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Simpson, Hugh Leslie (1894–1968)

by Rosalind Smallwood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Hugh Leslie Simpson (1894-1968), farmer and soldier-settlement administrator, was born on 3 October 1894 at Birchip, Victoria, son of Albert Edward Simpson (d.1905), bookseller, and his wife Ellen, née Campbell, both Victorian born. Educated at Birchip State, Ballarat Agricultural High and Stawell High schools, Les worked on the family farm. On 30 June 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served on the Western Front with the 5th Battalion from March 1916 and was severely wounded in August 1918. Lieutenant Simpson's A.I.F. appointment terminated in Victoria on 21 August 1919.

He resumed farming, at Birchip and Berriwillock. On 1 March 1924 at All Saints Church, St Kilda, he married Barbara Catherine Jane Catto, a nurse. As chief president of the Victorian Wheatgrowers' Association (1934-35) and the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation (1935-36), he campaigned for farmers to control the marketing of their product. Simpson joined the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, served as a Wycheproof shire councillor (1932-46), led the United Country Party as chief president (1938-40 and 1944) and stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly seat of Walhalla in 1943.

In 1935-46 Simpson was a member (chairman 1941-46) of the Victorian Farmers' Debts Adjustment Board. During World War II he was an adviser (1942-44) to the Federal prices commissioner (Sir) Douglas Copland and (in 1944-46) was one of the Federal treasurer J. B. Chifley's delegates for the control of land sales. On 13 February 1946 John Cain's State Labor government appointed him chairman of the new Soldier Settlement Commission.

A wily political operator, Simpson persuaded the government to allow the S.S.C. to engage and dismiss its staff independently of the Public Service Board. The commission chose good quality land and capable farmers. Property valuations were written down and generous loan-repayment terms were established—1 per cent of capital and 2 per cent interest over 55 years. Simpson insisted that these measures were vital to allow soldier settlers to pay their debts and to enable them to survive the inevitable tough periods. At the same time, the S.S.C. controlled farmers' borrowings to prevent them from over-extending themselves. One Robinvale settler, expressing a general view, said that the commission 'stopped us going bust'.

Simpson was determined that the social and economic disaster of soldier settlement in Victoria after World War I should never be repeated, for the sake of taxpayers as well as ex-servicemen. Largely due to his shrewd planning and the S.S.C.'s tight administration, the Victorian scheme that followed World War II succeeded. Some six thousand ex-servicemen were placed on farms; 96 per cent of them eventually owned their properties.

A staunch member of the Presbyterian Church, Simpson believed in hard work and thrift, and in the individual's responsibility to the community. In 1963, the year of his retirement, he was appointed C.B.E. A widower, he died on 7 June 1968 in his home at Hampton, Melbourne, and was cremated. His two daughters and three sons survived him. A township near Cobden was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Smallwood, Hard to Go Bung (Melb, 1992), and for sources
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosalind Smallwood, 'Simpson, Hugh Leslie (1894–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simpson-hugh-leslie-11697/text20905, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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