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Sir Tasman Hudson Eastwood Heyes (1896–1980)

by Andrew Markus

This article was published:

Sir Tasman Hudson Eastwood Heyes (1896-1980), public servant, was born on 6 November 1896 at Kent Town, Adelaide, son of Hudson Eastwood Heyes, compositor, and his wife Mary, née Jones. Educated in Melbourne, in 1912 Tasman entered the Commonwealth Public Service as a messenger in the Department of Defence. Next year he joined the Permanent Military Forces and was employed as a staff clerk with the rank of corporal.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 March 1916, Heyes served on the Western Front from April 1917, spending twelve months with the 3rd Divisional Signal Company before being posted to the Australian War Records Section and promoted sergeant. He was discharged on 19 August 1919 in Melbourne, resumed his public service employment and was transferred that year to the Australian War Museum at the request of Charles Bean. On 29 November 1921 Heyes married Ethel Brettell Causer with Anglican rites at Christ Church, St Kilda; they were to have a son and daughter. In 1924-27 he was in England as Australian representative on the historical section (military branch), Committee of Imperial Defence, and carried out research for the Australian official war histories. He returned home via the United States of America, Canada and New Zealand, briefly undertaking research in those countries.

From 1928 he was deputy to the director of the Australian War Memorial, J. L. Treloar. Having moved to Canberra, in October 1939 he was appointed acting-director in Treloar's absence and oversaw the opening of the A.W.M. in 1941. The minister for the interior J. S. Collings wrote in 1942 that Heyes possessed 'a first-rate capacity for clear and constructive thinking', as well as 'energy and driving force'; others commented on his organizational skills, decisiveness and capacity for hard work. For a few months in early 1942 Heyes was secretary of the Administrative Planning Committee and for the remainder of World War II was assistant to A. J. L. Wilson, assistant-secretary (policy and supplies), Department of Defence.

In May 1946 Heyes was appointed secretary of the new Department of Immigration. He faced the tasks of building a department from a nucleus of staff inherited from the Department of the Interior, managing an unprecedented level of government involvement in the selection, movement, reception, job placement and supervision of immigrants, and ensuring public acceptance of the radical shift in immigration policy which saw a dramatic increase in numbers from continental Europe. Under Heyes's administration the personnel of the department (excluding employees in migrant camps) rose from 74 in 1946 to 1218 in 1961; staff stationed overseas increased from 14 in 1947 to 390 in 1961; and net migration climbed from 11,200 in 1947 to 89,090 in 1960. In the 1950s permanent and long-term arrivals averaged 122,100 per annum.

Sharing the nation-building vision of Arthur Calwell and subsequent ministers, Heyes was dedicated to his work. To his staff he spoke of the 'immigration spirit', and publicly stressed the importance of immigration 'to assure this nation of substantial economic growth, security and happiness for years to come'. A man of great personal charm and friendliness, he had a flair for public relations and was aware that the support of community leaders had to be enlisted. He made it his business to sell the programme, not only through the establishment of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council (which represented major interest groups), but also at a personal level: from the outset he ensured that two influential critics of the programme experienced the benefits of immigration by being allocated servants from the new arrivals.

Heyes was committed to the concept of assimilation; he preferred British and Northern European immigrants, and people of 'Aryan' stock; and he defended the White Australia policy. Wishing to avoid public controversy, he exercised a conservative influence on ministers with reformist inclinations. In 1957 he recommended that non-Europeans who wanted to be naturalized should be made to comply with strict terms of eligibility, including fluency in English and evidence of participation in 'normal Australian life'.

Appointed C.B.E. in 1953, Heyes was knighted in 1960. After he retired in 1961, he served on the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, and was chairman of directors (1962-69) of Commonwealth Hostels Ltd. In 1962 Sir Tasman was awarded the Nansen medal by the United Nations in recognition of his, and his country's, contribution to the resettlement of refugees. Calwell wrote that 'the name of Tas Heyes . . . ranks with the best and most highly successful departmental heads in the history of our Federation'. Heyes's career was testimony to the fluidity of class barriers in the society of his day and to the opportunity for men of ability with little formal education to rise from relatively humble beginnings. Survived by his daughter, he died on 25 June 1980 at Windsor, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. A. Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not (Melb, 1972)
  • Reveille (Sydney), 1 Dec 1939
  • AWM 93, item 22/2/150 (Australian War Memorial)
  • A664/1, item 609/402/821, A5954/1, item 690/29 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrew Markus, 'Heyes, Sir Tasman Hudson Eastwood (1896–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 June 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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