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Sir Harold George Alderson (1890–1978)

by R. I. Cashman

This article was published:

Sir Harold George Alderson (1890-1978), sports administrator, was born on 18 August 1890 at Balmain, Sydney, second child of James Bull Alderson, architect, and his wife Lilias Maud, née Smith, both Sydneysiders. Educated at Mosman Public and Fort Street Model schools, Harold was a clerk when he married Rose Stella Wills on 14 December 1915 in St James's Anglican Church, Sydney. By 1919 he was operating his own business as a public accountant and stock and station agent in O'Connell Street.

Having joined the Mosman Rowing Club in 1911 and been a member of the crew which won the maiden IVs at the club's inaugural appearance that season, Alderson became captain of the M.R.C. by 1915. He was secretary (1918-20), chairman (1920-70) and president (1970-78) of the New South Wales Rowing Association, and served several terms as chairman of the Australian Rowing Council. For some time he coached the State's King's Cup VIII, managed the oarsmen in 1920 and 1924, and was secretary of the Anniversary Regatta Committee for over fifty years from 1920. A publicist for rowing, Alderson contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald and wrote extensively on the history of the sport. His meticulous and forthright articles also helped to focus debate on such issues as the physical effect of rowing on youth and the 1935 controversy over moving the 'head of the river' race from the Parramatta to the Nepean River.

His interest in rowing attracted him to the Olympic movement: emerging as an outstanding administrator, he was dubbed 'Mr Olympics' by one journalist. President of the New South Wales Olympic Council in 1926-70 and of the Australian Olympic Federation in 1946-73, he served on the committees for the British Empire (and Commonwealth) Games in 1938, 1962 and 1966. He was appointed M.B.E. for managing the Australian team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. His leadership of the federation helped Melbourne to secure and to make a success of the 1956 Olympic Games. Alderson was knighted that year.

An unashamed and frank exponent of amateur sport, he admired Jesse Owens and criticized the excessive nationalism and quasi-professionalism at the 1936 games; Alderson even argued that Australia should consider withdrawing from the Olympics to concentrate on the British Empire Games which he regarded as less tainted. In an era when there were few tangible rewards Sir Harold was one of a small band willing to work hard and long for amateur sport. He was respected for his down-to-earth approach and preferred to be known as Harry.

As honorary treasurer for some three decades of the executive committee of the St John Ambulance Association, New South Wales, Alderson put its finances on a secure basis, and was appointed a knight of grace of the Order of St John in 1959. He was also chairman of the Rothmans National Sport Foundation from 1966 and a member of the New South Wales Council of National Fitness from 1970. A widower, he had married Hilda Nancy Buddee at Mosman on 18 August 1966 with Presbyterian forms. Sir Harry died on 4 October 1978 at Mosman and was cremated; his wife and the daughter of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. L. May, Sydney Rows (Syd, 1970)
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 18 July 1976
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Oct 1978
  • New South Wales Rowing Assn, Annual Reports 1920-78 (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. I. Cashman, 'Alderson, Sir Harold George (1890–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 August, 1890
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


4 October, 1978 (aged 88)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.