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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hankinson, Robert Henry (1877–1953)

by Bill Gammage

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Robert Henry Hankinson (1877-1953), storekeeper and politician, was born on 11 October 1877 at Edenhope, Victoria, son of Robert Hankinson, labourer, and his wife Alice, née Davies. He left Edenhope State School at 13, and worked as a hotel yardsman and farm labourer before moving to Narrandera in the New South Wales Riverina as a shop assistant with H. S. Rich & Co. in November 1898. On 16 October 1901 at Germanton (Holbrook) he married Beatrice Mary Klimpsch; they had three daughters.

Lean and dark with a Henry Lawson moustache, affable, forthright and talkative, by 1915 Hankinson owned stores at Narrandera, Grong Grong, Matong, Ganmain and Leeton; they prospered with local expansion of closer settlement and irrigation before World War I. Later he dealt successfully in land and as a moneylender, was a pioneer rice-grower, and in 1935 helped convert the failing Leeton fruit cannery into a successful co-operative. He became a generous patron, among other gifts donating Narrandera's town clock and its valuable Royal Doulton fountain, and he helped some men establish themselves on the land or in business, and several Narrandera students on to higher education.

Although an alderman on Narrandera Municipal Council in 1911, Hankinson first threw himself into public affairs in 1915, raising patriotic funds and men for the war effort. For the next forty years he was involved in every public movement in Narrandera. He was twelve times mayor, the last time in 1950-51, president or patron of numerous local committees and charities, a Presbyterian elder for fifty-one years, first chairman of the Rice Marketing Board in 1928-31 and a co-opted member of the Primary Producers' Advisory Council.

Hankinson was typical of intelligent Riverina conservatives of his time. His Riverina was dominated by Victoria, and had a long tradition of resentment of the Sydney government. By the early 1920s Hankinson and others felt keenly that the population drift to the cities would undermine both rural business and the pioneer and British virtues which they believed were best expressed in country life, and on which Australia's national strength depended. In 1920 he helped to organize the first Bush Week in Sydney, the forerunner of Country Week, and to found the Country Promotion League, which campaigned with the Commonwealth Immigration Office to attract British migrants to the Narrandera-Yanco area. In April 1928 he helped form the Riverina Development League, which advertised the area's economic attractions and the moral advantages of the country.

These activities led Hankinson to the Riverina Movement, which with Charles Hardy and others he launched in 1931. They wanted not a new State but greater local government powers for country areas: the movement spoke for country-town businessmen rather than being truly rural. Hankinson carried its concerns into the Country Party. Narrowly defeated for the Federal seat of Riverina in 1932, he won the State seat of Murrumbidgee later that year and held it for the Country Party until he retired in 1941. His 1932 campaign speech spoke of a State government composed of city men who neglected the country, and of disloyal men influenced by Communists who were betraying those British virtues for which 60,000 Australians had died in the war. When he died at Narrandera on 25 October 1953 the council flew the Union Jack from its chambers, to mark the passing of its most generous citizen, and one who did much to win the mighty bush for the conservatives. His wife and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1953, p 1396
  • Australian Quarterly, 3 (June 1931), no 10, p 58
  • Narrandera Argus, 20 Apr 1928, 10 Mar 1931, 27 May 1932, 18 Oct 1951, 26 Oct 1953
  • Charles Hardy correspondence, MS 3775 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Bill Gammage, 'Hankinson, Robert Henry (1877–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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