Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sommerlad, Ernest Christian (1886–1952)

by Rod Kirkpatrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Ernest Christian Sommerlad (1886-1952), newspaper editor, businessman and politician, was born on 30 January 1886 at Tenterfield, New South Wales, youngest of twelve children of German parents John Henry Sommerlad, farmer, and his wife Louisa Wilhelmina, née Marstella. He left Leechs Gully Public School at 11 to help on the family farm. Restless, he read widely, especially the Bible. Aged 21 he went to Newington College, Sydney, and, overcoming the gibes of his 14-year-old schoolfellows, passed the junior public examination in 1908.

Accepted as a candidate for the Methodist ministry, Sommerlad trained at the Theological Institution, Stanmore. In March 1911 he left for Fiji as a missionary, but after six months returned to Sydney with a throat infection which prevented him from preaching regularly. Nonetheless, he remained closely connected with the Methodist Church as an occasional lay preacher and for ten years was secretary of its young people's department.

Turning to journalism, Sommerlad worked briefly as a reporter on the Inverell Times from February 1912. In June he moved to the rival Inverell Argus and within three months was editor. At Burwood, Sydney, he married Mildred Alice Vaughan with Baptist forms on 15 March 1913. With a bank loan guaranteed by local businessmen, he bought the Glen Innes Examiner in May 1918. 'His paper was his pulpit.' Editorials promoted such advances as a bacon factory, improvements to the town's parks and the local horticultural society (he was president in 1927). From 1924 he organized mergers of rival bi-weeklies at Glen Innes, Inverell and Armidale. He was a founder and managing director of Northern Newspapers Pty Ltd (1926-52) and a State director of Australian United Press Ltd (1939-52).

Sommerlad was a life-member of the Australian Provincial Press Association, and president (1927-28) and later secretary (1940-45) of the New South Wales Country Press Association. In February 1929 he moved to Sydney to become general manager of the Country Press Co-operative Co. of Australia Ltd (soon Country Press Ltd). An astute businessman, he was the company's managing director (1932-52) and chairman (1948-52). Establishing its advertising arm as a separate company, Gotham (A'sia) Pty Ltd, he became managing director and forged links between country press and radio. He was a director of Northern Broadcasters Ltd and negotiated the issue of licences for radio stations 2LV Inverell and 2AD Armidale.

A founder of the Country Party and State chairman (1950-52), Sommerlad was treasurer of the Northern New State Movement. He wrote much of the party's publicity material for Federal and State elections from the 1930s, as well as press and radio material for primary industry and referenda campaigns. He also contributed several editorials a week to the northern newspapers. A staunch and uncompromising moralist, he saw issues in black and white. Nominated to the Legislative Council in 1932, he was elected to the reconstituted council in November 1933. In the 1930s he helped the premier (Sir) Bertram Stevens to organize publicity.

Sommerlad published several local histories, including Inverell (Sydney, 1917) and Land of the Beardies (Glen Innes, 1922), and a handbook on journalism, Mightier than the Sword (1950). He was a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales (1930-52), a vice-president of the National Roads and Motorists' Association and chairman of the publicity committee for the sesquicentennial celebrations. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1938.

Gardening was Sommerlad's great recreation—his blooms won many prizes. Yet, he found it hard to relax and worked constantly on his creative writing at his Lindfield home or at his Blue Mountains cottage. At 60 he began playing bowls regularly. He was of middle height, stocky and full-faced; his dark hair receded later in life. Sommerlad died of leukemia at his home on 6 September 1952 and was cremated. His wife, two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. L. Sommerlad, The Migrant Shepherd (Syd, 1986)
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 2 Jan 1929, 15 Dec 1945
  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 61, part 4, Dec 1975, p 225
  • Glen Innes Examiner, 9, 13 May 1918, 13 Dec 1922, 7 Jan 1924, 6 Oct 1925, 5 Oct 1926, 28, 31 Jan 1929, 8, 10 Sept 1952, 22 Oct 1974
  • Inverell Times, 1, 26 Mar, 4 Apr, 7 May, 18 June 1912, 11 Jan, 1 July 1927, 10 June 1938, 8, 10 Sept 1952, 19 Dec 1975
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Feb 1929, 8 Sept 1952
  • New South Wales Country Press Association, Annual Report, 1927, 1928
  • private information.

Citation details

Rod Kirkpatrick, 'Sommerlad, Ernest Christian (1886–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sommerlad-ernest-christian-8582/text14983, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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