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Sir Arthur William Nicholson (1903–1981)

by Anne Beggs Sunter

This article was published:

Sir Arthur William Nicholson (1903-1981), builder and civic leader, was born on 1 June 1903 in Wellington, New Zealand, second child of Victorian-born parents Arthur Henry Nicholson, bricklayer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Cassells. Shortly after Arthur’s birth his family returned to their native Ballarat, Victoria, where his father joined his brother’s building firm, established in 1890. Educated at Humffray Street State School, Ballarat High School and the Ballarat School of Mines, Arthur commenced his apprenticeship with Nicholson Brothers in 1917.

In 1924 Arthur’s father formed A. H. Nicholson & Sons, which undertook major industrial, institutional and residential projects around Ballarat. Arthur took control of the business in 1934 and became the driving force in its success, buying up a number of old mansions around the city and converting them into flats. His father had been president (1920) of the local branch of the Master Builders Association; Arthur followed him in this office in 1935-36. Nicholson’s family had had a long involvement with the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, where he met Jessie Beryl Campbell, a typist, whom he married there on 22 October 1932.

In 1946 Nicholson was elected to represent Lake Ward in the Ballarat City Council. Tall and slim, outspoken and full of ideas to promote Ballarat, he exuded an air of confidence and authority and was soon keenly involved in social and civic activities. Serving on many committees, including the School of Mines council, he was elected mayor four times (1952-53, 1960-61, 1967-68 and 1974-75) and also served as chairman (1956-76) of the Ballarat Water Commission and Sewerage Authority. In these positions he oversaw a great development of local services. If, in 1974, some controversy surrounded the fact that he had two official cars as a result of these offices, he was unopposed until his retirement from the council in 1976.

Committed to education, Nicholson was founding chairman (1951-75) of the Central Highlands Library Service, chairman (1964-66) of the Free Library Service Board of Victoria, and a foundation member (1966) of its successor, the Library Council of Victoria. A dedicated council member (chairman, 1966-73) of Clarendon Presbyterian Ladies College, he was honored by the opening of a school library in his name in 1972. He presided over the college’s amalgamation, as a co-educational school, with Ballarat College in 1973.

Having joined the Young Men’s Christian Association in 1944, Nicholson was president of the local branch for sixteen years, and national president in 1969-72. He was also a long-standing board member (president 1948 and 1959) of the Queen Elizabeth Homes for the elderly and a keen supporter of the local Caledonian Society. He maintained his business interests and by the 1960s was the city’s largest ratepayer. Appointed OBE in 1961 and knighted in 1968, Sir Arthur Nicholson died in Ballarat on 5 November 1981 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and their son.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Bate, Life After Gold (1993)
  • Australian Builder, December 1952, p 801
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 August 1974, p 2
  • Courier (Ballarat), 7 November 1981, p 4.

Citation details

Anne Beggs Sunter, 'Nicholson, Sir Arthur William (1903–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 June, 1903
Wellington, New Zealand


5 November, 1981 (aged 78)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.