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Edwin Joseph Mackrell (1878–1965)

by Don Chambers

This article was published:

Edwin Joseph Mackrell (1878-1965), politician, was born on 16 December 1878 at Strathbogie, Victoria, fifth of eight children of George Mackrell, farmer from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Mary Ann, née Perkins. Mackrell was educated at Strathbogie State School. While a schoolboy he assisted his cousin George Mackrell at Mansfield Butter Factory and later built a smithy on his parents' farm to repair machinery. This mechanical bent brought him the post of manager at Fish Creek Butter Factory when he was 18 and later management of the Buln Buln factory near Warragul.

In 1901 Mackrell prospected unsuccessfully at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, then became a mine carpenter and engine driver. In 1906, back home, he was engaged by Bartram & Sons of Melbourne to sell and install Alfa Laval separators. He travelled the north-east of Victoria and the Riverina until transferred to Johannesburg, South Africa, in July 1908. After further travelling he became butter factory manager at Senekal, Orange Free State, briefly resuming Bartrams' Johannesburg agency after his marriage at Durban, on 15 July 1910 with Methodist forms, to an Australian, Elsie Flora Harris. He set up his own butter factory but his leadership of Senekal loyalists under Botha during the Afrikaner rebellion of 1914 lost him his business.

Mackrell returned home in 1916, bought land at Boho near Violet Town, but exchanged this for the old Strathbogie station pre-emptive right, adding adjacent land. In 1920 he was elected as Victorian Farmers' Union candidate for Upper Goulburn in the Legislative Assembly. Within the V.F.U. he was conservative, supporting Premier (Sir) Harry Lawson against the more radical wheat-growers in the 1921 wheat-pool dispute. In 1922-36 he was secretary of the Victorian Parliamentary Country Party, and minister without portfolio, contributing mainly to railway planning, in the 1924-27 Allan-Peacock administration. He moved to Canterbury, Melbourne, in 1927.

Mackrell achieved a large electoral majority in 1935 and was unopposed for ten years. In the Dunstan ministry, sworn in on 2 April 1935, he was honorary minister in charge of sustenance and the labour exchange, and continued to deal with these matters when he became minister for labour on 28 July 1936. On 23 June 1941 he was given charge of post-war reconstruction. 'I … know something of how men get out of work', he commented, 'and therefore I should know something of how to put them back into work'. The portfolio of public health was added to his responsibilities next January. A conscientious minister, though without parliamentary brilliance, Mackrell pushed through necessary Depression and wartime legislation and worked hard for his rural constituents.

When on 9 September 1943 the Dunstan government fell and was eventually succeeded by a Dunstan-Hollway coalition Mackrell, who had offered to step down, was not included in the cabinet. As a back-bencher he supported Dunstan until 30 August 1945; angered then by Dunstan's refusal to resign over the redistribution issue, he joined a disaffected Country Party coterie to support a Labor censure motion. Expelled from the party, he helped to bring down the government on 25 September. Minister of water supply and of decentralization in the brief Liberal administration of Ian Macfarlan, Mackrell was defeated in the November elections when he stood as an Independent Country Party candidate for the new seat of Goulburn.

Mackrell was a Presbyterian and a Freemason. He was a justice of the peace for Victoria and for New South Wales where he owned a 1608-acre (651 ha) property, Burraboi. He died at Canterbury on 24 March 1965 and was cremated. His three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties (Canb, 1966)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 July 1938, 24 June 1941, 17 Sept 1943, 6, 19, 20, 22, 24, 25 Sept 1945
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 29 July 1936, 20 Sept 1945
  • Age (Melbourne), 25 Mar 1965
  • Mackrell reminiscences (manuscript, State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Don Chambers, 'Mackrell, Edwin Joseph (1878–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 December, 1878
Strathbogie, Victoria, Australia


24 March, 1965 (aged 86)
Canterbury, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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