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Thorby, Harold Victor Campbell (1888–1973)

by Ian Carnell

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

Harold Victor Campbell Thorby (1888-1973), by unknown photographer, 1929

Harold Victor Campbell Thorby (1888-1973), by unknown photographer, 1929

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 14508

Harold Victor Campbell Thorby (1888-1973), farmer and politician, was born on 2 October 1888 at Annandale, Sydney, third son of English-born Frederick James Thorby, builder, and his Irish wife Elizabeth, née Campbell. He assisted his maternal grandparents on their farm at Geurie and was educated locally before attending Sydney Grammar School. Later, while working his own property at Geurie, Thorby studied woolclassing, veterinary science and architecture through the Sydney Technical College. He also acted as foreman for his father's building projects in Sydney and Newcastle. On 6 September 1916 at All Saints Anglican Church, Wongarbon, he married Vera Lynda Morley (d.1958). An active member of the Farmers and Settlers' Association (State president 1925-27), Thorby was secretary of the Western Railway League and the Macquarie Valley Water Conservation League. From 1922 to 1940 he was to represent the Country Party in State and Federal parliaments.

Having been member for Wammerawa from 1922 in the Legislative Assembly, in 1927 he won the seat of Castlereagh. In the Bavin-Buttenshaw government he was minister for agriculture and chairman of the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission in 1927-30. Using his portfolio 'almost as a junior public works department', Thorby saw Wyangala Dam commenced, Burrinjuck Dam finished, Hawkesbury Agricultural College enlarged and numerous wheat silos built. He also established the Rice Marketing Board of New South Wales, and pushed through the Swine Compensation Act (1928) and the Advances to Settlers (Government Guarantee) Act (1929). With his architectural and building background, Thorby achieved efficiencies in such government construction projects as the new building for his department and the Royal North Shore Hospital nurses' block.

After his defeat in Castlereagh in 1930, he won the Federal seat of Calare the following year. Thorby clashed with Prime Minister Lyons, but became assistant minister for repatriation (1934-35) in Lyons's coalition government. Their relations improved and in 1935 he accompanied Lyons to England to negotiate a meat agreement. Thorby also attended an international wool conference in Berlin. He was minister in charge of War Service Homes (1935-36) and assistant minister for commerce (1935-37), acting occasionally as minister for commerce and minister for defence. In cabinet his knowledge of architecture and building was often called on, and he supervised extensions to the Caulfield Military Hospital, Melbourne. His sympathetic approach to the problems of repatriation widows was well-known. In 1937-40 he was deputy leader of his party.

When Thorby became minister for defence in November 1937 he began a three-year expansion programme and developed a valuable system of war annexes attached to existing factories. In retrospect, however, the programme proved too modest and failed to absorb even planned levels of expenditure. In November 1938 Thorby was appointed minister for works, chairman of the Murray Valley Water Commission and minister for civil aviation. He was subsequently postmaster-general and minister for health (March-October 1940).

Defeated in the 1940 election, Thorby unsuccessfully contested Dubbo in 1941, and Calare in 1943 and 1946. He then took up the property of his wife's parents at Wongarbon. A councillor (1952-55) of the Graziers' Association, he continued to be active in the Country Party and in 1957 was made an honorary life member. On 14 May 1960 he married Alfreda Elizabeth Rogers at the Presbyterian Church, Toowong, Brisbane. He then ran a property at Quirindi and later one at Tamworth, New South Wales.

Robust, rugged and 'built like a policeman', Thorby could be pugnacious and aggressive, but was recognized as a 'gentle giant'. He was an accomplished horseman and rifle-shot, and also a fine tenor, flautist and clarinet player. He belonged to the Presbyterian Church. Quickly able to absorb information, he knew what he wanted politically and usually 'preferred to drive over obstacles to achievement rather than circumvent them'. Thorby died on 1 January 1973 at Wahroonga, Sydney, and was cremated. Two daughters of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • U. R. Ellis, The Country Party (Melb, 1958)
  • U. R. Ellis, A History of the Australian Country Party (Melb, 1963)
  • D. Aitkin, The Colonel (Canb, 1969)
  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People, 1939-1941 (Canb, 1952)
  • Country Party Journal, Apr-Nov 1938
  • Country Life, 3 Aug 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Jan 1973
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian Carnell, 'Thorby, Harold Victor Campbell (1888–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thorby-harold-victor-campbell-8798/text15429, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 August 2014.

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

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