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Denis Lovegrove (1904–1979)

by John N. Button

This article was published:

Denis Lovegrove (1904-1979), trade unionist, party official and politician, was born on 25 September 1904 at Carlton, Melbourne, only child of Violet Lovegrove who came from Tasmania. Educated at Faraday Street State School, 'Dinny' left at an early age and followed a variety of manual occupations. He lost his job as a plasterer with the onset of the Depression. On 28 January 1928 at the Baptist manse, Collingwood, he had married Irene Chinn (d.1946); they were to have two children.

In 1930 Lovegrove joined the Communist Party of Australia (under the name 'Denis Jackson') and became secretary of the Unemployed Workers' Movement. A skilled orator and a leading activist, he was regarded by the authorities as a dangerous agitator and was arrested several times following violent demonstrations. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1933, probably because he fell foul of Ernest Thornton. By nature Lovegrove was fiercely independent, and it is likely that he reacted against stern party discipline. He later alleged that, after his expulsion, communists had 'bashed [him] with bike chains at the back of the Fitzroy Town Hall'.

As secretary (1935-47) and president (1955-78) of the Fibrous Plaster and Plaster Workers' Union, Lovegrove was prominent in the Victorian Trades Hall Council (president 1938), in the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and increasingly in the Australian Labor Party which he joined in 1936. He was an executive-member (1938-55), president (1943-44), organizing secretary (1947-50) and secretary (1950-55) of the State branch of the A.L.P. In 1953-54 he was the party's federal president.

By the early 1940s Lovegrove had become staunchly identified with anti-communism, both politically and in the trade unions; he was subsequently involved with the organization and activities of the anti-communist industrial groups. As A.L.P. State secretary he was a key right-wing figure in events leading up to the party split in 1955. He then sided with the party's new national executive, believing that narrowly based splinter groups were doomed to fail.

In the Victorian elections of 1955 Lovegrove won the seat of Carlton, defeating Bill Barry, the sitting member and candidate for the Anti-Communist Labor Party. The campaign was characterized by violence and acrimony: Lovegrove described his opponent as 'a man with a crucifix in one hand and a dagger in the other'. Remaining in parliament until 1973—as member for Fitzroy (1958-67) and Sunshine (1967-73)—Lovegrove was deputy-leader of the Opposition in 1958-67. Both sides of the House regarded him as an outstanding debater. His speeches were hard-hitting, passionate and well researched, but his past associations with the 'groupers' militated against his becoming leader.

Even Lovegrove's enemies conceded that he was a man of considerable intelligence, capacity and courage, who espoused causes with conviction. He could be charming when he chose, but essentially he was tough. As early as 1941 political associates had described him as a man with a 'bitter streak' and this trait became more obvious as he grew older. Certainly he had a sardonic wit and a strong disregard for what he regarded as political hypocrisy. He was consumed by politics. Music was one of his few distractions, and he was a competent and enthusiastic violinist. In 1964-68 he served on the council of the University of Melbourne. Having retired from parliament, he became a director of the Industrial Printing & Publicity Co. Ltd. Lovegrove had married a divorcee Eileen Delaney, née Collins, on 27 February 1951 at the Collins Street Baptist Church. He died on 25 January 1979 in East Melbourne and was cremated; his wife survived him, as did the son of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • R. McMullin, The Light on the Hill (Melb, 1991)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 19 Apr 1973
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 Jan 1979
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

John N. Button, 'Lovegrove, Denis (1904–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 16 June 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

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