist Party, on the other hand, Laurie was marginalised for his lack of proletarian hardness.  Undoubtedly he retained marks of his origins.  Of medium height (5 ft 10 ins, 178 cm), barrel-chested and vigorous, he was fair-haired and blue-eyed, modest and well-spoken, emotionally restrained and strongly principled.  With his wife, Lesley Maie, née Mackay (known as Bonnie or Bon), whom he had married on 18 August 1944 at the district registrar’s office, Chatswood, Sydney, he was involved in most areas of communist activity.  He ran for the Senate in 1949 and for the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of Rippon Lea in 1955.  Yet while publicly loyal, he privately criticised the party’s lack of democracy.  Bon left it in 1956; he stayed until 1965.

Remaining active in left-wing causes, Laurie defended conscientious objectors to service in Vietnam and supported early Aboriginal land rights claims.  He retired in 1982.  Saddened by Bon’s suicide in 1977 and troubled with ill health, including the loss of a leg to diabetes, Ted Laurie drowned on 29 October 1989 in the swimming pool of his North Carlton home.  He was cremated.  His two sons and daughter survived him.  Among Melbourne’s establishment he was perhaps the most celebrated example of the schoolboy hero who took a wrong turn.  He took it with his eyes open and without regret.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Cook, Red Barrister, 1994
  • Victorian Bar News, no 72, 1990, p 8
  • A6119, item 377 (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Stuart Macintyre, 'Laurie, Edward Andrew (Ted) (1912–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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