Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allan John Dalziel (1908–1969)

by Gregory J. Pemberton

This article was published:

Allan John Dalziel (1908-1969), social reformer and political secretary, was born on 29 December 1908 at Pymble, Sydney, son of William Dalziel, a ship's officer from Scotland, and his native-born wife Florence Mary Annie, née Barbour. Educated at Cleveland Street Intermediate High School, Allan successively worked as a clerk, in an advertising agency, in the motor trade, as a butcher and as a freelance journalist. In the 1930s his strong Presbyterian beliefs were tempered by growing secular concerns. While living above his uncle's butcher's shop at Redfern during the Depression, he became secretary of the Legion of Christian Youth, founded by his close friend (Bishop) E. H. Burgmann to awaken community interest in the need for better housing. In 1936 the State government appointed Dalziel to the Housing Conditions Investigation Committee. His articles on slum reform brought him to the attention of intelligence officials who deemed him to be 'an opponent of constituted authority'.

Possibly through his friendship with Burgmann, Dalziel was appointed as H. V. Evatt's electoral secretary for the Federal seat of Barton in 1940. Although he was promoted private secretary to the attorney-general (Evatt), he publicly criticized repressive aspects of the government's regulations under the National Security Act. In 1946 he was condemned by the press for undertaking electoral duties for Evatt while technically a public servant. He looked after the Barton electorate during Evatt's long absences abroad. Dalziel's tall, 'spare figure, usually in sombre grey or black', became familiar in Sydney. In 1947 anti-communist Catholics informed British and American intelligence that Dalziel was a 'Communist sympathiser'. Australian intelligence held a similar view, noting Dalziel's close association with J. F. Hill, a diplomat, and John Burton, secretary of the Department of External Affairs.

Having toured Australia early in 1947 to promote the government's commitment to the United Nations, Dalziel and Hill represented Australia at a conference of the United Nations' Commission on Human Rights in New York. Dalziel censured American materialism and political repression, but expressed admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Wallace, Charlie Chaplin and Paul Robeson.

In 1954 Dalziel, Hill, Burton and others were named as alleged contacts of Soviet intelligence in 'G Documents' before the royal commission on espionage. Evatt created immense controversy when he appeared as counsel for Dalziel and others on his staff. Dalziel was questioned for over one hundred days about his appointment to Evatt's staff of a young typist Frances Bernie who belonged to the Communist Party of Australia and about a tenuous claim that he had sought a military pass in 1945 for the communist writer Rupert Lockwood. Dalziel was exonerated.

After Evatt retired from parliament in 1960, Dalziel worked as a field officer for the New South Wales Council of Churches. In 1968 he was appointed full-time general secretary of the New South Wales Temperance Alliance and campaigned vigorously against moves to introduce hotel trading on Sundays. He published Evatt the Enigma (Melbourne, 1967), a defence of his chief, in which he implied that the commission which followed the defection of Vladimir Petrov was a conservative conspiracy to destroy Evatt and the Labor Party. Dalziel died of a staphylococcal infection on 5 October 1969 at Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He was unmarried. L. C. Haylen, Dal's closest friend, described him as 'one of the most effective social workers and workers for socialism in this country'.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Temperance Alliance, Allan John Dalziel (Syd, 1969)
  • K. Tennant, Evatt (Syd, 1970)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Oct 1969
  • RG 59, records of Department of State, United States Embassy in Canberra, 1947, file on Australia and central decimal file 847.008/6-2347 (National Archives, Washington, DC)
  • RG 25, records of Department of External Affairs, box 325, file 9629-40C (National Archives, Ottawa, Canada)
  • CRS A6335/3, file 15 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Gregory J. Pemberton, 'Dalziel, Allan John (1908–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 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]


29 December, 1908
Pymble, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


5 October, 1969 (aged 60)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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