Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Nailer Jacobs (1897–1976)

by Jan Wilson

This article was published:

Alfred Nailer Jacobs (1897-1976), medical practitioner, was born on 11 July 1897 at Surrey Hills, Melbourne, second child of Henry Atwood Jacobs, a warehouseman from England, and his second wife Amy Lilian, née Scales, from Geelong. Educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1925), Alfred suspended his studies and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 January 1916. He served on the Western Front from September 1917 with the 15th Field Ambulance. At Bellicourt, France, on 29-30 September 1918 he evacuated the wounded for thirty-six hours continuously while under heavy fire and won the Military Medal. After being discharged on 4 September 1919, he completed his degree and worked successively at the Melbourne, the Homoeopathic and the Bendigo hospitals.

In 1926 Jacobs joined the staff of the Fremantle Hospital, Western Australia. Next year he was employed at the State Tuberculosis Sanatorium, Wooroloo, before practising at Yarloop. In the Perth College chapel on 6 January 1929 he married with Anglican rites Eva Ivy May Hurst, a trained nurse. During the early years of the Depression he set up practice at Harvey where he was responsible for the care of some 3500 sustenance workers and their dependants. His observation of human suffering and his experience of having 'virtually . . . to hold a gun to the government's head' to obtain medicines and hospital supplies increased his political awareness and led him to join the Douglas Social Credit Party of Western Australia (vice-president 1933). He was described as 'a clear and incisive speaker' who embodied 'that happy combination of idealism with realism'. In his public lectures and study groups he promulgated the view that the cause of unemployment was the replacement of people by machines. At the Federal elections in 1934 he stood unsuccessfully for the Senate as a Social Credit candidate. He was also to be defeated when he stood for the Legislative Council in 1944 (as a Labor candidate) and 1968 (as an Independent). With (Sir) Walter Murdoch, he was a foundation vice-president (1939) of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. In reaction to the rise of fascism in Europe, he gravitated to the political left and came under the surveillance of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch and its successor the Australian Security Intelligence Organization.

In 1940 Jacobs moved with his family to Narrogin. There, his practice involved him in the affairs of the local Aboriginal community. He helped to found the Narrogin Native Welfare Committee (later Association) in 1946 and served as its honorary secretary throughout the 1950s. The N.N.W.C. lobbied for better living conditions, higher educational opportunities and full citizenship rights for Aborigines. At the administrative level, Jacobs was often at odds with the Native Affairs Department and campaigned for the Federal government to take charge of Aboriginal affairs. The N.N.W.C.'s attempts to intervene in cases of police brutality against Aborigines also caused friction with local officials. Suffering from tuberculosis, Jacobs spent periods in Hollywood Repatriation Hospital, Perth, in 1947, 1950, 1952 and 1955. At the first federal conference of the Aboriginal Advancement League, held in 1958, he presented the N.N.W.A.'s demands for radical reforms, including land, fishing and mining rights.

Jacobs was frequently reviled, in part because of his identification with the A.C.C.L.'s campaign against (Sir) Robert Menzies' attempts to ban the Communist Party of Australia. He claimed that he had never belonged to the C.P.A., and that he always tried to understand social and political problems from both sides of the political spectrum. His real concerns were with 'civil liberty'—for which he was 'willing to fight tooth and nail'—and with Aboriginal causes. He died on 26 January 1976 at Narrogin and was buried in the local cemetery; his wife, son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Bolton, A Fine Country to Starve In (Perth, 1972)
  • A Walk Through the History of Western Australia 1829-1979 (Perth, 1979)
  • J. A. McKenzie, Challenging Faith (Perth, 1993)
  • Medical Journal Australia, 1976, 1, p 1018
  • Harvey-Waroona Mail, 31 Aug, 7, 14 Sept 1934
  • Reliance Weekly, 12, 24 Aug 1952
  • Narrogin Observer, 5 Sept 1952, 29 Jan 1976
  • West Australian, 28 Jan 1976
  • Department of Veterans' Affairs (Perth), A. N. Jacobs personal file and Narrogin Native Welfare Committee, minutes and correspondence (State Records Office of Western Australia).

Citation details

Jan Wilson, 'Jacobs, Alfred Nailer (1897–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 July, 1897
Surrey Hills, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


26 January, 1976 (aged 78)
Narrogin, Western Australia, Australia

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