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Sir Peter Charles Reginald Reed (1909–1982)

by Andrew Moore

This article was published:

Sir Peter Charles Reginald Reed (1909-1982), businessman, was born on 26 September 1909 at Greenwich, Sydney, eldest of five children of Sydney-born parents Reginald Paul Reed, shipwright, and his wife Emily Christina, née Wells.  Educated at Greenwich Public School, which he left aged 12, Reggie first worked at his father’s orchard at Glenorie.  In 1930 he began as a storeman and packer with James Patrick & Co. Pty Ltd, a shipping and stevedoring company.  He married May Moore on 3 February 1934 at St John’s Church of England, Parramatta.

By World War II Reed was a wharf superintendent.  He rose quickly in the company to become a director in 1949.  Appointed chairman and managing director in July 1955, he oversaw James Patrick’s increasing concentration on stevedoring and diminishing involvement in shipping.  The firm grew rapidly under his leadership and became one of Australia’s largest stevedores, in the 1950s employing a day labour force of up to 1300 workers.  A member of the Australian Shipbuilding Board from 1964, Reed was appointed chairman in 1966.  He was vice-chairman (1973-78) of the Australian Shipping Commission, which owned the Australian National Line.  Appointed CBE in 1967, he was knighted in 1971.

In 1976 Reed was believed to be the highest-paid executive and 'the richest wharfie' in Australia.  Inquiries conducted by the Prices Justification Tribunal revealed that Reed had received a staggering $626,725 in director’s fees and emoluments in 1974-75—in addition to his salary and a return on his shareholding.  When Howard Smith Ltd purchased a controlling interest in James Patrick in 1980, Reed reputedly received up to $10 million in cash and shares.  Maintaining a gruelling work regimen until his early seventies, for the most part Reed lived his life out of the public eye, permitting himself only an occasional luxury, including, he told journalists, a chauffeur-driven limousine and a Scotch and water after work.

Reed’s plebeian origins and his own direct experience of the harsh working conditions on Sydney’s waterfront and its 'hungry mile' during the 1930s shaped his conduct of industrial relations during the Cold War.  While other waterfront employers reviled members of the militant Waterside Workers’ Federation of Australia for their leaders’ left-wing beliefs, Reed was friendly with the wharfies’ strong men, 'Big Jim' Healy and Charlie Fitzgibbon, and respected their point of view.  Reed was a pragmatic deal-maker and capable negotiator.  According to Graham Gilbert, who managed shipping-container terminals:  'Many a shipping line customer of Patricks was happily impressed by Reggie’s uncanny and mysterious influence with the Waterside Workers Federation'.  Even if this 'cosy alliance' entailed notorious featherbedding and inflated wages for some waterfront employees, by and large Reed was a 'wholesome maverick', who, alone among waterside employers, encouraged a progressive outlook to labour relations on the waterfront.  Sir Richard Kirby, president of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, recalled Reed as a compassionate man blessed with common sense:  'He treated the wharfies as human beings who would respond in good faith'.

Short and wiry, in his youth a featherweight boxer, Reed remained a knockabout Australian despite his wealth.  From 1968 he purchased a string of properties in the Goulburn district on which he grazed cattle and sheep.  These included Chatsbury, a landmark property at Taralga, purchased in 1978.  Over summer holidays, dressed in a blue wharfie’s singlet, he would toil long hours in the fields alongside his farmhands.  He was also a keen horse rider and breeder of Arab horses at Mount Wayo.  Interested in rugby league football, in 1977 he suggested that he habitually followed 'the misfortunes of North Sydney Rugby League team'.  However, when the Bears approached him to become their club patron, he respectfully declined.  As befitted a well-off man residing at Killara, Reed was also a member of several establishment clubs, including the Australian and Royal Prince Alfred Yacht clubs and the Royal Automobile Club of Australia.  Survived by his wife and their son, Sir Reginald died on 17 August 1982 at Hornsby and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. d’Alpuget, Mediator, 1977
  • Back to Basics: The Proceedings of a Conference at Newcastle, 19th-21st February 1988, 1988
  • A. Moore, The Mighty Bears!, 1996
  • T. Sheridan, Australia’s Own Cold War, 2006
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 October 1976, p 12
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 1977, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 1980, p 36
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 1982, p 9
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 April 1998, p 20
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 17 October 1976, p 123
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 6 March 1977, p 7
  • private information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Reed, Sir Peter Charles Reginald (1909–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 28 May 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

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