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Arthur Max Allen (1891–1979)

by John Atchison

This article was published:

Arthur Max Allen (1891-1979), surveyor-general and soldier, was born on 21 February 1891 at Leichhardt, Sydney, son of Arthur Allen, railways clerk, and his wife Ethel Beatrice, née Primrose, both native-born. Educated at public schools and privately while his father was district superintendent of railways at Murrurundi, Max joined the Department of Lands in 1908 as a cadet draughtsman and was stationed at Tamworth and Armidale. He was licensed in 1913 and worked as a temporary salaried surveyor at Orange and Goulburn.

Fair haired, grey eyed, of middle height and medium build, Allen was commissioned in June 1915 in the Australian Imperial Force. From March 1916 he fought in Palestine and Syria with the 1st Field Squadron, Anzac Mounted Division, and met his future patron (Sir) Michael Bruxner. Promoted lieutenant (1916), captain (1917) and major (1918), Allen was awarded the Military Cross in 1918 and twice mentioned in dispatches. After serving at A.I.F. Headquarters, Cairo, in 1919 he gained experience in forestry at University College of North Wales, Bangor, and in technology with Troughton & Simms, mathematical instrument makers, London. He returned to New South Wales in November, was placed on the reserve of officers and in March 1920 became staff surveyor at Cooma.

Appointed State migration officer at the Commonwealth government's Migration and Settlement Office, London, in January 1924, Allen travelled extensively in Britain and Germany. On 4 September in the parish church of St Clement Danes, Middlesex, he married Hazel May Stone. Back home in 1928, he was attached to the Metropolitan Land Board and rose to senior surveyor in 1931. He was a councillor (from 1931), vice-president (1935-37), fellow (1934) and life member (1949) of the Institution of Surveyors, New South Wales, a fellow (1938) of the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers and a foundation member of the State branch of the Town and Country Planning Institute of Australia.

Capable and conscientious, formidable and gruff, Allen was promoted surveyor-general in 1937; he was also chief mining surveyor and president of the Board of Surveyors. In 1940 he organized the raising of No.1 Field Survey Unit, soon to be incorporated with No.2 Australian Field Survey Company under H. P. G. Clews. From October Major Allen served as deputy assistant-director of survey, headquarters, Eastern Command. He remained surveyor-general, but additionally acted as State survey liaison officer, co-ordinating civilian and military programmes to produce urgently needed maps of Australia's strategic areas. When Japan entered the war and General MacArthur assumed his command, in June 1942 Allen (as temporary lieutenant colonel) became deputy-director of survey at First Australian Army headquarters, Toowoomba, Queensland.

By March 1943 the direct threat to Australia had receded and Allen returned to New South Wales as State director of postwar reconstruction and development. His transfer excited parliamentary questions from J. T. Lang who alleged that Allen had previously been connected with the New Guard. In 1945 Allen was appointed chairman of the Closer Settlement Advisory Board. By and large he succeeded in the difficult task of acquiring, designating and disposing of land under the War Service Land Settlement Act (1941), but faced the Pye brothers' legal challenge (1945-56) to the resumption of Ghoolendaadi which was eventually taken to the Privy Council.

Having retired in 1956, Allen remained on the Metropolitan Land Board and focussed his energies on the Lane Cove National Park Trust, of which he was a foundation member and president (1957-61): the trust was to name Max Allen Drive after him. He was a great talker, an idiosyncratic golfer and a member of the Imperial Service Club. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 28 November 1979 in Concord Repatriation General Hospital and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. P. G. Clews, Memories of 2 Australian Field Survey Company 1940-1944 (np, 1966)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 172, 1943, p 235
  • New South Wales Valuer, Apr 1930
  • Australian Surveyor, Mar 1932, June 1934, Sept 1937, Dec 1943, Mar 1980
  • Survey Ex-Servicemen's Assn (New South Wales), Bulletin, 66, 1980, 67, 1981
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12, 13 Oct, 22 Nov 1943, 8 Jan 1944, 8 Dec 1979
  • No 1 Field Survey Unit, Engineers, AIF, records (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Allen, Arthur Max (1891–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 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

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