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Raymond Edward Fitzpatrick (1909–1967)

by Andrew Moore

This article was published:

Raymond Edward Fitzpatrick (1909-1967), businessman, was born on 10 November 1909 at Canterbury, Sydney, third child of native-born parents William Joseph Fitzpatrick, farmer, and his wife Lucy, née Mead. Aged 13 and barely literate, Ray left Milperra Public School to collect bottles and work as a truck driver's offsider. When the Depression bankrupted his employer, Fitzpatrick was given the truck in lieu of back wages and started a business career which embraced transport, excavation, plant hire and metal supply. On 17 February 1932 he married Helen Beattie McLean at St Matthew's Anglican Church, Bondi; he was to divorce her in February 1940. At St Mark's, Brighton-Le-Sands, on 10 August that year he married Clare Isobel Summergreene.

Of robust build and forthright demeanour, Fitzpatrick was sometimes known as 'Mr Big of Bankstown'. From 1943 his business activities were subject to allegations of impropriety and corruption. His opponents, led by Charles Morgan, Labor member for Reid in the House of Representatives, claimed that Fitzpatrick flouted wartime building restrictions and illegally interfered in the tendering process at Bankstown Municipal Council. In April 1944 Fitzpatrick was fined £75 for two breaches of the National Security (Supplementary) Regulations. A Labor supporter, he had provided motorcars for Morgan on polling day in 1940.

Fitzpatrick and Morgan became bitter enemies. The latter believed that Fitzpatrick was a sinister figure who enjoyed covert assistance from individuals within the security services and the office of J. J. Dedman, minister for war organization of industry. Fitzpatrick contended that Morgan's motives were personal and pecuniary. Aiming to unseat Morgan, in 1946 'big Fitzie' was the 'unseen power' behind J. T. Lang's successful campaign for Reid, reputedly organizing Liberal Party preferences for Lang.

By the 1950s Fitzpatrick's diversified interests included building, sand and gravel cartage, dredging and the racing industry (it was said that he was able to influence the results of the Harold Park 'trots'). A wealthy man without pretension, he was the archetypal 'rough diamond'. For all his dabbling in shady affairs and willingness to use fisticuffs against rivals, in sections of Bankstown he commanded an 'almost mystical loyalty' not solely based on intimidation. He was a generous employer with a compassionate streak, and once proclaimed enigmatically: 'I've never robbed a worker in my life'. At the Christmas parties he held in the yard of his works at Bankstown, his truck drivers and plant-operators rubbed shoulders with lawyers and judges, politicians and high-ranking policemen, city businessmen and local aldermen.

As proprietor of the Bankstown Observer, he engaged the editorial services of Frank Browne, a right-wing journalist, to 'get stuck into' Morgan (who had been re-elected for Reid in 1949 and made virulent attacks on Fitzpatrick in parliament). Several articles alleged that Morgan had been involved in an 'immigration racket' before World War II. With Prime Minister (Sir) Robert Menzies' support, Morgan succeeded in having Fitzpatrick and Browne brought before the parliamentary standing committee of privileges which found that the articles were designed to 'influence and intimidate' a member of parliament, and concluded that a breach of privilege had occurred. Summoned to the bar of the House, Fitzpatrick apologized 'humbly'. In June 1955, by votes of 55 to 11 (Fitzpatrick) and 55 to 12 (Browne), the House of Representatives sentenced both men to three months imprisonment. They applied to the High Court of Australia for writs of habeas corpus, but the court decided that they had been 'validly gaoled' and refused leave to appeal to the Privy Council.

The case was seen by many observers as flouting the normal processes of the law and as an abuse of civil liberties. One newspaper observed that the 'roughneck contractor' was reportedly 'petrified and so lacking in education as to be tongue-tied'. Released from Goulburn gaol in September, Fitzpatrick continued to attract controversy. In October the Department of Taxation fined him £8465 for evasion of income tax. Further allegations were made in the New South Wales parliament in 1958 that he had been involved in corrupt behaviour in the tendering and building of Sutherland Shire Council's road to the Kurnell oil refinery.

Fitzpatrick's business career acquired the trappings of respectability. He sold his extensive quarrying and contracting business to the Rio Tinto Co. Ltd in 1960; with the proceeds he formed Fitzpatrick Industries Pty Ltd. In 1966 he purchased 27,000 acres (10,927 ha) in the Wolgan Valley for breeding cattle. For ten years he suffered from diabetes. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died of cerebrovascular disease on 5 December 1967 at St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was buried in Pine Grove cemetery, Eastern Creek. His estate was sworn for probate at $732,785.

Select Bibliography

  • F. C. Green, Servant of the House (Melb, 1969)
  • C. J. Lloyd, Parliament and the Press (Melb, 1988)
  • G. Souter, Acts of Parliament (Melb, 1988)
  • Journal (Senate), 1954-55, 1, p xxxviii
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives, Commonwealth), 3 May 1955, p 352, 16 May 1955, p 1114, 10 June 1955, p 1625
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 92, 1954-55, pp 159, 171
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Apr 1944, 23-25 June, 5 Oct 1955, 2 July 1958, 5 May 1966, 25 Apr 1968
  • The Charlie Morgan Story (manuscript, no date) and other papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Fitzpatrick, Raymond Edward (1909–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 May 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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