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Leckie, John William (Jack) (1872–1947)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

John William Leckie (1872-1947), by unknown photographer

John William Leckie (1872-1947), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 006594

John William Leckie (1872-1947), manufacturer and politician, was born on 14 October 1872 at Alexandra, Victoria, son of James Leckie, Scottish-born butcher, and his wife Mary, née Reilly, from County Cork, Ireland. Educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, in 1885-90, he captained the football team and was twice champion athlete; in 1917-18 he was president of the Old Scotch Collegians' Club. From 17 Jack Leckie played football for Fitzroy as a rugged half-back and in 1895 was a member of their first premiership side. He studied medicine for two years at the University of Melbourne, but quarrelled with his father; after being 'cut off without a shilling' he went to Western Australia where he dug for gold at Kalgoorlie and continued his football career with Fremantle. After his father's death in 1897 Leckie returned to Alexandra to run the family farm and store. On 7 April 1898 at St Matthew's Anglican Church, Prahran, Melbourne, he married May Beatrix Johnston (d.1910). He moved to Melbourne in 1912 and co-founded the firm of Leckie & Gray, lithographic printers and canister manufacturers.

Leckie was a member of the Alexandra Shire Council in 1900-11 and president in 1904-05. In 1906, as an Anti-Socialist Protectionist, he unsuccessfully contested the Federal seat of Mernda against Robert Harper. He became known as a hard-working and very effective Liberal Party organizer but was unable to secure Liberal endorsement for a Federal seat. Instead, in December 1913, having been encouraged to stand by William Watt, he won a by-election for the Legislative Assembly seat of Benambra. Leckie's early political views reflected his rural background: 'every pound spent in developing the country was worth two to the state, every pound spent on city improvements was worth only one'. In 1916 he joined (Sir) John Bowser's Economy Party. He married Hattie Martha Knight at Hawthorn with Anglican rites on 4 April 1917.

World War I drew Leckie into Federal politics. Rejected for military service on medical grounds, he became chairman of the State Recruiting Committee in 1917 and that year won Indi as a 'Win the War' Nationalist. His strong support for the war effort co-existed with his pronounced independent streak; he disagreed with Sir William Irvine over the value of the second conscription campaign, perceiving a detrimental effect on recruitment, and criticized Prime Minister Billy Hughes's failure to fulfil his pledge to quit after the defeat of the 1917 referendum.

In December 1919 Leckie lost Indi to a Victorian Farmers' Union candidate and after failing to win the State seat of Upper Goulburn in 1921 he devoted himself to the cause of manufacturing. An executive member of the Industries Protection League and of the Chamber of Manufactures, he served as treasurer of the latter body. He was also a member of the Victorian Apprenticeship Commission. In 1934 he campaigned as a United Australia Party member and a representative of secondary industry to win a Senate seat.

During his first Senate term Leckie was occasionally sharply critical of his own governing party. In October 1940 he became minister assisting the ministers for trade and customs and labour and national service in the government of (Sir) Robert Menzies, whom his eldest daughter Pattie Maie had married in 1920. He was the first minister for aircraft production in June-October 1941 and minister assisting the minister for munitions between June and August. A loyal supporter of Menzies, Leckie became deputy opposition leader in the Senate on Menzies' return to party leadership in 1943. He was defeated in the September 1946 elections, but remained a senator until June 1947.

Leckie was a hard-hitting, honest and practical politician whose speeches were often laced with humour. His principal recreation was bushwalking. He died of cancer at his Hawthorn home on 25 September 1947, only three months after leaving parliament, and was cremated after a state funeral. He was survived by his wife and their son and by three daughters of his first marriage. His son Roland John, a member of the Legislative Assembly in 1950-52, became Victorian crown prosecutor and a judge of the County Court.

Hattie Martha Leckie (1886-1965) was born on 3 January 1886 at St Kilda, Melbourne, second daughter of Archibald Knight, merchant, and his wife Laura, née Mundy. Educated at a private school, she worked as a journalist, known professionally as Hattie Knight, in Sydney and Melbourne. In 1922 she joined the newly launched Melbourne Sun News-Pictorial as special feature writer and art critic. She later broadcast for the Australian Broadcasting Commission on various topics, including women's issues and current affairs, and founded the A.B.C. Women's Association. In 1931 a collection of her clearly written essays, described by Nettie Palmer as 'a plea for individualism in the arts and in society', was published as Candour and Cant. She died at Cheltenham on 21 June 1965.

Select Bibliography

  • All About Books, 15 June 1931
  • Scotch Collegian, Nov 1947
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1917-18, p 3070
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 Dec 1913, 30, 31 Oct 1917, 4 Aug 1934, 26 Sept 1947
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1914
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Leckie, John William (Jack) (1872–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/leckie-john-william-jack-7141/text12325, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 August 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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