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Pollard, Reginald Thomas (1894–1981)

by Barry O. Jones

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

Reginald Thomas Pollard (1894-1981), soldier, farmer and politician, was born on 30 October 1894 at Castlemaine, Victoria, eldest child of Victorian-born parents Thomas Pollard, railway signalman, and his wife Esther Ann Pollard, née Blinkhorn. Educated at Woodend State and West Melbourne Technical schools and the Working Men’s College, Melbourne, Reg first worked with a travelling chaff-cutter and straw press on the Werribee plains, and in 1912-15 as a fitter for R. Hornsby & Sons, engineers, Melbourne.

Having served for three years in the Militia, Pollard enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 6 July 1915. In October he embarked for Egypt, where he joined the 6th Battalion, and next April was transferred to France. He was promoted to sergeant in September 1916 and to lieutenant in March 1918. Severely wounded in the chest and abdomen in June, he returned to Australia, where his service ended in January 1919. A soldier settler, he became a dairy-farmer at Woodend. On 18 May 1922 at Scots Church, Melbourne, he married Elsie Bowman Hodges, a schoolteacher.

Pollard was not politically active and recalled later that in 1924 ‘I was ploughing one day and some blokes I knew came up and said that the local member [Nationalist Allan Cameron] had died and that I ought to give it a go’. At the subsequent by-election he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Dalhousie for the Australian Labor Party and retained it, re-named Bulla and Dalhousie in 1927, until April 1932. He served in E. J. Hogan’s [q.v.9] government as minister without portfolio, in effect as assistant-minister of agriculture (1929-32); he was also given responsibility for unemployment. The Labor Party split over policies for tackling the Depression and he lost his seat at the 1932 election.

After unsuccessfully contesting the Federal seat of Gippsland (1934) and the State seat of Castlemaine and Kyneton (1935), Pollard was elected to the House of Representatives in October 1937 as the member for Ballaarat. With Frank Forde and H. V. Evatt, in 1945 he visited San Francisco as a delegate to the United Nations Conference on International Organization (UNCIO), which established the framework for the United Nations. In 1946 and 1947 he supported Prime Minister Ben Chifley in his fight for Australian ratification of the Bretton Woods agreement.

Minister for commerce and agriculture (1946-49), Pollard was acting-minister for postwar reconstruction in June-August 1947 and November 1947-February 1948. He was the architect of the wheat stabilisation plan and took part in early negotiations for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. In 1949 he won the new seat of Lalor and retained it at the following six elections. After Chifley’s death in 1951 he declined to contest the deputy-leadership (won by Arthur Calwell), despite significant support. An Evatt loyalist, that year he backed the Opposition leader’s campaign to defeat Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies’ 1951 referendum seeking to ban the Communist Party of Australia. He was a member (1956-59) of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Review.

When Evatt retired in 1960, Pollard and Calwell, both Victorians and of comparable age, contested the leadership. Calwell won, by 42 votes to 30, but most of the left and also Gough Whitlam supported Pollard.

John Hyde’s book Dry (2002) identified only two Labor politicians who indicated some understanding of and sympathy for C. R. (Bert) Kelly’s long campaign against tariffs. Gough Whitlam was one, Reg Pollard the other.

An opponent of conscription, at the 1966 election, fought largely on the issue of the Vietnam War, Pollard was defeated unexpectedly after a swing in Lalor of 8.2 per cent against the ALP; there were unusually high informal and ‘donkey’ votes. The Liberal candidate, Mervyn Lee, secured only 29.8 per cent of the primary vote to Pollard’s 46.2 per cent.

Pollard suffered from insomnia, which gave him the time to read widely. A courageous, aggressive and powerful speaker, at 83 he electrified an audience at Old Customs House, Melbourne, with his fervour. He was pugnacious, irrepressible and tough in debates. Ejected from the House several times, he was very often threatened with suspension. In 1955, at the time of the Labor split, he had to be restrained from fighting on the floor of the House with J. M. (Jack) Mullens, who had broken with the ALP. Involved in a few rowdy scenes, he showed discrimination in his choice of enemies.

In retirement Pollard lived at Woodend. Survived by one of two sons, he died on 24 August 1981 at Gisborne and was buried with Uniting Church forms in Woodend cemetery. His wife had predeceased him. Tributes in parliament after his death were unusually warm, praising his energy, good humour, kindness and integrity.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Faulkner and S. Macintyre (eds), True Believers (2001)
  • J. Hyde, Dry: In Defence of Economic Freedom (2002)
  • Labor Star, Sept 1979, p 15
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 25 Aug 1981, p 681
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 July 1963, p 12
  • Canberra Times, 26 Aug 1981, p 13
  • B2455, item Pollard Reginald Thomas (National Archives of Australia)
  • personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Barry O. Jones, 'Pollard, Reginald Thomas (1894–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pollard-reginald-thomas-15473/text26687, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 August 2017.

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

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