Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Michael James Hillary (1886–1976)

by Kevin J. Fewster

This article was published:

Michael James Hillary (1886-1976) public servant and soldier, was born on 20 February 1886 at Carrieton, South Australia, son of Thomas Hillary, farmer, and his wife Annie, née Strickland. Michael was educated at Newman College, Adelaide, then studied at the University of Adelaide in 1912-14. In 1909 he joined the Commonwealth Treasury as a clerk. He was a member (later fellow) of the Australian Society of Accountants.

Hillary was commissioned lieutenant (provisional) in the 77th Infantry Battalion, Australian Military Forces, on 1 March 1916. In August he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a second lieutenant and embarked from Melbourne on 22 August with the 4th Reinforcements for the 1st Australian Wireless Signal Squadron. Promoted lieutenant in October, he disembarked at Basra on the Persian Gulf and served in Mesopotamia until October 1918 with the small Australian and New Zealand contingent sent to assist British and Indian units in protecting Anglo-Persian oil supplies. In January 1918 Hillary was promoted temporary captain (confirmed in July). Maintaining the communication links was very arduous because of the bulkiness of the radio equipment and the inhospitable terrain and climate. In February Hillary was granted four months leave to Australia. He rejoined his unit in September and returned to Australia in April 1919. He had been mentioned in dispatches in August 1917 and June 1919, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in September 1917, and was appointed O.B.E. in June 1919 shortly before his demobilization. In 1921-23 Hillary commanded the 3rd Divisional Signals, A.M.F., retiring with the rank of major.

Back in civilian life he returned to the Treasury, serving as secretary to the War Gratuities Board, then with the war pensions branch of the Repatriation Department. In 1921-22 he was private secretary to Prime Minister W. M. Hughes. He was then transferred to Australia House, London, to collect information for the Australian royal commission on national health and unemployment insurance. In 1925 he joined the Sudan Civil Service as assistant director of accounts. He rose to be auditor-general from 1933 before returning in 1938 to London as head of the administrative division within the Coal Commission and in 1947-54 deputy registrar of the National Coal Board. He settled in London and was honorary secretary of the Sudan Government British Pensioners' Association until 1973.

Hillary had married Edwyna Mary Hope on 16 August 1916 at St Kilda, Melbourne, with Catholic rites. Their only son Richard, author of The Last Enemy, was killed in action with the Royal Air Force in 1943. After his wife's death in 1966 Hillary married Christine Mary Bladon in London on 7 March 1974. He died on 23 October 1976 at Middlesex Hospital, London, and was buried in East London cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1937)
  • Times (London), 25, 27 Oct 1976
  • J. H. Thyer, Royal Australian Corps of Signals: Corps History 1906-1918 (1974, Australian War Memorial)
  • correspondence with family.

Citation details

Kevin J. Fewster, 'Hillary, Michael James (1886–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 February, 1886
Carrieton, South Australia, Australia


23 October, 1976 (aged 90)
London, Middlesex, England

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.