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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Deering, Harold Hastings (1896–1965)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Harold Hastings Deering (1896-1965), engineer and businessman, was born on 22 August 1896 at Ashfield, Sydney, second son of Harold Deering, clerk, and his wife Edith Lilian Marian Australia, née MacCulloch, both Sydney born. Harold attended Hayfield and Sydney Grammar schools; he represented the latter in football and rowing. In England on 27 February 1917 he was commissioned in the British Army. Transferring to the Royal Flying Corps on 30 April and to the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918, he served as a pilot in England and France, and flew in the same squadron as (Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith.

After the war Lieutenant Deering tested new aircraft for the R.A.F. until he was placed on the Unemployed List on 7 May 1919. He claimed to have enrolled in classics at Jesus College, Oxford, and later returned to Oxford to lecture in aerial strategy. An associate fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, London, he joined the Associated Equipment Co., a firm of bus manufacturers associated with the London Transport Group. Back in Sydney, on 6 April 1920 at St Anne's Anglican Church, Strathfield, he married Constance Ellie, daughter of H. J. Rose; their daughter died in childhood and they were to separate in the 1950s. By 1922 he had formed his own business, Deering Engineering Co., and established an agency, A.E.C. (Australia) Pty Ltd, of which he was managing director; he was, as well, managing director (1927) in Australia for Associated Daimler. In 1933 the London Transport Group sent him to Europe and North America to investigate diesel traction and trolley buses.

Hastings Deering Pty Ltd, a private company which he set up in 1935, became the sole metropolitan distributor for the Ford Motor Co. Interested in architecture and classics, Deering oversaw the design of the company's spectacular head office on the corner of William and Crown streets. The Art Deco building had six storeys linked by a system of one-way, concrete ramps for cars. At one stage he was the largest individual Ford dealer in the world, handling 7000 new and 12,000 used cars a year. Deering often proclaimed his belief in 'National Service, National Development and National Defence', and in the 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom for Australia'—transport, roads, water, food, coal, steel and defence. In 1940, when he indicated to the New South Wales board of area management of the Department of Munitions that he was willing to assist in ordnance production, his offer was accepted by the prime minister.

Realizing the potential for franchising, in 1947 Deering obtained heavy earthmoving equipment by acquiring the Caterpillar agency at Alice Springs, Northern Territory. He expanded to Darwin (1948), the Territory of Papua-New Guinea and the British Solomon Islands (1949), and to Queensland (1952). Spending time in the 1950s on developing the beef industry in the north and the inland, he established the Hastings Deering experimental station—covering 2600 sq. miles (6734 km²) at Palmer Valley in the MacDonnell Ranges—where he built large dams to show that stations in Central Australia could be made drought-proof. He acquired a further 4000 sq. miles (10,360 km²) at Henbury.

His 'financial empire' encompassed sixteen companies: Deering held a controlling interest in each of them, and was involved in detailed design-work and financial matters. Using war-surplus hangars, in 1947-48 he had developed an assembly plant at Lidcombe, Sydney, in which he manufactured A.E.C. chassis for buses and trucks, crane carriers and ground-support equipment for all types of aircraft, in addition to carrying out extensive engine reconditioning and repairs to cars and trucks. He also established the Australian Atlas Co. Pty Ltd in 1949 to produce rock-drills, compressors, and pneumatic tools and loaders.

A keen photographer, Deering supervised advertising campaigns and his company's monthly magazine for which he wrote a column, 'Faith in the Future'. He was 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall and weighed 17 stone (108 kg); he was known to his friends as Hastings; he liked smoking a pipe, racing cars and trout-fishing. Deering often told his staff: 'You can buy expertise, but you can't buy loyalty'. He kept a penthouse atop the company headquarters in William Street, a home at Homebush, a 70-acre (28 ha) farm at Castle Hill and a holiday house in the Blue Mountains. Survived by his wife, Deering died of cardiac disease on 16 June 1965 at Homebush and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £581,544, much of which he left to his secretary and members of his corporate staff.

Select Bibliography

  • Rydge's, Feb 1951
  • People (Sydney), 4 Nov 1953
  • Hastings Deering News, Dec 1960, p 46
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Apr 1917, 6 July 1927, 4 Sept 1934, 16 Aug 1940, 4 Nov 1949, 17 June 1965
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Deering, Harold Hastings (1896–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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