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Sydney John Gandon (1889–1959)

by Stephen Salsbury

This article was published:

Sydney John Gandon (1889-1959), banker, was born on 4 December 1889 at Glebe, Sydney, son of native-born parents Peter Joseph Gandon, general importer, and his wife Caroline Janet, née Benton. Educated at Fort Street Model School, in 1906 Sydney was employed as a probationary cashbook clerk at the head office of the Bank of New South Wales; he became a junior in the securities department and then a manager's clerk. At St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 3 November 1920 he married Eileen Breathour Weekes; they were to remain childless. In the 1920s he undertook a variety of tasks before being promoted to assistant to the chief inspector in 1926 and appointed a sub-inspector in 1929.

From March 1929 to June 1931 Gandon was relieving secretary in the bank's London office; from September 1931 he acted as assistant-manager until returning to Sydney in 1932. His London experience gave him a broader perspective of the Depression in Australia. As manager (1934-36) of the main Melbourne office and as inspector (1936-39) of the Victorian division, he became closely linked to policies of the bank's general manager (Sir) Alfred Davidson. Like Davidson, Gandon was a strong advocate of an independent Australian central bank. He also saw a vital role for private banks in the shaping of Australia's monetary policy, especially in setting interest rates and developing lending guidelines.

On 9 October 1939 Gandon was appointed chief inspector for New South Wales. During World War II he endeavoured to ensure that the bank carefully executed government policies. By the time he became assistant general manager in 1948, the war had changed Australian banking. The Federal Labor government determined interest rates, fixed the exchange rates and controlled all movements of capital in and out of Australia. The commercial banks were required to obtain a licence, to supply the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (which served as a central bank) with detailed accounts of their activities, to maintain compulsory deposits with the central bank, and to invest in public loans or other securities only with central bank consent.

In 1947 the Chifley Labor government attempted to nationalize the private banks. Faced with this threat, the private banks agreed that the Bank of New South Wales should co-ordinate their campaign and challenge the validity of the Banking Act (1947) in the High Court of Australia, notably under section 92 of the Constitution. Gandon had most of the responsibility in the long legal fight which ended when the Commonwealth government's appeal was dismissed by the Privy Council on 26 July 1949.

Appointed general manager on 21 July 1950, Gandon hoped that the Liberal government headed by (Sir) Robert Menzies, who had opposed bank nationalization, would remove the central banking functions from the Commonwealth Bank and create a new entity free from political influence. Menzies, however, believed that private banks should be strictly regulated, and continued such wartime policies as the control of interest rates and lending policies. In November 1952 Gandon criticized the government's proposed banking reforms and specifically called for a 'strong, impartial, separately constituted central bank'. He also complained that the Commonwealth Bank continued to have a competitive advantage. His statements received sharp rebuffs from the government.

Gandon began retirement leave on 1 July 1954. In December he was appointed a director of the Australian Metropolitan Life Assurance Co. Pty Ltd. He had a strong passion for things English, particularly English literature, the English language and English music. An active sportsman, he enjoyed cricket, tennis and golf. He lived at Neutral Bay and belonged to the Union and Australian clubs in Sydney, and to the Melbourne and Australian clubs in Melbourne. Survived by his wife, he died of cancer on 1 November 1959 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at £51,365.

Select Bibliography

  • R. F. Holder, Bank of New South Wales (Syd, 1970)
  • C. B. Schedvin, In Reserve (Syd, 1992)
  • Etruscan, 4, no 1, June 1954
  • Financial Review, 18 Oct 1951, p 23
  • Westpac Banking Corp Archives, Sydney.

Citation details

Stephen Salsbury, 'Gandon, Sydney John (1889–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 July 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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