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Cecil Albert (Cec) Gregory (1894–1974)

by Peter Spearritt

This article was published:

Cecil Albert (Cec) Gregory (1894-1974), journalist and map publisher, was born on 30 April 1894 at Forbes, New South Wales, son of Albert Edward Gregory, a draper from London, and his native-born wife Isabella, née Lowe. Educated at Bathurst Superior Public School, Cec taught himself shorthand from a Pitman's book. As a cub reporter (from 1909) on the Bathurst Times, he excelled at making notes from the long speeches that the newspaper subsequently reproduced in full; he also gave instruction in shorthand at the local technical college. He won the Bathurst Motor Cycle Club's Byrne Challenge Cup in 1916 and displayed an early fondness for adventuring on the roads.

Joining the staff of the Sydney Daily Telegraph in 1921, Gregory wrote regional and rural supplements; he later became a sub-editor and then picture editor. In 1923 he produced the Daily Telegraph Guide to Sydney which included coloured maps. At Christ Church, Enmore, on 16 September 1922 he married with Anglican rites Sylvia Evangeline Dowling. His wife and two daughters were eventually involved in the mapping business, especially the tedious task of checking the names of streets.

In April 1925 Gregory was elected to the council of the National Roads and Motorists' Association. Next year he was appointed director of the touring and publicity departments. From 1927 to 1932 he edited the Open Road magazine. His low salary was offset by his retention of the right to publish and profit from his guide books, which would be distributed by the N.R.M.A. An active participant in transport debates, he convinced the N.R.M.A. in 1928 to initiate a road-safety campaign and in 1931 was secretary of the Modern Transport Federation of Australia, a lobby group that favoured private buses over state-run trams and trains.

Gregory established the 'Road Before You', a series of strip maps, using the cartography of H. E. C. Robinson Ltd, but gave the maps added authenticity by driving over the routes himself. He quickly appreciated the potential advertising revenue in publishing maps, directories and guidebooks. Resigning from the N.R.M.A. in June 1933, he set up the Australian Guide Book Co. with the cartographer Clive Barrass. In November 1934 the first Gregory's Street Directory of Sydney and Suburbs was produced. Designed to fit into the glove-box of a motorcar, it was vastly superior to the annual Wilson's Authentic Director, a small, thick and clumsy volume.

By 1940 Gregory—who prided himself on writing his own text—had produced an Australian school atlas, street directories of Newcastle and Adelaide, a road guide to New South Wales, a fishing and camping directory, a handbook of stock owners and agents, and Gregory's 100 Miles Round Sydney. Publishing was constrained during World War II, but he did bring out a series of sheet maps on particular battles, sold in newsagencies. With a shrewd eye for likely demand, he published Gregory's Modern Building Practice in Australia (1944) and in the late 1940s produced guides to the Hume, Pacific and New England highways, the Jenolan caves, the Blue Mountains, and the States of Victoria and Queensland. Stemming from his frustration at the lack of tourist guides on holidays abroad, he published maps of Papua and New Guinea (1949) and Hong Kong (1953). His fortunes rose with the extraordinary growth in car ownership in the 1950s. The Gregory Publishing Co. Pty Ltd remained small and efficient, and used nearby printers.

Six feet (183 cm) tall and 13½ stone (86 kg) in weight, the bespectacled Gregory, with his straight, jutting nose and outgoing sense of humour, was a prominent figure in transport and motoring circles. His close friendship with (Sir) William Walkley of Ampol Petroleum Ltd led to a contract to provide maps to that company. Gregory served as general secretary (1935-52) of the Service Station Association of New South Wales and produced its magazine, Sales and Service. A keen swimmer and sportsman, and a member of the New South Wales Masonic Club, he had wide-ranging hobbies, from pig-shooting to home movies. In the late 1940s he attended a performance by the hypnotist 'Franquin' and became fascinated by the subject: developing his own abilities in the art, he induced individual and group trances in his Fairlight home, and maintained that hypnotherapy could be valuable in treating anxiety, fear, depression and insomnia.

Survived by his daughters, Gregory died on 17 August 1974 at Fairlight and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. By the time he had sold the firm to Publishers Holdings Ltd in 1962, he was the best-known street-directory and tourist-guide publisher in Australia, dominating the market in New South Wales and having a considerable share in other States. 'Gregory's' was by then a household name.

Select Bibliography

  • Pix, 14 May 1949
  • People (Sydney), 19 Nov 1952
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11 Aug 1985
  • L. Hovenden, The Motor Car in New South Wales 1900-1937 (M.A. thesis, University of Sydney, 1981)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Peter Spearritt, 'Gregory, Cecil Albert (Cec) (1894–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 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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