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Sir James Stanley Disney (1896–1952)

by David Dunstan

This article was published:

Sir James Stanley Disney (1896-1952), businessman, lord mayor and politician, was born on 17 June 1896 at Ballarat, Victoria, fifth child of Victorian-born parents James Herbert Disney (1864-1943), van proprietor, and his wife Isabella, née Hill. James Herbert, who subsequently worked in Melbourne as a boilerman, fruiterer and second-hand clothes and furniture dealer, served on the South Melbourne City Council in 1908-18 and was mayor in 1915-16.

Educated at Albert Park State School, young James enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 September 1914 and next month embarked for Egypt with the 8th Battalion. He saw action at Gallipoli and, from June 1916, on the Western Front where he was a motor-transport driver until selected for flying training. Commissioned in the Australian Flying Corps on 28 April 1918, he was posted to No.2 Squadron and promoted lieutenant in July. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 28 March 1919. He married a divorcee Ruby Bruce, née Chapman, on 21 July 1922 with Anglican rites at Zeehan, Tasmania.

Although Disney gained a commercial pilot's licence after the war, he made a name as a motorcycle racer. He won the Phillip Island 200-mile (322 km) 250-cc motorcycle road race in 1928, and many solo and sidecar events on grass tracks and at the Melbourne Motordrome. A motorcycle shop, purchased for £250, became a car and cycle business, J. S. Disney Pty Ltd. He chaired the Melbourne Used Car Traders' Association and was a member of the Australian Association of British Manufacturers.

In November 1935 Disney was elected to the Melbourne City Council. He chaired its public works committee, was a member (1937) of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, and sponsored and chaired (1939) the council's special carnival committee. In 1948 he was elected lord mayor, narrowly defeating O. J. Nilsen as the non-Labor councillors' candidate and succeeding Sir Raymond Connelly. Disney was lord mayor for three successive terms (1948-49 to 1950-51) and received the customary knighthood on their completion. Major issues of his mayoralty included postwar reconstruction and Melbourne's preparations for the 1956 Olympic Games. As lord mayor, Disney had led the 1949 delegation which pressed his city's bid before the International Olympic Committee in Rome. He continued the lord mayor's holiday camp for children at Portsea which had been established by his predecessor.

In 1940 Disney had been elected to the Victorian Legislative Council as the United Australia Party's candidate for Higinbotham. He was minister of transport and of mines in Macfarlan's short-lived Liberal ministry in 1945 and chairman (1943-46) of the public works committee, but was defeated in 1946 when (Sir) Arthur Warner contested Higinbotham against him. Disney's father, the Labor member for Melbourne West Province (1916-43) and a former minister without portfolio in the Prendergast and Hogan governments, had served opposite him in the same House.

A foundation member (1945) of the Liberal Party of Australia, Disney hoped to return to the wider political sphere, but his health failed him. In February 1950 he suffered a severe haemorrhage. Survived by his wife and stepson, he died of Hodgkin's disease on 20 January 1952 at his Auburn home and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £136,918.

Select Bibliography

  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1947
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 July 1943, 15 Oct 1948, 27 Sept 1952
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 July 1943, 28 Aug, 11 Feb 1950, 21 Jan 1952
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 Aug, 19 Nov 1948, 14 Feb 1951, 21 Jan 1952.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Disney, Sir James Stanley (1896–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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