Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harold Hanslow (1882–1958)

by Jan McDonald

This article was published:

Harold Hanslow (1882-1958), farmer and soil conservationist, was born on 4 October 1882 at Carlton, Melbourne, second child of Harry Hanslow, a goldsmith from England, and his Victorian-born wife Emelyn, née Beer. Educated at Princes Hill State School, young Harold became a rabbiter before travelling in 1904 to Canada where he worked on farms, in mines and as a lumberjack. On his return in 1911, he selected an irrigation block at Koyuga and developed a 'model farm', at first running dairy cattle and later raising fat lambs. A successful and progressive farmer, Hanslow served as a local councillor (1936-38) and as president of the Tongala Agricultural Society. He joined the Victorian Farmers' Union and the Victorian Country Party, of whose central council he became a member. His opposition to the party's entry into coalition governments accorded with (Sir) Albert Dunstan's views.

In 1938 Hanslow was appointed to the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission to represent the views of irrigators. At that time the commission's senior staff were concerned about the problem of soil erosion, but had no power to redress it. (Sir) Ronald East, the commission's chairman, persuaded Hanslow to accept particular responsibility for soil conservation. Having undertaken an extensive inspection tour of the State, he was quickly convinced of the gravity of the issue. He set himself two major tasks: to convince Victoria's farmers to change their methods so as to promote soil conservation, and to persuade the government to pass legislation which would provide a framework for tackling the broader aspects of the matter. In the former he was highly successful. He had a natural flair for publicity and an understanding of the ways in which farmers could be influenced. In 1940 he donated the Hanslow Cup for the Mallee farm showing the best application of soil conservation principles. During the next decade similar competitions were established in most districts of Victoria. In 1941 he published a handbook, Better Irrigation, and a pamphlet on raising fat lambs.

Hanslow was initially less successful in his approaches to government. Indifferent from the outset to any proposals for action, by 1939 Dunstan had become obstinately hostile. In a dramatic sequence of events Hanslow threatened to expose the government's inactivity on soil conservation. Dunstan in turn threatened Hanslow with immediate dismissal from the commission, but Hanslow remained adamant and in 1940 the Soil Conservation Board was established. It had few powers beyond demonstration and persuasion, yet it laid the foundation for systematic soil conservation work in Victoria and was succeeded by the Soil Conservation Authority in 1949. Although Hanslow retired from the S.R.W.S.C. that year, he maintained his active interest in soil-conservation work.

A short, energetic man, he was known as 'the Tongala spark plug' and 'the mighty atom'. He was a notable raconteur whose wide interests included sport and charity work. In 1956 he was appointed O.B.E. Hanslow never married. He died on 1 October 1958 at Mont Albert and was cremated with Anglican rites; his estate was sworn for probate at £19,315.

Select Bibliography

  • B. D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties (Canb, 1966)
  • M. and E. Smith, Like River Red Gums (Norlane, Vic, 1981)
  • J. M. Powell, Watering the Garden State (Syd, 1989)
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Oct 1958
  • Countryman (Melbourne), 9 Oct 1958
  • Kyabram Free Press, 9 Oct 1958
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 9 Oct 1958
  • State Rivers and Water Supply Com correspondence VPRS 6008 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Jan McDonald, 'Hanslow, Harold (1882–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 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]


4 October, 1882
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


1 October, 1958 (aged 75)
Mont Albert, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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