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Reid, Sir George Oswald (1903–1993)

by B. J. Costar

This article was published online in 2017

Sir George Oswald Reid (1903–1993), lawyer and politician, was born on 22 July 1903 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, fifth child of Victorian-born parents George Watson Reid, inspector of railway works, and his wife Lillias Margaret, née Easton. He was educated at Camberwell Grammar School and, from 1917 to 1920, Scotch College, Melbourne. While George was no sportsman, at Scotch he was a debater, a founding member of the literary club, and a prefect. He won a non-resident exhibition for Ormond College and a senior State scholarship to the University of Melbourne (LLB, 1924), where he studied arts subjects as well as law. Excelling in languages, he gained honours in English and Latin and won the W. T. Mollison scholarship in Italian (1923).

After serving his articles at the firm Eggleston & Eggleston, Reid was admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 3 May 1926 and joined Cleverdon & Hayes. He worked at the Bar from 1929 to 1937, when he bought out Hayes, and the firm was renamed Cleverdon & Reid. On 12 August 1930 he married Beatrix Waring McCay, a barrister, at St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, East Melbourne. In 1925 Bix, daughter of the lawyer and politician Sir James McCay, had been the second woman to practise at the Victorian Bar. Retiring after her marriage, she became vice-president of the Legal Women’s Association of Victoria and later returned to the law as a special magistrate attached to the Children’s Courts. By the early 1930s Reid had become politically active: he served on the committee of the conservative Constitutional Club, was a foundation member of (Sir) Robert Menzies’ Young Nationalist Organisation, and was an unsuccessful United Australia Party candidate at the 1934 by-election for Nunawading in the Legislative Assembly.

On 26 March 1940 Reid was commissioned as a flying officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. For much of World War II he was engaged on administrative and personnel duties at RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne. As officer-in-charge of the Casualty Section, in late 1944 he was sent to the United States of America and Britain to study plans for the repatriation of RAAF prisoners of war from the European theatre, and to obtain information that would assist similar planning in the South-West Pacific Area. Following cessation of hostilities, he travelled around the SWPA and recommended that the RAAF establish an organisation to locate missing aircrew while Allied forces remained in occupied areas. He was regarded as ‘an extremely sound, conscientious, industrious, and loyal officer’ (NAA A9300) with outstanding organisational skills, and he rose to the rank of temporary wing commander. His appointment terminated on 18 June 1946.

In November 1947 Reid entered the Victorian Legislative Assembly, winning the seat of Box Hill for the Liberal Party of Australia. A convert from Presbyterianism, he later claimed he was the only Catholic in the party. He attracted controversy in 1951 when he successfully made representations to the Federal immigration minister, Harold Holt, to liberalise the ban on Japanese brides of Australian servicemen entering the country. Nobuko ‘Cherry’ Parker was the first to arrive, in July 1952. Her husband, Gordon, was the son of two of Reid’s constituents.

Reid lost his seat in the Australian Labor Party’s landslide win in 1952, but regained it three years later. He was among those members who had removed Tom Hollway as the leader of the Liberal and Country Party in 1951 and expelled him from the party in 1952. On 7 June 1955 Reid was included in Sir Henry Bolte’s first ministry and he served in cabinet continuously until 1973. He held the portfolios of labour and industry and electrical undertakings (1956–65), fuel and power (1965–67), and immigration (1967–70), before his appointment as attorney-general (1967–73). Although he was considered conservative rather than law-reforming in this latter role, he had carriage of the legislation which established the office of ombudsman in 1973. In retirement he was disappointed not to be appointed to the post. He had been a loyal supporter of Bolte, but was uncomfortable with the progressive liberalism of his successor, (Sir) Rupert Hamer. In 1972 he announced that he would not contest the 1973 election.

‘Gentleman George’ was religiously devout and ‘very much of the old school; very conservative in outlook’ (Age 1993, 22; Roberts 1993, 6). He was appointed QC in 1971 and was knighted a year later. After Bix’s death in 1972, Sir George married Dorothy Maitland Ruttledge, former teacher, on 3 July 1973 at the Anglican Church of St Stephen, Warrandyte. In retirement he was active in a range of community groups: he chaired the Music for the People committee (from 1964), the Middle Yarra Advisory Council (1975–82), and the C. J. Dennis Centenary committee (1976–77). Survived by his wife and the daughter from his first marriage, he died on 18 February 1993 at Macleod. Following a State funeral at St Francis Xavier Church, Box Hill, he was buried in the Warrandyte cemetery.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne). ‘Tributes for Bolte Cabinet Member.’ 23 February 1993, 22
  • Herald-Sun (Melbourne). ‘Lib a Stayer in Whirlpool of Politics.’ 20 February 1993, 8
  • National Archives of Australia. A705, 166/1/84
  • National Archives of Australia. A705, 182/1/396
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, Reid G. O.
  • Reid, George Oswald. Student Record Card. University of Melbourne, Student Administration, 1995.0071. University of Melbourne Archives
  • Reid, G. O., and Joan Katherine Webster. In and About Parliament: The Life and Speeches of the Hon. Sir George Reid, Q.C., Victorian Parliamentary Representative 19471973 and Afterthoughts 19811. Melbourne: privately published, 1991
  • Roberts, Jo-Anne. ‘Former State Liberal MP Dies, Aged 89.’ Progress Press, 24 February 1993, 6
  • Victoria. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 9 March 1993, 3–9

Additional Resources

Citation details

B. J. Costar, 'Reid, Sir George Oswald (1903–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reid-sir-george-oswald-18537/text30191, published online 2017, accessed online 20 April 2018.

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