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Albert Harold Telfer (1900–1979)

by Patrick Bertola

This article was published:

Albert Harold Telfer (1900-1979), public servant, was born on 23 August 1900 at Collie, Western Australia, fourth child of Victorian-born parents James Gibson Telfer, carpenter, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Armstrong. Educated locally and at Perth Boys' School, Bert joined the Department of Mines as a clerk in January 1916. By the age of 26 he was acting principal registrar. At St George's Cathedral, Perth, on 1 December 1926 he married with Anglican rites Emily Tasker (d.1969), a typiste. Appointed assistant under-secretary for mines in 1936, he gave particular support to the gold-mining industry, and advocated that the government increase its financial assistance to prospectors and small-scale operators. In 1937 he was seconded to the Commonwealth Department of the Interior to inquire into mining administration and ordinances in the Northern Territory. He was promoted to under-secretary for mines in July 1938 and was to retain that post until he retired in 1965, a record term of twenty-seven years.

During World War II Telfer also served as deputy Commonwealth controller of minerals in Western Australia and under-secretary for civil defence. In 1946 he was appointed I.S.O. Anticipating an increased demand for minerals in the postwar period, he argued that the state should have a central role in the search for, and development of, new deposits. In the 1940s he extended the roles of the government geologist and the geological survey. Championing his department's work in regard to the coal resources near Collie, he helped to promote policies that led to open-cut mining there. He backed the expansion of his chemical branch, and defended the department for retaining control of the Western Australian School of Mines at a time when there was pressure to transfer the school to the University of Western Australia.

By the 1960s Western Australia had become one of the world's leading producers of iron ore, bauxite, mineral sands and nickel. Telfer enjoyed good relations with development-minded governments, especially that of (Sir) David Brand which came to office in 1959. The role of the Department of Mines did not extend to promoting the foreign investment or establishing the infrastructure that was central to the mineral 'boom' of the 1960s and 1970s: this work fell to the Department of Industrial Development and its minister (Sir) Charles Court.

In 1965 Telfer was appointed chairman of the Mining Advisory Committee. Next year he was made an honorary member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. On 15 December 1969 at St Matthew's Church of England, Guildford, he married Catherine Frances Magnus; she was the widowed sister of Jim Macartney. A member of the committee that inquired (1970-71) into the operation of the Mining Act (1904-70), Telfer recommended new legislation to reflect the change from 'pick and shovel' methods to mechanization. In 1970 he was appointed O.B.E. Gardening, motoring, tennis and golf enabled him to relax from the stresses of his work. He died on 4 August 1979 in Royal Perth Hospital and was cremated; his wife survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage. The Telfer Dome, in the Paterson Range south-east of Port Hedland, was named (1975) after him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Spillman, A Rich Endowment (Perth, 1993)
  • M. and A. Webb, Golden Destiny (Boulder, WA, 1993)
  • Mines Department (Western Australia), Annual Report, 1949
  • West Australian, 11 Sept 1937, 6 Aug 1979
  • P. Bertola, Kalgoorlie, Gold and the World Economy, 1893-1972 (Ph.D. thesis, Curtin University, 1994)
  • B. Sheppard, unpublished notes on Bert Telfer and the Telfer Gold Mine (privately held).

Citation details

Patrick Bertola, 'Telfer, Albert Harold (1900–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 13 July 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

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