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Slaughter, James Cameron (1902–1982)

by Doug Tucker

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

James Cameron Slaughter (1902-1982), town clerk, was born on 16 August 1902 at Thursday Island, youngest of five children of Brisbane-born Ernest Ebenezer Slaughter, plumber, and his Scottish-born wife Jessie, née Cameron. Reared in Brisbane mainly by his mother, a strong-minded, determined woman, Jim attended Petrie Terrace State Boys’ School before starting work at 14 with the Ithaca Town Council, Brisbane. He began accounting and other studies, while absorbing the practical aspects of council administration. Promoted to senior clerk by the age of 21, he had passed the examinations of the Local Clerks Board, receiving his certificate of competency as a local government clerk. In 1923 he was appointed shire clerk of Inglewood Shire, responsible for financial and office management, oversight of the outdoors workforce and advice to council. He completed his accountancy and secretarial studies, becoming an associate-member of the Federal Institute of Accountants and of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries of Joint Stock Companies & Other Public Bodies.

Moving to Gatton as shire clerk in 1926, Slaughter cleared its administrative and financial problems within a year. On 20 August 1927 in Sherwood Methodist Church, Brisbane, he married Ida Muriel Taylor. Appointed town clerk of Coolangatta that year, he found the office in chaos, a large sum of money misappropriated and council operations at a standstill. Ten years there, followed by four years as town clerk of Bundaberg, not only confirmed his trouble-shooting wizardry but also revealed his capacity for forging productive partnerships with mayors and senior councillors. He was able to simultaneously initiate major infrastructure projects while managing day-to-day activities with great skill.

Meanwhile, in 1939, after six years of seriously deficient management under Brisbane’s Labor lord mayor, Alfred Jones, the Forgan Smith government overhauled the Brisbane City council’s standing committees and administrative structure. Next year Brisbane’s newly elected Citizens’ Municipal Organization lord mayor, (Sir) John Chandler, selected Slaughter, aged 38, from an Australia-wide field of twenty-seven candidates to become the city’s new town clerk and city administrator. Slaughter moved swiftly; he identified and resolved crucial problems, boosted professional staff morale and proved his worth despite innumerable complexities and constraints, including the outbreak of World War II with its massive civilian mobilisation.

By 1942 Brisbane’s municipal services were stretched almost to breaking point, with the city hosting tens of thousands of Australian and American servicemen, including General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters. Chandler’s policy focus on essentials, supported by Slaughter’s implementation skills, enabled the council to manage without further State government intervention. In the early postwar years, the council was hard-pressed to satisfy demand for services deferred during the war and the preceding Depression; returned servicemen were marrying in huge numbers, creating unprecedented demand for new housing and amenities. Despite severe inflation and materials shortages, Chandler and Slaughter adjusted policy settings as needed. Slaughter was outstanding in negotiating favourable infrastructure outcomes with developers of new housing estates.

Defeat of Chandler’s team in 1952 saw Brisbane’s progress virtually halted for nine years. Slaughter consolidated his dominance over senior staff, but lacklustre leadership by two mayors, Frank Roberts and (Sir) Reginald Groom, retarded further development of services. In 1961 the election of the Labor lord mayor Clem Jones led to an era of extraordinary progress. Jones’s dynamic and imaginative leadership, supported by Slaughter’s experience, guidance and restraining influence, provided Brisbane with much needed sealed roads, plentiful water, sewerage, new parks and municipal swimming pools, with minimal rate increases. The Jones-Slaughter partnership was as crucial to Brisbane’s progress in the more prosperous 1960s as that of Chandler and Slaughter in the impecunious 1940s. When Slaughter retired as town clerk in November 1967, Jones kept him on for four years as executive adviser for special development projects. He had been appointed CMG in 1963.

Slaughter was among the first officials to advocate improving public administration in Queensland through the introduction of appropriate university courses. In August 1950 he initiated the creation of the Queensland division of the Institute of Municipal Administration. Its foundation president (1950-57), he understood that institute meetings and conferences provided valuable opportunities for town and shire clerks to discuss problems of municipal administration. He also supported research-oriented bodies such as the Queensland division of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies, and actively promoted the publication of histories of Queensland and Brisbane local government: R. H. Robinson, For My Country (1957) and G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (1959).

Of average height and well built, somewhat distant and aloof on initial acquaintance, Slaughter projected an aura that commanded respect. As town clerk, ‘JC’ mostly conducted himself with great formality, always addressed lord mayors as ‘my lord mayor’, and was held in awe by all administrative colleagues. Conscious of the town clerk’s traditional role as a leading member of the community, he joined several of Brisbane’s top clubs, and mixed in business and sporting circles. For recreation, he played golf and bowls. An enthusiastic rugby league football player in his younger days, in 1963 he was named a life member of the Western Suburbs District Rugby League Football Club. He helped to establish Lang Park as Queensland Rugby League’s home ground in 1957 and served (1963-77) as the inaugural chairman of the Lang Park Trust. In 1977 he was made a life member of the QRL.

Widowed in 1980, Slaughter died on 16 October 1982 in South Brisbane and was cremated with Anglican rites. His son and daughter survived him. After Charles Chuter, he was the second most eminent figure in twentieth-century Queensland municipal administration.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (1959)
  • J. D. Tucker, Aspects of the Brisbane City Council’s Administrative Organization (1973)
  • J. R. Cole, Shaping a City (1984)
  • J. Laverty, ‘John Beals Chandler’, and D. Tucker, ‘J. C. Slaughter’, in B. Shaw (ed), Brisbane: Corridors of Power (1997)
  • Brisbane City Council, Annual Report, 1940/41-1967/68
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 11 Oct 1971, p 3
  • 18 Oct 1982, p 8
  • Daily Sun (Brisbane), 19 Oct 1982, p 7
  • private information and personal knowledge.

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Citation details

Doug Tucker, 'Slaughter, James Cameron (1902–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/slaughter-james-cameron-15745/text26933, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 27 March 2019.

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

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