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Frank Austin (Paddy) Pallin (1900–1991)

by Melissa Harper

This article was published:

Paddy Pallin, 1979, by Marg Turton

Paddy Pallin, 1979, by Marg Turton

Frank Austin ‘Paddy’ Pallin (1900-1991), bushwalker, conservationist, and businessman, was born on 28 November 1900 at Hartlepool, England, fifth of seven children of George William Pallin, joiner, and his wife Catherine Ann, née Thompson. As a child, Paddy developed a love of the outdoors through family picnics to the beaches of Hart Sands and walks in the nearby hills. In 1918 he served in the Royal Flying Corps (Royal Air Force). He then worked as an average adjustor and in 1920 moved to London, where he lived for five years in the Central London Young Men’s Christian Association building. There he became active in the scouting movement. Detesting the confinement of office work, on weekends he would head out of the city on his bike and on foot, camping wherever he could. He became engaged to May Bell Morris, but the idea of raising a family in London held no appeal and the pair decided to emigrate.

Arriving in Australia in 1926, Pallin initially worked as a share farmer on a dairy farm near Singleton, and as a fence-builder. He soon realised, however, that without capital he had no future in farming. Moving to Sydney, he gained work as an insurance clerk. Once again he drew his satisfaction from his leisure. He joined the scouts, helping to build a training camp at Pennant Hills, and started to go on bushwalks in Sydney’s two national parks and in the Blue Mountains. These environments contrasted sharply with the English landscapes with which he was familiar but he gradually developed a fierce love and appreciation for the Australian bush. He joined the newly formed Sydney Bush Walkers club in 1927. May joined him in 1929; the couple married on 11 May at Thornleigh Methodist Church. They went on many camping excursions, including an adventurous twelve-day canoe trip down the Shoalhaven River from Marulan to Nowra.

In 1930 Pallin lost his job. Aware of the lack of specialised lightweight walking gear in Australia, he decided to open an outdoor equipment business. He already made some of his own gear. Starting a business in the Depression was a bold move but May’s secretarial job provided financial stability. A room in the family home at Lindfield served as a sewing room and he began to sell groundsheets, tents, sleeping bags, and rucksacks to Sydney’s growing bushwalking fraternity. Within a few months he was able to rent a room in the city and take on an employee. Paddymade gear quickly developed a reputation for its quality and suitability for the serious walker. The business expanded, enabling a move to larger premises in George Street, and by 1934 it was generating modest profits. Pallin organised agents to sell his gear in other states, and established a mail-order system. He would eventually open shops and outlets throughout Australia, with sales boosted by the boom in backpacking as a form of travel from the 1960s. In World War II he served part time (1942-45) in the 8th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, rising to sergeant.

Pallin wanted others to experience and care for the Australian bush as he did. His guidebook, Bushwalking and Camping, first published in 1933, provided practical advice about equipment, bush etiquette, and how to camp. A fourteenth edition was published in 1995. He helped to found the River Canoe Club in 1935 and the Bush Club in 1939 to cater for walkers who desired easier conditions of membership to those demanded by the dominant clubs. His expertise as a bushwalker meant he was often called upon to help locate lost walkers. In 1944 he helped set up Bushwalkers Search and Rescue and served as its convenor until 1976. He played key roles in establishing the National Fitness Council in 1939 and the Youth Hostels Association in 1944, serving several years as chairman of the association. Becoming an avid conservationist, he lent his support to many campaigns to save and protect the bush. In the 1970s he established a foundation to provide financial support to environmental causes, as a way to give ‘something back to bushwalkers’ (Chester 1986, 113).

At the age of fifty-four, Pallin took up cross-country skiing. Despite breaking his leg twice he remained a devotee, undertaking many trips in New South Wales and Victoria. In 1965 he co-founded a ski-race from Round Mountain to Perisher. Known as the Paddy Pallin Classic, it ran annually until 1989. He led a trek to Everest in 1970, and in 1977 skied from Kiandra to the Hotel Kosciusko.

Through his equipment business and his dedication to the outdoors movement Pallin had a profound influence on the development of bushwalking, camping, and skiing in Australia. He was awarded the OAM in 1975. In 1987 he published his memoirs, Never Truly Lost. Survived by his wife and two daughters and one of two sons, he died on 3 January 1991 at Wahroonga, and was cremated. He is remembered by the Paddy Pallin Reserve, Lindfield. Paddy Pallin equipment stores remain a family business, and the Paddy Pallin Foundation continues to fund conservation causes.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Chester, Quentin. ‘Australia’s Bushwalking Legend: Paddy Pallin.’ Australian Geographic, July-September 1986, 112-13
  •  State Library of New South Wales. MLMSS 6016, Paddy Pallin Papers, 1916-1990
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Camping Gear Maker Took the Weight Out of Bushwalking.’ 7 January 1991, 4.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Melissa Harper, 'Pallin, Frank Austin (Paddy) (1900–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2014, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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