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Sir George Dalziel Kelly (1891–1953)

by Alan Barnard

This article was published:

Sir George Dalziel Kelly (1891-1953), pastoralist and company director, was born on 27 July 1891 at Brighton, Melbourne, third child of George Colman Kelly, grazier, and his wife Agnes Dalziel, née Wilson. His uncle was Bowes Kelly. He was educated for a year at Edinburgh Academy, Scotland, while his parents toured Europe, and at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1914).

In 1915 he became manager of Barwidgee, a 13,500-acre (5463 ha) sheep property near Caramut, Victoria. His father bought the property in 1908 at the instigation of Dalziel's elder brother Charles. It passed to a partnership of Dalziel and Charles and their sister Mabel, wife of (Sir) Russell Grimwade, when their father died. Charles, the pastoralist of the family, joined an English cavalry regiment in 1915. Advised to recuperate in the country after surgery for tubercular glands, Dalziel took his place on the station. On 10 April 1918 he married Beryl Gwendolene, daughter of St Kilda doctor Robert Louis McAdam, and in that year returned to Melbourne to serve his articles, being admitted to the Bar in 1920. In 1924 the family partnership purchased Caramut North, with about 16,000 sheep on 16,000 acres (6475 ha), and Kelly managed it until 1934.

Before he returned to the land, Kelly had already evinced a keen interest in grazier politics. In 1923 he was a Victorian delegate to the Graziers' Federal Council of Australia of which he became an executive member in 1924-37 and president in 1929 and 1933-34. From 1923 he was an executive member (acting as vice-president for a time) of the Pastoralists' Association of Victoria (from 1929 the Graziers' Association of Victoria) and president from 1925 until 1937. He was also a member of the Australian Wool-growers' Council in 1925, its vice-president from 1930 to 1935 and chairman from 1935 until 1939. From 1931 until 1952 he was a co-opted member of the Victorian State Advisory Committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and was vice-chairman of the Australian Pastoral Research Trust (later the George Aitken Research Trust) for many years.

By the end of the 1920s Kelly was convinced that grazier organizations should pursue two political ends. One was to reduce costs of pastoral production by securing reductions in land taxes and in import duties on goods used by pastoralists. The other was to stimulate the use of woollen goods by reducing tariffs on finished goods, especially in Australia, and by promotion to a mass market. After lengthy lobbying and a strongly worded recommendation from a joint committee of the Australian Wool-growers' Council and the Graziers' Federal Council, in 1936 the government established the Australian Wool Board to finance publicity and research with funds levied from wool-growers. Kelly was one of the six initial appointments recommended by the industry (the seventh, representing the government, was Senator J. F. Guthrie) and was chairman until he retired in 1943. His skills as a committee-man and negotiator, already shown in his official capacities and his vice-chairmanship of the 1931 Empire Wool Conference, were evident in his chairmanship of the January 1937 conference between representatives of Australian, New Zealand and South African wool-growers that decided to establish a jointly funded International Wool Secretariat in London. A force in the appointment of (Sir) Ian Clunies Ross as Australian representative on I.W.S., Kelly was chairman of the international executive until 1943. He had a direct hand in creating I.W.S. publicity. Some stunts, such as putting wool back in the Woolsack in the House of Lords, were widely acclaimed; others, including mannequin parades of woollen summer garments and above all proposals that nylon heels and toes be used in woollen socks, aroused opposition from conservative wool-growers.

Though knighted in 1938 for services to the pastoral industry, Kelly had already severed his personal link with wool-growing, selling his share in the family partnership to his sister in 1934. Urbane, dapper and charming, Kelly was a townsman at heart. Practical pastoral life left habits — he preferred to do things himself rather than call in others, whether it was repairing his car, fixing household equipment or building a shed. Yet he was entirely at home with Melbourne's business and political elite, and soon found scope to extend his interests. In 1936 he became a director of the Argus & Australasian Ltd, newly reconstituted under Staniforth Ricketson, senior partner in the stockbroking firm of J. B. Were & Son. Next year he joined the board of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd, chaired by A. B. Were. After Ricketson retired from the Argus company in November 1940, Kelly moved to the board of the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd, and by 1941 he was director of the four investment companies comprising the Capel Court group that J. B. Were & Son operated. Ten years later he was a director of thirteen major companies, liked and respected as much by office staff and lift attendants as by his colleagues.

Increasing complexity of business commitments led Kelly to retire from grazier politics in 1939 and from the Wool Board in 1943. In April 1945 his wife died of cancer; he had visited her thrice daily during the long periods in hospital. This utterly changed the pattern of his life. After her death, childless, he took up residence with the family of his brother-in-law, Dr C. G. McAdam, adopting it as his own, and immersed himself almost entirely in city affairs. He died on 18 February 1953 of coronary vascular disease, leaving his estate of £121,789 to his sister-in-law and her children.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Review, 16 May, 15 Sept 1923, 16 May 1924, 16 Sept 1925, 16 July 1929, 16 Sept 1930, 16 Mar 1936, 16 Mar 1953
  • Herald (Melbourne), 2 July 1938
  • Stock and Land, 25 Feb 1953
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Barnard, 'Kelly, Sir George Dalziel (1891–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 July 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

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