Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick Charles Garside (1887–1970)

by R. M. Audley

This article was published:

Frederick Charles Garside (1887-1970), railways commissioner, was born on 5 February 1887 at Burwood, Sydney, son of Eli Garside, an engine driver from England, and his native-born wife Eleanor, née Coleman. Educated at Goulburn, Frederick joined the New South Wales Government Railways and Tramways in May 1903 and completed his apprenticeship as a fitter at the Eveleigh Workshops, Sydney, in 1908. He was based at Nyngan as fitter-in-charge when he married Treasure Mabel Coombs on 27 September 1911 at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Lismore. In 1914 he transferred to Newcastle as assistant outdoor superintendent, responsible for the availability of locomotives.

Because of his Christian Science faith, Garside was a strong non-unionist and did not take part in the railway strike of 1917. In the consequent restructuring of the service, his promotion to district inspector displeased the returning strikers. Opposition from fellow workers led him to seek a position outside the mechanical branch and in 1920 he was made a member of the Railways Suggestions, Inventions and Economies Board, Sydney. He became acting-comptroller of stores in 1922 (comptroller from 1923), a move that brought him close to T. J. Hartigan. In an attempt to lessen sectarian reactions to the Catholic Hartigan's promotion to commissioner, Garside was appointed assistant-commissioner for railways on 29 December 1932.

Sensitive and retiring, Garside deliberately isolated himself from the rank and file. His frequent public addresses tended to be to select groups, such as the Institute of Transport (of which he was chairman, New South Wales centre, 1937-38) and to the Institute of Public Administration (State chairman 1938-40). He and Hartigan effectively reorganized the deficit-ridden railways in the 1930s. During World War II much of the routine work of the commissioner's office fell to Garside who was a sound manager of planning and finance, but he had little success in negotiating with the unions and probably never fully understood the harsh reality of the footplate or the permanent way.

On 1 October 1948 he succeeded Hartigan as commissioner; Reg Winsor was appointed assistant-commissioner. Friction between them came to a head in January 1949 when Winsor supported efforts by the Railway Salaried Officers' Association to have Garside removed from office because of the way he had handled promotions, transfers and dismissals. Garside's intransigence was blamed for two strikes by members of the Australian Railways Union in October 1950. He had clashed with successive Labor ministers for transport Maurice O'Sullivan and W. F. Sheahan, arguing that the precarious state of railway finances in the postwar period stemmed from inadequate government investment rather than from poor administration. Keen to preserve the independence of the commissioner in decision-making, he resisted attempts to place him more firmly under ministerial control. This battle was lost in 1950 when the government passed the transport and highways bill; Winsor was made director of transport and highways, and became his superior.

Garside retired on 5 February 1952. He neither smoked nor drank. In his personal life he preferred retirement and study to an aggressive search for power, and he was perhaps a little out of his depth as commissioner. Strikes, unreliable services, outdated equipment and political controversy marred his term of office. The problems that occurred during his commissionership, and his earlier tendency to allow Hartigan to overshadow him, have tended to blur his significant achievements as assistant-commissioner. Survived by his four daughters, he died on 24 July 1970 at his Roseville home and was cremated with Christian Science forms.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gunn, Along Parallel Lines (Melb, 1989)
  • Report by EBASCO Services Incorporated, 5 Nov 1957, Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1957-58, 3
  • Railway Advocate, 20 Aug 1970, p 3
  • Sunday Herald (Sydney), 20 Jan 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Jan 1952.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. M. Audley, 'Garside, Frederick Charles (1887–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 February, 1887
Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


24 July, 1970 (aged 83)
Roseville, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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