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John Percival Tate (1894–1977)

by Sarah-Jane Rennie

This article was published:

John Percival Tate (1894-1977), by unknown photographer, 1950

John Percival Tate (1894-1977), by unknown photographer, 1950

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an25009724

John Percival Tate (1894-1977), architect, town planner and politician, was born on 21 March 1894 in Wellington, New Zealand, son of Robert Gillies Tate, merchant, and his wife Frances Lilian, née Gumley. On leaving school, John served his articles with Panton & Son, civil engineers and architects at Timaru, and completed his training in 1914. He migrated to Sydney where he established a practice, John P. Tate & Young, architects and consulting engineers. At the Scots Church, Church Hill, on 31 December 1920 he married with Presbyterian forms Gladys Woodland, née Farquharson, a widow.

Tate's early commissions included the Manchester Unity building in Elizabeth Street (designed 1921, completed 1924), one of the first high-rise buildings in the city. His planning skill was evident in the building's structural detail and in the use of reinforced concrete. In the 1920s Tate also supervised construction of steelworks at Port Kembla. Following the outbreak of World War II, he joined the Commonwealth Department of the Interior in 1940 as superintending architect, New South Wales, responsible for the defence works programme in that State. In 1942 he became State construction manager for the Allied Works Council. Towards the end of the war, Tate met Walter Bunning, executive-officer of the Commonwealth Housing Commission and a leading advocate of urban planning. Tate was elected an associate of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1945 and joined the Town and Country Planning Institute of New South Wales in August 1946.

After winning a seat on the Ryde Municipal Council in 1944, Tate had become inaugural chairman of the Cumberland County Council in 1945. Its primary task was to create and complete a planning scheme within three years. From the outset, the County Council was in a precarious position, particularly with its constituent councils, who were uneasy about its new powers. Moreover, anticipated Commonwealth funding never eventuated. In partnership with the council's chief planner Sidney Luker, Tate brought the scheme together within the allotted time and presented it to J. J. Cahill, the minister for local government, in July 1948. The County of Cumberland Planning Scheme advocated decentralization, zoning, green belts, open spaces, and improved road and rail systems.

The State government's delay in gazetting the scheme eroded its potential. Land necessary for its success began to be privately developed. In January 1951 Tate refused to stand again as chairman: he declared that the plan had been betrayed and blamed the 'inertia of Government' for what he saw as the greatest 'civic tragedy' since Federation.

Tate was an executive-member (1947-49) of the Local Government Association of New South Wales. He represented Gipps (1947-51) and City (1953-56) wards on Sydney City Council, where he led those aldermen who belonged to the Civic Reform Association. A founding member of the Liberal Party, he was elected to the Senate in December 1949. He won a second term in April 1951 and chaired the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. Dropped from the Liberal Senate team for the 1953 election, he retired from Federal politics in June.

Although the County of Cumberland scheme was never fully realized, Tate's peers recognized his contribution to town planning in Australia. He was elected a fellow (1950) of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, a fellow (1962) of the Town and Country Planning Institute of Australia and a life-fellow (1974) of its successor, the Royal Australian Planning Institute. A widower, he moved to Canberra in 1976. On 7 June that year he married 63-year-old Bernice Ida Cheetham at the local registry office. He died on 21 January 1977 at Canberra Hospital and was cremated. His wife survived him, as did the four sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • Building (Sydney), 12 May 1921, p 56, 12 May 1923, p 67
  • Royal Australian Planning Institute Journal, 15, no 2, May 1977, p 49
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Dec 1947, 15 Dec 1949, 15 Mar 1950, 15, 16 Jan 1951, 21, 22 Mar 1953, 27 Jan 1977
  • Canberra Times, 25 Jan 1977
  • Royal Australian Planning Institute records (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Sarah-Jane Rennie, 'Tate, John Percival (1894–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Percival Tate (1894-1977), by unknown photographer, 1950

John Percival Tate (1894-1977), by unknown photographer, 1950

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an25009724

Life Summary [details]


21 March, 1894
Wellington, New Zealand


21 January, 1977 (aged 82)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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