Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Luxton, Sir Harold Daniel (1888–1957)

by David Dunstan

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

Harold Luxton, by Albert Murcott, 1954

Harold Luxton, by Albert Murcott, 1954

Sir Harold Daniel Luxton (1888-1957), businessman and lord mayor, was born on 25 June 1888 at Kangaroo Flat, Victoria, fourth son and last of eight children of Thomas Luxton, sharebroker, and his wife Sarah, née Schooling. Soon afterwards the family moved to Melbourne where from 1899 Harold distinguished himself in athletics and rowing at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School.

Upon leaving school Luxton found himself in the hardware business, his father buying McLean Bros & Rigg in 1907 and James McEwan & Co. in 1910. Luxton recalled that he was a 'man of affairs' at 19, and when his father died in 1911 he and his brother Tom had 'the full responsibility of running a big business at a time when I, at any rate, should have been playing tennis'. He also made an early marriage, to Doris Mary Lewis at St George's Church of England, Malvern, on 17 November 1909.

In February 1915 Luxton enlisted in the Australian Field Artillery as provisional lieutenant and was appointed second lieutenant when he joined the Australian Imperial Force in October; he served with the 4th Field Artillery Brigade, as lieutenant, in France. In October 1916 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, attended the Oxford School of Aeronautics and flew on bombing and spotting missions. He was shot down in August 1917, suffering a fractured skull, broken jaw and other injuries. During World War II he was Victorian director of the Empire Air Recruiting Committee.

After the war Luxton returned to the family business in Elizabeth Street. In 1919 he stood successfully for the Lonsdale Ward of the Melbourne City Council, intending to represent returned soldiers. He retained the seat until redistribution in 1939 when he represented Hoddle Ward, retiring in 1943. In 1928, when managing director of McEwans but still dark-featured and youthful in appearance, he succeeded Sir Stephen Morell as lord mayor—the youngest-ever. He was the first returned soldier so distinguished and, more remarkably, one who had not served as chairman of a committee, although he had been a member of four—licensed vehicles, finance, abattoirs and cattle markets, and public works.

Luxton declared himself in favour of more bridges over the Yarra River and of the centralization of charities in the Lord Mayor's Fund as a community chest on the American model. With three terms as mayor behind him, in 1931 he publicly regretted that the recommendations of the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission had not been implemented, or a town planning authority created. Nor was his vision of a single charity organization much further advanced. He blamed the economic Depression. Even the lady mayoress complained in 1930 that 'Debutantes are having a hard time this year. There are hardly any parties for them. People cannot afford it'. In 1932 Luxton received the standard reward for lengthy mayoral service, a knighthood.

The image of the able young community leader, 'decisive in speech and manner', carried Luxton into State parliament at a by-election in 1930 for Caulfield to join other young Nationalists such as (Sir) Wilfrid Kent Hughes, (Sir) Thomas Maltby and (Sir) Robert Menzies. He expressed a businessman's view that no solution was possible to the problem of unemployment without the restoration of profits to industry, and maintained that what the country needed was 'more millionaires'. But Luxton's impact was slight. He faced the Hogan Labor administration of 1929-32 and remained a back-bencher during the Argyle-Allan United Australia Party-Country Party coalition of 1932-35. He resigned from parliament on the eve of the 1935 election after obtaining party endorsement, explaining that years of public service had affected his health.

In the 1930s Luxton extended his affiliations as a businessman. He became a Victorian director of the Bank of New Zealand and chairman of directors of the Metropolitan Gas Co., the National Mutual Life Association of Australia Ltd (1935-53) and the Fourth Victoria Building Society. A member of the Athenaeum and the Naval and Military clubs, he was a well-known breeder of racehorses at his Dandenong property and became an enthusiastic traveller abroad. In 1933 he was one of two Australian representatives on the International Olympic Committee and attended the 1949 Rome meeting which voted to give Melbourne the 1956 Olympics. Returning from the 1950 Copenhagen meeting of the international committee he urged Melburnians to prepare themselves for the influx of visitors, complaining of a lack of hotel accommodation and sophisticated night-life. He claimed that Victoria's politicians had made a grave mistake in not extending hotel drinking-hours. 'I love Melbourne', he said, 'I have lived here all my life, but it is still deadly dull'.

Deteriorating health in the 1950s forced Luxton into semi-retirement. His place on the organizing committee for the 1956 Olympics was taken by his son Lewis, although he remained the elder statesman of the movement. At his death of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, on 24 October 1957 at The Lodge, Dandenong, he was still chairman of the family business. He was cremated. His wife, three sons and daughter were the main beneficiaries of his estate, valued for probate at £98,610. A portrait by W. B. McInnes is at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Hardware and Machinery, 1 Sept 1910, p 293
  • Punch (Melbourne), 30 Oct 1919
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 Oct 1928, 7 July 1943, 29 Aug 1958
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Nov 1928, 10 Oct 1930, 29 Aug 1931, 25 Aug 1950, 22 July 1954, 25 Oct 1957
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 29 Nov 1928
  • Argus (Melbourne), 29 Jan 1935, 13 Sept 1950
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 25 Aug 1950, 25 Oct 1957
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Oct 1957.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Luxton, Sir Harold Daniel (1888–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/luxton-sir-harold-daniel-7264/text12587, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 13 December 2018.

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

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