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Sir Ivan Nello Holyman (1896–1957)

by Frank Strahan

This article was published:

Ivan Nello Holyman (1896-?), by unknown photographer, 1914-19

Ivan Nello Holyman (1896-?), by unknown photographer, 1914-19

Australian War Memorial, H15796

Sir Ivan Nello Holyman (1896-1957), businessman and airline founder, was born on 9 July 1896 at Devonport, Tasmania, eleventh of thirteen children of William Holyman, mariner, and his wife Honora, née Ballard. Educated at Launceston Church Grammar School, he intended to follow his elder brother Victor Clive (1894-1934) into a career as a ship's officer in the family shipping company, William Holyman & Sons Pty Ltd, Launceston, a business founded by their grandfather. Ivan's father, however, saw that he was placed as a clerk in the company's Launceston office in 1911.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914, Holyman was posted to the 12th Battalion and was commissioned at Gallipoli in August 1915. He was sent to the Western Front in April 1916 and promoted captain (May 1917). Near Jeancourt, France, on 18 September 1918, 'the splendid fighting company under his command' took more than one hundred prisoners; he was awarded the Military Cross. Thrice wounded during his service, and mentioned in dispatches, he returned to Tasmania where his appointment terminated on 8 July 1919. That year he re-entered the administrative section of William Holyman & Sons, taking over management of the company on his father's death in 1921. At Launceston on 2 April 1924 he married Enid Colville McKinlay with Presbyterian forms.

It was Victor's vision that led the family into air transport. Born on 27 August 1894 at Devonport, he trained as a pilot in Britain and was appointed flight sub lieutenant, Royal Naval Air Service, in June 1916. He fought on the Western Front, transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1918 and ceased full-time service in February 1920. In 1932 the family bought a three-passenger de Havilland 83 Fox Moth and Victor commenced flights from Launceston to Flinders Island, under the banner Holyman Bros Pty Ltd; the aircraft was named Miss Currie, after the principal town on King Island. Following amalgamation with a competitor L. McK. Johnson, Tasman Aerial Services Pty Ltd was formed to fly passengers from Launceston to Melbourne. Johnson was bought out and Holymans Airways Pty Ltd was registered, with Huddart Parker Ltd and Union Steamship Co. Ltd as partners. Winning a Commonwealth government contract, the company began a mail service to the mainland on 1 October 1934.

On 26 October Victor and ten others were lost over Bass Strait in the recently acquired DH86, Miss Hobart. Captain Holyman, as Ivan was commonly known, became the governing force of the fledgling aircraft company. He initiated moves which led in November 1936 to the purchase of Holymans Airways by a consortium of Holyman Bros Pty Ltd, the Orient Steam Navigation Co. Ltd, Huddart Parker Ltd and the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd with its associate Adelaide Airways. The new company had been registered in Melbourne in May 1936 as Australian National Airways Pty Ltd. Ivan's brother Dare (1891-1964) became its freight manager.

Absorption of West Australian Airways enabled flights to Perth; the takeover of Airlines of Australia Ltd brought linkage to Cape York, Queensland; Sydney traffic had also been generated, making A.N.A. a nationwide organization. With the purchase of a Douglas DC2 in 1936, Holyman brought the first, modern, all-metal airliner to Australia, and he continued to upgrade his fleet with Douglas aircraft. He also introduced to Australia air hostesses, free flight-meals and the automatic insurance of passengers. An enthusiastic pioneer of the Air Beef Scheme, he built up A.N.A.'s air-freight business to be the largest in the British Commonwealth.

Under Holyman's direction A.N.A. prospered. During World War II the company provided much support to the government and armed services. In 1945 the Chifley Labor government, applying its policy of acquisition of key industries, moved to nationalize the airline. Holyman fought this proposal through to the Privy Council, and won. The government's reaction was to establish a rival firm, Trans Australia Airlines, which competed for passengers and freight. In 1949 A.N.A. was floated as a public company. By 1956 it was flying 13 million miles (20.9 million km), carrying more than 600,000 passengers and nearly 50,000 tons of freight.

Regarded as a firm but fair business practitioner, and as a congenial and humane man, Holyman was chairman of Tasmanian Board Mill Ltd, Kilndried Hardwoods Ltd, Herd & Co. Ltd and Australian National Hotels Pty Ltd. He served on the boards of a number of other companies, including Olympic Distributors (Tasmania) Pty Ltd, National Instrument Co. Pty Ltd, Bungana Investments Pty Ltd, McIlwraith, McEacharn Ltd, Menzies Hotel Ltd and Goliath Portland Cement Co. Ltd. He was appointed K.B.E. in 1956.

Sir Ivan was a member of the Royal Melbourne and Royal Sydney golf clubs, of the Victoria and Moonee Valley racing clubs, and of the Tasmanian Turf Club; he also belonged to the Launceston Club, and, in Melbourne, to the Australian, Athenaeum, Savage, West Brighton and Naval and Military clubs. While holidaying in Honolulu, he died in his sleep on the night of 18/19 January 1957 and was cremated; his wife, daughter and two sons survived him. On 3 October that year A.N.A. was sold to Ansett Transport Industries Ltd. In 1961 the approach to Hobart airport was named Holyman Drive.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Hodges, Veil of Time (Melb, 1945)
  • C. Turnbull, Wings of Tomorrow (Syd, 1945)
  • Aircraft (Melbourne), Sept 1942
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 Oct 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1936, 4 Mar 1946, 31 May 1956, 21, 23 Jan 1957
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Sept 1955, 19 Jan 1957
  • Sun (Sydney), 21 Jan 1957
  • Mercury (Hobart), 4 Nov 1961
  • Holyman family papers (University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Frank Strahan, 'Holyman, Sir Ivan Nello (1896–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 July 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

Ivan Nello Holyman (1896-?), by unknown photographer, 1914-19

Ivan Nello Holyman (1896-?), by unknown photographer, 1914-19

Australian War Memorial, H15796