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Wood, Gordon Leslie (1890–1953)

by Robert Wilson

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

Gordon Leslie Wood (1890-1953), economist, was born on 29 August 1890 at Launceston, Tasmania, eldest child of Tasmanian-born parents Walter Leslie Wood, compositor, and his wife Emily, née Porter. Educated at the Charles Street State School and the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1914; M.A., 1922), Gordon trained as a teacher and in 1913 was posted to Hobart High School. At Chalmers Church, Launceston, on 1 July 1914 he married with Presbyterian forms Adeline Grieve. He transferred in 1919 to the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide.

In 1923 Wood published The Tasmanian Environment, a human and economic geography of the State. He investigated the flow of rivers in parts of the Australian Alps, and the ecological threat to mountainous regions from deforestation, land clearance and cattle grazing. Additionally, he studied Australia's balance of payments, a task that employed his considerable mathematical skills. This diversified output probably influenced (Sir) Douglas Copland to choose Wood in 1924 as his first academic subordinate in the faculty of commerce at the University of Melbourne. He was appointed senior lecturer in economics and economic geography.

'With his enthusiasm, sound judgment and vigorous personality', Wood successfully acted as head of the faculty during Copland's numerous absences. Copland, Wood and Frank Mauldon, the third full-time member of staff, bore a heavy teaching load and also lectured to university extension classes. Wood wrote papers on subjects such as conservation in the catchment areas of Australian rivers, the geographical distribution of the country's population, and the development of the Northern Territory. His survey for the Institute of Pacific Relations, The Pacific Basin, was published in 1930. The previous year he had taken up a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in England to work on Borrowing and Business in Australia (London, 1930). In part an analysis of economic fluctuations to that date, the book won for its author the Harbison-Higinbotham research scholarship (1930).

The university awarded Wood a doctorate of letters in 1930 and promoted him to associate-professor in 1931. His grasp of current economic problems was supported by an ability to synthesize and co-ordinate, as testified by his numerous joint publications. In 1932 he began the labour that was to result in a major work with (Sir) Samuel Wadham, Land Utilization in Australia (1939). Wood became a regular broadcaster on current affairs. Newspapers, trade unions and business and professional associations asked him for analyses and addresses on the Depression. He went out of his way to enlighten and sometimes reassure these interest groups, though he worried privately at the possibility of endless and 'unjust' deflation, the injustice stemming from the fact that continuing deflation meant more working people being thrown out of work while rentiers resisted any reduction in their incomes.

Wood gave devoted service as secretary (1925-53) of the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand and as a member (1936-53) of the Commonwealth Grants Commission. He was active on many university boards and committees. In 1944 he was appointed to the Sidney Myer chair of commerce. After suffering a cerebral thrombosis, he died suddenly on 29 June 1953 in Royal Melbourne Hospital and was cremated with Methodist forms. His wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Economic Record, 30, no 58, May 1954, p 1
  • Wood papers (University of Melbourne Archives and National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Wilson, 'Wood, Gordon Leslie (1890–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wood-gordon-leslie-12063/text21639, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 February 2019.

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

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