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McLarty, Sir Duncan Ross (1891–1962)

by Lenore Layman

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

Duncan Ross McLarty (1891-1962), by unknown photographer

Duncan Ross McLarty (1891-1962), by unknown photographer

State Library of Western Australia

Sir Duncan Ross McLarty (1891-1962), pastoralist and premier, was born on 17 March 1891 at Pinjarra, Western Australia, youngest of seven children of Edward McLarty, a Western Australian-born farmer and grazier who became a member of the Legislative Council, and his wife Mary Jane, née Campbell. Educated at Pinjarra State School and the High School, Perth, Ross worked on his father's property. On 12 January 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He fought on the Western Front (from November 1916) and won the Military Medal in January 1918. Commissioned in May, he was promoted lieutenant in August and wounded in action that month. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Perth on 22 August 1919.

After the war McLarty returned to farming. At St John's Anglican Church, Pinjarra, on 25 October 1922 he married Violet Olive Margaret Herron. He served (from 1925) as a justice of the peace and belonged to the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' (and Airmen's) Imperial League of Australia. As a Nationalist candidate, he campaigned on the slogan, 'A Practical Farmer for a Farming Electorate', and won the Legislative Assembly seat of Murray-Wellington in 1930. In parliament, he focused on rural issues. During World War II he commanded the 4th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps. When (Sir) Ross McDonald resigned as leader of the Liberal Party and the Opposition in December 1946 to make way for a rural leader, McLarty succeeded him. On 1 April 1947, following a surprise election victory, he became premier, heading a coalition of the Liberal Party and the Country and Democratic League.

As premier McLarty held various portfolios: he was treasurer (until 23 February 1953), and minister for housing (until 5 January 1948), forests (until 5 January 1948, and from 7 October 1949 to 24 October 1950) and the North-West (until 24 October 1950, and from 17 January 1952 to 23 February 1953). McDonald—even in his retirement from politics—remained McLarty's most influential adviser, but McLarty also drew on the knowledge of senior public servants, chiefly under-treasurer (Sir) Alexander Reid and Ralph Doig, under-secretary to the Premier's Department. During his six-year premiership three million acres (1,214,070 ha) were opened for farming, the Kwinana industrial area was established, housing shortages were alleviated, and transport and power supplies were improved. Troubled by postwar shortages, the government delayed the lifting of wartime controls. McLarty was criticized by some younger Liberals for being too cautious, and relations between his government and the party organization often proved difficult. Yet he strengthened the cohesion of his administration by his patience and genial manner, and got on well with the deputy-premier Arthur Watts. Knighted in January 1953, he lost the elections one month later, but continued to lead the Opposition.

McLarty travelled home to Pinjarra most weekends, served as chairman of the Murray District Hospital Board and held a number of pastoral investments, including a controlling interest in Liveringa station, near Derby. Violet McLarty was also active in electorate and community affairs as State president (1953-55) of the Country Women's Association, governor of Fairbridge Farm School and commissioner (1953-58) of the Western Australian branch of the Girl Guides' Association. Sir Ross resigned as leader of the Opposition in March 1957 and from parliament (because of ill health) in May 1962. Survived by his wife and three sons, he died on 22 December 1962 at Pinjarra and was buried in the local cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £65,411.

Select Bibliography

  • K. West, Power in the Liberal Party (Melb, 1965)
  • West Australian, 13 Feb 1957, 19 May, 24 Dec 1962
  • M. McLarty, Sir Duncan Ross McLarty, K.B.E., M.M. (State Library of Western Australia)
  • McLarty family papers, 1887-1969 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Sir Ross McLarty, political ephemera (PR3597/1-10, State Library of Western Australia)
  • R. Jamieson, interviews with R. Doig (transcript, 1984-86, State Library of Western Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Lenore Layman, 'McLarty, Sir Duncan Ross (1891–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mclarty-sir-duncan-ross-11004/text19569, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 September 2014.

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

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