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Edward Fowler (Ted) Hill (1915–1988)

by Hugh Anderson

This article was published:

Edward Fowler (Ted) Hill (1915-1988), barrister and communist activist, was born on 23 April 1915 at Mildura, Victoria, third surviving child of Victorian-born parents James Frederick Hill, principal of Mildura Agricultural High School, and his wife Alice Steele, née Fowler. Educated at Hamilton High School, where his father had become head teacher, Ted then worked as a clerk for Bill Slater and in 1933 began to study law at the University of Melbourne. He won the Bowen (1936) and Supreme Court (1937) prizes, but did not graduate LL B until 1981; instead, inspired by Marxism and angered by the injustice exposed by the Depression, he had joined the Communist Party of Australia in 1936 and embraced political activism. He was admitted to practise as a barrister and a solicitor on 1 September 1938. On 5 April 1940 at the office of the government statist, Mel­bourne, he married Joyce Alison Wood, a clerk.

After a brief partnership with Jack Lazarus, in 1943 Hill was made a partner in the firm of Slater & Gordon; he developed redoubtable expertise in workers’ compensation. He also tutored (1944-48) in law at the university, built strong networks as a legal adviser to trade unions and to the Victorian Trades’ Hall Council, and later co-authored (with J. B. Bingeman, 1981) a leading textbook in compensation law. Yet, while held in high pro­fessional regard throughout his career, Hill became particularly associated with the doctrinal `leftism’ of the Communist Party in Victoria, of which he was State secretary in 1945-62. A tutor in industrial history at the Victorian Labor College from 1937 and a regular lecturer at Marx School, he made a major contribution to the party’s public educational mission: he was a prolific author of pamphlets and booklets and a prominent public speaker. In 1944 he was denounced in the Victorian Legislative Assembly by Bert Cremean as a `blackguard of the very worst type’ fol­lowing his appointment as acting registrar of the Opticians Registration Board.

In 1948 Hill established his own practice as a barrister and was elected State secretary of the CPA. He appeared as a witness before the Lowe [q.v.15] royal commission (1949-50) into communism in Victoria, and as a witness and counsel at the royal commission on espionage (1954-55); he was a vigorous opponent of the Communist Party Dissolution Act (1951). A staunch defender of civil liberties, he advised Frank Hardy in the criminal libel action against him in 1951 while himself becoming the subject of frequent press vilification and close surveillance by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Throughout the 1950s he travelled extensively to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, his visits including party congresses in Moscow in 1956 and 1959. As Australian delegate to the former, he heard Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin but suppressed discussion of that speech on his return, dismissing as `revisionism’ any such challenge to party unity.

Hill’s growing alignment with the Chinese Communist Party in its dispute with Soviet models of `peaceful transition’ to socialism led to his resignation as State secretary and, in August 1963, his expulsion from the CPA. He then formed and chaired (1964-84) the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), espousing the need for `all forms of struggle—peaceful and armed, open and secret, legal and illegal’. Over the next two decades his frequent trips to China, where he was fêted by Premier Chou En-lai and Chairman Mao Tse-tung, and his meeting with the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in 1978 reflected his international stand­ing while also underscoring enduring divisions in Australian communism.

Regarded as one of the most rigid and single-minded of Australian communists, Hill possessed—Bernie Taft recalled—a `commanding personality’, a `cold, penetrating stare’, and a `compelling logic’ which reduced issues to simplicity. His commitment extended to assisting conscientious objectors to national service in the 1960s and supporting unionists including Clarrie O’Shea, and Norm Gallagher (1931-99), State secretary (1970-91) of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation. For the last fifteen years of his life Hill suffered from Hodgkin’s disease but maintained a daily routine of office work after an early morning swim at the Brunswick baths. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 1 February 1988 at East Melbourne, and was cremated. `Ted Hill never forgot why he became a socialist’, one of many tributes reflected: he sought to practise solidarity with, according to Ralph Gibson, `self-sacrifice’, `determination’ and an `unswerving loyalty to the working people’.

James Frederick Hill (1918-1973), public servant and Ted’s younger brother, was born on 1 April 1918 at Hamilton and educated at Essendon High School (where his father was principal) and the University of Melbourne (LL B, 1940; BA, 1947). Serving full time in the Militia from March 1942 and the Australian Imperial Force from June, Jim was a driver in the Northern Territory, where he was wounded by a bomb blast. He transferred to the Australian Army Education Service and served in Queensland and briefly in Netherlands New Guinea before being discharged on 22 May 1945 as a warrant officer, class two. On 10 January 1942 at St Paul’s Church of England, Ascot Vale, Melbourne, he had married Marjorie Irene Royle, a typist.

Thickset like Ted, and gregarious, Hill worked as a temporary research officer in the Department of External Affairs until gaining permanent appointment in 1947 and travelling to New York to assist Bert Evatt at the United Nations General Assembly. By 1950, having risen rapidly to acting first secretary in London, he was placed under close surveillance and interrogated by Military Intelligence 5 over alleged involvement in Soviet spying. He returned to Canberra and—still under investigation—was eventually transferred to the Attorney General’s Department’s legal service bureau in Melbourne. No charges were laid against him. In 1953 he joined Slater & Gordon and became a junior partner. He died suddenly of myocardial infarction at Oxley, Victoria, on 22 April 1973, and was buried in Wangaratta cemetery. His wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Gibson, My Years in the Communist Party (1966)
  • A. Davidson, The Communist Party of Australia (1969)
  • B. Taft, Crossing the Party Line (1994)
  • M. Cannon, That Disreputable Firm (1998)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 7 Dec 1944, p 2846
  • Arena, no 82, 1988, p 99
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 July 1986, p 6
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Feb 1988, p 14
  • Australian, 2 Feb 1988, p 4
  • series A6119, items 209-15, 344-46, 778-84 and series A6980, item S201308 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Communist Party of Australia records (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Hugh Anderson, 'Hill, Edward Fowler (Ted) (1915–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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