This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002
Herbert Stanley Skipper (1880-1962), solicitor and promoter of libraries, was born on 8 February 1880 in Adelaide, eldest of four children of Spencer John Skipper, a South Australian-born journalist, and his wife Emma Frances, née Cox, who came from England. John Skipper was his grandfather. Stanley was educated at Pulteney Street School, the Collegiate School of St Peter, and the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1901) where he won three Stow prizes and the Stow medal. Admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 25 November 1901, he practised in Port Adelaide. On 28 September 1910 at St Clement's Church of England, Mosman, Sydney, he married Elizabeth Kathleen Beach Beach.
Appointed a lieutenant in the Militia on 1 January 1916, Skipper acted as a military prosecutor before joining the Australian Imperial Force as a private on 10 September 1917. He regained his commission on 14 August 1918 and performed staff duties in Britain and France after the Armistice. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Adelaide on 30 December 1919. He served in the Militia as a legal officer from 1923 to 1940 and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Clubbable and public spirited, Skipper was a lifelong supporter and president (1922-25) of the Port Adelaide Football Club. He was also president of the local Commonwealth Club (1923-26) and of the Naval and Military Club (1944-46), and an active member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. In 1948 he was elected to the Adelaide Club. Passionately interested in libraries, he was president (1911-12) of the Port Adelaide Institute. After moving to the city, he joined the North Adelaide Institute. In 1910 he had helped to form the Institutes Association of South Australia; he served on its council (1910-62) and as its president (1943-45). He sat on the board of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia (1934-39) and on the Libraries Board of South Australia (1940-62).
In their 1935 report Ralph Munn and Ernest Pitt had described Australia's institute libraries as 'cemeteries of old and forgotten books'. They declared that a library service available only to subscribers was 'fundamentally wrong' and estimated that free libraries would reach at least 40 per cent of the population compared with the 5 per cent who used the institutes. (Sir) Archibald Grenfell Price's ensuing report (1937) broadly endorsed the Munn-Pitt recommendations for South Australia, but successive governments and a rearguard action by the Institutes Association preserved the status quo. From that quarter only Skipper saw the need for reform.
Although the Free Library Movement achieved its aims in New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria in the 1940s, it failed in South Australia. From 1953 a frustrated Skipper mounted almost a one-man crusade. It culminated in 1955 when he persuaded Premier (Sir) Thomas Playford to take the State's libraries out of 'the hillbilly category' by supporting the Libraries (Subsidies) bill which allowed grants for buildings as well as books. South Australia's first free local library, opened at Elizabeth on 11 December 1957, was Skipper's monument.
Skipper was appointed C.B.E. in 1960. Survived by his wife and two of their three sons, he died on 27 January 1962 in North Adelaide and was cremated. His other son, Captain Justin Skipper, A.I.F., had been killed in action in Papua in 1942.
Carl Bridge, 'Skipper, Herbert Stanley (1880–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/skipper-herbert-stanley-11708/text20927, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 October 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002