Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Stott, Tom Cleave (1899–1976)

by Reece Jennings

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

Tom Cleave Stott (1899-1976), by unknown photographer

Tom Cleave Stott (1899-1976), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/4386

Tom Cleave Stott (1899-1976), wheat-farmer and politician, was born on 6 June 1899 at St Peters, Adelaide, third of five children of South Australian-born parents Thomas Henry Stott, blacksmith, and his wife Ellen, née Watkins. Young Tom attended Norwood Public School and thereafter taught himself by reading. He claimed, with some licence, to have attended secondary school, as well as classes run by the Workers' Educational Association of South Australia and by a business college. In 1914 his father took up a selection at Peake, about 100 miles (161 km) south-east of Adelaide. The soil was unsuitable for cropping. Next year the family moved north to Mindarie, a desolate whistle-stop on the railway line running through the Murray Mallee to Paringa. The Stotts worked strenuously to carve a 5500-acre (2226 ha) farm out of virgin scrub, and knew continual hardship and poverty.

On 18 August 1926 at St Margaret's Church of England, Woodville, Adelaide, Stott married Linda Florence Verrall; they were childless. Clearing a farm for himself adjacent to his father's block, he became preoccupied with the problems that faced wheat-farmers, particularly low prices. By 1927 he saw the need for producers to organize themselves into pressure groups. Largely due to his efforts, the Farmers Protection Association was formed in 1929, with Stott its paid secretary. After several amalgamations and changes of name, the association eventually became the United Farmers and Graziers of South Australia in 1966; apart from a break in 1933-46, Stott was to remain secretary until 1969. When the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation was established in 1931, he also became its energetic and dedicated general secretary, and was to hold that post until the same year, 1969. Having failed to gain Liberal and Country League pre-selection to contest the seat of Albert for the House of Assembly in 1933, he stood as an Independent and was one of two candidates elected. He sat in parliament for an unbroken thirty-seven years, representing Ridley from 1938 as an Independent.

Stott began his parliamentary career as an aggressive rebel who tried to secure advantages for primary producers. His persistence and resourcefulness led many to detest him. The premiers (Sir) Richard Butler and (Sir) Thomas Playford worked hard to unseat him at subsequent elections. In 1939 Playford tried unsuccessfully to have him expelled from parliament on the ground of bankruptcy. Yet, Playford and Stott both had tolerance for the infinite capacity of human folly. They gradually came to see the benefits of co-operation. From 1945 Stott developed a fervent admiration for Playford, and the two worked together to push through legislation to secure a stable price for wheat (1948) and to enable bulk handling of grain (1955).

Although Stott was prominent in bringing prosperity to the wheat industry, he rarely acknowledged the effort and commitment of the many other growers and officials who worked for similar objectives. He tried to create the impression that he alone achieved everything. This characteristic led him to make enemies, among them (Sir) John Teasdale and (Sir) John McEwen. In 1946 he was elected to the West Torrens Council. He fulfilled his duties conscientiously, but his support for the proclamation of the district as a city lost him his seat in 1950—his only electoral defeat—and he regarded the years he spent in local government as the most difficult of his life.

Following the 1962 election, Stott held the balance of power in the House of Assembly and was elected Speaker. Consistently voting in favour of the Playford government, he saw his role as being to keep the Australian Labor Party out of office. He lost the speakership in 1965 when Labor won the election. Playford retired in 1966 and was succeeded as party leader by Raymond Steele Hall. When the Liberal and Country League was returned to government in 1968, Stott again held the balance of power and was again made Speaker. Hall was determined that a new dam should be built at Dartmouth, Victoria, rather than at Chowilla, in Stott's electorate. On 30 April 1970 Stott voted with the Opposition to defeat Hall's government. He claimed that he was too ill to contest the ensuing election, but Ridley had been altered in an electoral redistribution and he had little hope of retaining the seat. One year earlier he had resigned from his posts in the wheat industry.

A short, stout man, Stott was able to hide his personal animosity behind an open and friendly manner. He was vain and combative in nature, forceful and single-minded, and contemptuous of most of his political contemporaries. Politically astute, he proved to be a competent administrator and a deft critic, with an amazing ability for rapid analysis. A Freemason and a nominal Anglican, he hated cant and cared not a jot that some clergymen criticized him during election campaigns for smoking, drinking, and betting on racehorses. As Speaker he was exemplary—patient, tolerant, firm and unruffled; he never had to name or discipline a member, and even his opponents grudgingly admired him. Gregarious and gifted with a sense of humour, he enjoyed the affection and loyalty of his staff.

Above all, Stott possessed extraordinary energy. He was a shrewd investor who nurtured the investments made from his multiple sources of income. In 1954 he had been appointed C.B.E. Thereafter, he shamelessly and unsuccessfully sought a knighthood. The conservatives never forgave him for bringing down the Hall government; Labor considered it his only useful political achievement. Survived by his wife, he died on 21 October 1976 at Glenelg and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • R. I. Jennings, Barnacles and Parasites (Adel, 1992)
  • R. I. Jennings, Independent Members of the South Australian Parliament, 1927-1970 (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1982), and for bibliography
  • Stott papers (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Reece Jennings, 'Stott, Tom Cleave (1899–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stott-tom-cleave-11784/text21079, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 December 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014