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Sir Norman Angus Martin (1893–1978)

by B. J. Costar

This article was published:

Norman Angus Martin (1893-1978), by unknown photographer

Norman Angus Martin (1893-1978), by unknown photographer

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria

Sir Norman Angus Martin (1893-1978), farmer, grazier and politician, was born on 24 April 1893 in Port Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents Angus Martin, tram conductor, and his wife Ruth, née Gale. Norman attended school at Werribee and began to farm at Lucernvale, Cohuna. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 January 1916, he served with the 8th Field Artillery Brigade on the Western Front. In September 1917 he was gassed at Passchendaele. While recuperating in England, he met Gladys Violet Barrett, a nurse and daughter of an English officer, Captain Walter Barrett, M.C. They were married on 29 January 1919 at the parish church, Warminster, Wiltshire. After Sergeant Martin was discharged on 13 October 1919, he returned to Cohuna and became prominent in community affairs. A foundation member (1922) and president (1930-31, 1939-40) of the Cohuna Shire Council, he joined the Country Party and was president of its Leitchville branch for fifteen years.

Henry Angus's death on 2 April 1934 occasioned a by-election for the Legislative Assembly seat of Gunbower. The United Country Party endorsed J. G. Matheson as its candidate; he had the backing of the party's central council and its president A. E. Hocking. Martin was encouraged to contest the seat by local supporters and members of the parliamentary Country Party resentful of Hocking's political influence. He ran as 'unendorsed Country Party' candidate and defeated Matheson in a two-way contest by 927 votes. Despite a declaration by central council on 1 May 1934 that 'Mr Martin is no longer a member of the Country Party', he was admitted to the parliamentary Country Party, a decision unanimously denounced by central council. Following a partial reconciliation of the organization and the parliamentarians, Martin's party membership was restored at the Victorian Country Party conference in 1935. He retained Gunbower uncontested until 1945.

Elected Country Party whip in 1937, Martin wanted to retain the post when he was appointed to the ministry on 26 April 1938, but a protest by party backbenchers led him to surrender it. He served as minister without portfolio (April 1938 to June 1943), and as minister of agriculture and of mines (June to September 1943), in (Sir) Albert Dunstan's minority government. He again held the agriculture portfolio in the Dunstan-Hollway coalition from September 1943 to October 1945, and was vice-president of the Board of Land and Works. Martin's parliamentary and ministerial career was solid rather than spectacular. After Gunbower was abolished by redistribution, he resigned from parliament in 1945 to become Victorian agent-general in London.

Martin proved an energetic agent-general: encouraging British emigration to Australia, coaxing British industries to establish branches in Victoria, urging Victorians to send food parcels to Britain, and assisting Victorians in Britain to secure shipping-berths home. His term of office expired in 1949, the year he was knighted. Back in Victoria, he maintained four successful properties in the Cohuna district and lived in a two-storey house, Longleat, at South Yarra, where he and his wife displayed their collection of English and European antique furniture. Stockily built and of middle height, he belonged to the Australian club, played golf at the Kew and Peninsula clubs, enjoyed swimming, and fished from a 20-foot (6 m) boat which he moored by his cottage at Long Island in Westernport Bay.

His appointment in 1950 as vice-president of the Victorian division of the Australian Publicity Council allowed Martin to continue his efforts to encourage industries to come to Victoria. Having conducted an inquiry into its operations, he was selected by the Liberal premier (Sir) Henry Bolte to be part-time chairman (1958-73) of the Victorian Inland Meat Authority. Martin was also active in a wide range of voluntary associations, such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association of Victoria and the Shrine of Remembrance committee, and was chairman of Victoria's Australia Day Council (1947-70). An unabashed patriot, he publicly lamented the lack of enthusiasm for Australia Day celebrations and regularly berated the media for ignoring them. In addition to his community work, he was a director of numerous companies, including Ball & Welch Ltd (chairman 1952-70), Holeproof Ltd and Thomas Cook & Son (Australasia) Pty Ltd. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, Sir Norman died on 8 October 1978 in East Melbourne; he was accorded a state funeral and was buried in St Kilda cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 10 Oct 1978, p 4366
  • Cohuna Farmers' Weekly, 27 Oct 1978
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 May 1945, 9 May 1958, 24 Aug 1978
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Mar 1950, 27 Jan 1968, 17 Jan 1969
  • Victorian Country Party, Annual Report, 1934 and Central Council, minutes, 20 May, 19 June, 20 July 1934, 5 Feb 1935 (Country Party Office, Melbourne).

Citation details

B. J. Costar, 'Martin, Sir Norman Angus (1893–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 May 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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