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Sir James Arthur (Jim) Kennedy (1882–1954)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published:

Sir James Arthur (Jim) Kennedy (1882-1954), accountant, secretary and politician, was born on 5 February 1882 at Parkville, Melbourne, youngest of six children of James Kennedy (d.1885), a builder from Scotland, and his English-born wife Emma, née Page. From Errol Street State School, North Melbourne, Jim won a scholarship to Parkville Grammar School; from there he won another to Scotch College. Growing up opposite Royal Park, he spent much of his time playing football and cricket. He and his brother Ted were 'dashing' wingers with both the Essendon and Carlton clubs in the Victorian Football League: Jim kicked 30 goals in 41 games in 1901 and 1905-07, while Ted was a member of three successive Carlton premiership sides in 1906-08. A 'forceful bat' for the Carlton Cricket Club, Jim was later president of the Brighton Cricket Club and a trustee (1945) of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

On leaving Scotch in 1897, Jim Kennedy was employed by the British Australasian Tobacco Co. Ltd. He gained accountancy qualifications and in 1903 joined the Melbourne Electric Supply Co. On 15 October 1913 at the Congregational Church, Carlton, he married a costumier Annie Taylor Biggins. A fellow of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants and of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries, he became chief accountant of the M.E.S.C. in 1920 and secretary in 1927; he also served as secretary of the company's subsidiary, the Melbourne Investment Trust. Although the M.E.S.C.'s enterprises were taken over by the State Electricity Commission in 1930, Kennedy continued as secretary of the company and the trust, presiding over their gradual liquidation. In 1940 he established a public accountancy practice in Collins Street.

Kennedy was a member (1928-45) of Brighton City Council and mayor in 1932-33. He did 'good work' as chairman of the council's finance committee and as Brighton's representative on the Municipal Association. In addition, he was treasurer of Brighton Community Hospital. As mayor in a Depression year, he cancelled the annual ball, using the money saved to buy shoes for children of the unemployed.

In 1937, representing the United Australia Party, Kennedy was elected to the Legislative Council for the province of Higinbotham and later led his party in the Upper House. He held the portfolios of transport and mines in the Dunstan-Hollway coalition of 1943-45. Commissioner of public works in Hollway's ministries of 1947-50, he was minister of electrical undertakings and of mines in December 1948. He was knighted in 1950.

As a minister Kennedy's major achievement reflected his long involvement with local government. A keen advocate of centralized town planning, he wanted to expand the powers of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to make it the city's planning authority. His intentions were embodied in the Town and Country (Metropolitan Area) Act (1949). Believing in co-operative housing societies, he 'campaigned ceaselessly' for their extension, acted as adviser and auditor to many societies, introduced the 1944 co-operative housing societies bill to the Upper House and became chairman of the Deakin Co-operative Housing Society which was established to assist immigrants in particular.

Christianity was 'the first and dominant loyalty' of Kennedy's life. He was a Sunday School teacher (from 1902), secretary (from 1916) of the Brighton Congregational Church, vice-president of the Sunday Christian Observance Council and a strict teetotaller. Treasurer of the Victorian Congregational Union for over twenty years, he was its chairman in 1940-41. Kennedy took a strong interest in the Church's youth and welfare work, chairing a young people's committee and working for the establishment of the Metropolitan Missions of the Congregational Union and the Tanderra Home for the Aged.

Sir James was committed to the ideals of service and duty. Until the last weeks of his life he never missed a parliamentary sitting and never left before the day's business was completed. Some 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, stocky and broad-shouldered, he was genial and even-tempered. He and his wife were enthusiastic ballroom dancers. Despite his busy workload, his daughters recalled an especially happy family life and a 'very nice, kind Dad'. He read widely, his tastes ranging from Gibbon to Zane Grey. Dickens, Scott, Thackeray and Dumas were his favourite authors. Survived by his two daughters, Kennedy died on 20 November 1954 at Brighton and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. In 1957 a memorial window was unveiled in the Brighton Congregational Church.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Gawler, A Roof Over My Head (Syd, 1963)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 23 Nov 1954, p 1965
  • Listener In, 26 June-2 July 1943
  • Southern Congregationalist, Dec 1954
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 Sept 1932, 25 Nov 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Apr 1940, 22 Nov 1954
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Kennedy, Sir James Arthur (Jim) (1882–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 February, 1882
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


20 November, 1954 (aged 72)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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