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Angus James Smith (1911–1997)

by Lyndon Megarrity

This article was published online in 2023

Angus James Smith (1911–1997), sportsman, businessman, and civic leader, was born on 5 February 1911 at Wondai, near Kingaroy, Queensland, elder son and fourth of five children of Sydney-born Percy Thorneloe Smith, railway stationmaster, and his Scottish-born wife Mary Elizabeth, née McKenzie. The family later moved to Pialba, near Maryborough, and, finally, to Brisbane. After attending Pialba State and then Maryborough Grammar schools, Angus found work with Queensland Railways as a clerk, but by 1931 he was employed by A. N. Robinson’s Sports Depot in Brisbane. The selling of sports equipment was a natural fit for Smith, who since 1928 had attracted notice as a promising tennis player. In 1930 and 1931 he was a Queensland representative in interstate tennis competitions, including the Linton Cup.

At the age of twenty, Smith took a job managing the sporting goods section of the Hollimans Pty Ltd store at Townsville. A gregarious, friendly individual, he became popular among the young, ambitious white-collar workers with whom he mixed, not least because of his tennis skills. He would win the open singles championship of the Townsville Lawn Tennis Association fourteen times by 1950. On 4 January 1938 in St James’s Church of England Cathedral, Townsville, he married Dorothy Ramsay Bountiff.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Smith enlisted on 18 July 1942 in the Royal Australian Air Force. He trained as a pilot in Australia and Britain and was commissioned in 1943. From October 1944 to August 1945, he saw action with the RAAF’s No. 454 Squadron, based in Italy. He flew fifty operational missions, piloting Baltimore light bombers, eventually as a flight commander in the rank of acting squadron leader (1945). His superiors observed his ‘strong character and powers of leadership’ (NAA A9300). Back in Australia, he was demobilised on 29 January 1946.

Smith returned briefly to his old job with Hollimans. In July 1946 he started his own enterprise, a combined newsagency, book store, and sports equipment supply shop. With the subsequent establishment of Angus Smith Marine Pty Ltd, Angus Smith Sports Store, and Angus Smith Photographic Supplies, he became a prominent Townsville businessman. In 1948 a number of his professional and business colleagues, including the solicitor George Roberts, had formed the Townsville Citizens’ Association. The TCA called for an end to party politics in local government and reform of the Townsville City Council (TCC). Townsville’s position as a major Allied base in the war had led to the deterioration of civic infrastructure and a halt to development, which remained stagnant in the postwar years. The TCA alleged this was because of neglect by the Labor-dominated council. Evidently impressed by Smith’s prominence as a businessman, war veteran, and local tennis legend, the TCA’s members persuaded him to stand as a candidate in the 1949 council elections; he was successful.

The TCA dominated the TCC between 1949 and 1967. Appointed by his fellow aldermen as deputy mayor in 1949, Smith subsequently served as mayor from 1952 to 1967. Under his leadership, the council made major improvements to essential services, such as sewerage and roads. His legacy included the fluoridation of the city’s water supply (1964); the establishment (or improvement) of local parks and botanical gardens; and the completion of the Tobruk Memorial Baths, at which Olympic swimmers, such as Dawn Fraser, trained. He delighted in welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to Townsville in 1954, as well as dancing with Princess Alexandra of Kent during Queensland’s centenary celebrations (1959).

In the 1960s the TCC facilitated significant regional projects through the strategic gifting of council land. When the University of Queensland established the University College of Townsville in the suburb of Pimlico in 1961, the university initially saw it as a place where students would undertake the early years of a degree program before transferring to the Brisbane campus. Motivated by more ambitious plans, the council had purchased 1,000 acres (405 ha) of land the previous year in what would become the suburb of Douglas and in 1963 transferred it to UQ to be used for the expanded college and eventually its successor, the autonomous James Cook University (of North Queensland, 1970–97).

The council also gifted land near Douglas to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which enabled it to establish the Davies Laboratory in 1965. Still more council land was donated to the Queensland Department of Education, which then built the Townsville Teachers’ College, opened in 1969. These incentives for the development of education and research institutions in Townsville during Smith’s term as mayor showed vision and foresight. The initiatives helped the city to take advantage of its position as a major regional centre and provide opportunities for cultural enrichment and economic growth.

As mayor, Smith saw himself as the head of a team of aldermen, and encouraged group decision-making among his colleagues, who in turn looked to him for direction. As his friend George Roberts observed:

Sometimes we [the aldermen] disagreed amongst ourselves [on] the best course of action. Angus always allowed full discussion on such matters. If final agreement could not be reached he put forward his solution and it was accepted … we all respected his leadership. (2014, 145)

Appointed OBE in 1964, Smith intended to step down as mayor after the 1967 election but still play a role in the council. In the subsequent election, however, the entire TCA team was voted out of office. Ironically, they were replaced by a similar business-oriented group not aligned with a political party, the Association for Civic Development. The TCA’s downfall may have simply been a desire of the electorate for change; nevertheless, Smith’s decision to relinquish the mayoralty must also have been a factor. After fifteen years, the Townsville public had become accustomed to him as a civic leader. Five feet ten inches (178 cm) tall, handsome, confident, and able to get along with others, he projected himself as a man of the people and a tireless community representative, ‘available at the council chambers between 11.30 and 1 o’clock each day … to interview any persons’ (Townsville Daily Bulletin 1966, 9).

After his electoral defeat, Smith served on several boards, including MIM Holdings Ltd. He was a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission (1967–74) and a member of the James Cook University council (1970–76). Townsville Legacy, of which he was president (1981–82), was one of many community organisations he supported. In his spare time, he enjoyed fishing.

Smith died on 12 October 1997 at Townsville Hospital and was buried in Belgian Gardens cemetery, predeceased by his wife (d. 1994) and only daughter (d. 1946), and survived by his three sons. They took over his enterprises, at least one of which passed to the third generation. The long-serving mayor had been a major contributor to the prosperity and development of Townsville in the postwar years.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Bell, Peter. Our Place in the Sun: A Brief History of James Cook University 1960–2010. Townsville, Qld: James Cook University, 2010
  • Hopman, Harry. ‘Star Juniors Impress.’ Referee (Sydney), 4 March 1931, 20
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, SMITH A J.
  • Newman, Judy. George Roberts CBE: A Life in Townsville. Townsville, Qld: [no listed publisher], 2014
  • Roberts, G. V. ‘Angus Smith O.B.E. 5/12/1911–12/10/19[9]7.’ In George Roberts CBE: A Life in Townsville, by Judy Newman, 142–45. Townsville, Qld: [no listed publisher], 2014
  • Townsville Bulletin. ‘Angus Smith Left Legacy of Success.’ 14 October 1997, 2
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin. ‘Angus Smith Chosen to be Deputy-Mayor.’ 9 June 1949, 2
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin. ‘“Citizens Proud of the City.”’ 8 November 1966, 9
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin. ‘Landslide Victory in Council Elections: T.C.A. Out–A.C.D. In.’ 1 May 1967, 1
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin. ‘Wondai Native Now City’s Deputy-Mayor.’ 9 June 1949, 1

Additional Resources

Citation details

Lyndon Megarrity, 'Smith, Angus James (1911–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-angus-james-27043/text34516, published online 2023, accessed online 23 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

5 February, 1911
Wondai, Queensland, Australia

Death

12 October, 1997 (aged 86)
Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

pneumonia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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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.

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