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Sidney Land Luker (1890–1952)

by Robert Freestone

This article was published:

Sidney Land Luker (1890-1952), civil engineer and town planner, was born on 10 February 1890 at Madras, India, third son of Thomas Luker, journalist and merchant, and his wife Ellen, née Clark. Educated in England at Wycliffe College, Gloucestershire, and the University of Birmingham (B.Sc. Civil Eng., 1911), Sidney was employed by the engineers, Tulloch & Weaver, at Gloucester. Early in 1913 he came to Australia to join the works branch of the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs. Initially engaged on planning Canberra's drainage, he assisted (1913-14) with engineering works for the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay. Back in India in 1915, he was assistant-engineer with the Corporation of Madras. He revisited Sydney where, on 19 April 1917 at Strathfield, he married with Baptist forms Annie Luker Morris, a distant cousin and a kindergarten teacher. Returning to England, he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers on 12 January 1918; he was wounded in action in France and demobilized in June 1919.

Luker worked briefly with a firm at Manchester, England, to gain experience with ferro-concrete. This modern building technology he first employed in the design and construction of godowns, wharves, and foreshore reclamation and protection works along the Yangtze River, China, for Butterfield & Swire. At the end of his three-year contract, he left Shanghai for Sydney in November 1922. An expert in reinforced-concrete design, he was appointed engineer for the reconstruction of the main road from Redfern to Botany and helped to transform a 'running sore' to a model thoroughfare. In 1925 he worked as a private consultant to various Sydney councils, upgrading the arterial road system.

In March 1926 Luker joined the Main Roads Board (Department of Main Roads from 1932). For many years he was the senior maintenance engineer for the metropolitan and (from 1938) the country divisions. In 1930 he undertook a study tour of the United States of America with H. M. Sherrard, representing the board at the International Road Congress in Washington, D.C. Luker succeeded Sherrard as assistant chief engineer in 1941. From 1942 he served in turn as chief engineering consultant to the United States Army Services of Supply and as an area controller of technical services to the Commonwealth Department of Labour and National Service. On 2 January 1946 Luker took up duties as first chief planner for the Cumberland County Council. He oversaw the preparation of Australia's first statutory metropolitan planning scheme—a blueprint for Sydney in the British town and country planning tradition—which was completed within three years.

Active in professional and community circles, Luker was a fellow of the Institute of Public Administration, and a member of the institutions of engineers of Britain (from 1918), China (1919) and Australia (1925). In 1941 he chaired the Sydney division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia; he served on its national council in 1945. He had contributed to and been an associate-editor (1924-28) of the Shire and Municipal Record.

The development of Canberra quickened Luker's interest in planning. A foundation member (1934) and president (1943) of the Town and Country Planning Institute of New South Wales, he served on six of its committees. He also lectured part time (1950-52) on town and country planning at the University of Sydney. In 1951 he spent five months in Europe, attending conferences of the International Federation for Housing and Town Planning and of the Town Planning Institute, London. With his engineering background, Luker approached planning as a technical-bureaucratic activity which focused on better arrangement of land-use patterns. His major achievement was co-ordinating the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme.

Of average height and stocky build, Luker was both a consummate professional and a man of great warmth and charm. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 28 July 1952 at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, North Sydney, and was cremated; his wife, two sons and two daughters survived him. The Sydney division of the (Royal) Australian Planning Institute has sponsored (since 1956) the biennial Sidney Luker memorial medal and lecture.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Winston, Sydney's Great Experiment (Syd, 1957)
  • New South Wales Dept of Main Roads, The Roadmakers (Syd, 1976)
  • Civic Development, July 1952
  • Australian Planner, 21, Apr-May 1983, p 29
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Apr 1947, 16 Aug 1949, 29 July 1952
  • Cumberland County Council, chairman's minute, 1 Aug 1952 (State Records New South Wales)
  • New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority Archives (Sydney)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert Freestone, 'Luker, Sidney Land (1890–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 14 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]


10 February, 1890
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India


28 July, 1952 (aged 62)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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