Charles Lydiard Aubrey Abbott
: countryman or colonial governor?

  • Peter John Elder

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This thesis is an account of the political and administrative career of Charles Lydiard Aubrey Abbott (1886-1975), interspersed with reflections on his personality, with particular attention directed to the time he spent in the Northern Territory as Administrator between 1937 and 1946. Following his father's premature death in 1890, which left his mother penniless, Abbott was placed in the care of his bachelor uncle, whose charity provided him with an upbringing and education appropriate for a future grazier. Abbott left the King's School, Parramatta, at fourteen, when he fell out with his benefactor. This was followed by several years of itinerant labouring in south eastern Australia which terminated in 1908 when Abbott joined the police service in Sydney. He worked as a confidential clerk in the police headquarters until he enlisted in the army in 1914.

    Abbott first served in the Pacific, then later at Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Middle East, where he met his future wife, an attractive, strong minded, young Australian woman whom he married in London in 1916. The couple returned to Australia in1919 and settled on a grazing property given to Abbott by his uncle. Abbott failed on the land and with this as a qualification he entered politics and was elected to the Federal Parliament in 1925 for the Country Party. Late in 1928 the Nationalist Prime Minister, S.M. Bruce, made Abbott a member of his cabinet.

    The fall of the National Party / Country Party composite government in 1929 put Abbott out of public office until 1932. During this interval Abbott was the secretary of the Producers' Advisory Council, a right-wing organisation, conducted under theauspices of the Country Party. On his return to Parliament Abbott became a political eunuch, largely caused by differences with his party leader Earle Page.

    Because Abbott was not expected to hold his seat in the 1937 election he took up the Administrator's post in the Northern Territory in that year. Almost at once he confronted problems which he dealt with in a way which made him unpopular, culminating in the raid on Darwin in 1942 when he was seen to be lacking leadership.

    Following this event, the military took control of the Northern Territory but Abbott maintained an attenuated civil authority from Alice Springs until the troops withdrew during 1945 and 1946. This ensured the continuity of government during a period inwhich there were moves for eventual political self-determination; Abbott was the unconscious catalyst for this movement. Inclined to benevolent despotism. Abbott nevertheless presided over the affairs of the Northern Territory unflinchingly during a time of great upheaval. He was retired summarily by a Labour Government in 1946. Abbott died in 1975 without returning to public life. During his long retirement he published a book on the Northern Territory, and this has remained a major reference source. Abbott could act out the roles expected of the Administrator but lacked the competence to take the initiative and win public confidence. His contribution to the historical process of the Northern Territory is that his dogged incompetence helped create the climate for moves towards self government.
    Date of Award1998
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDavid Carment (Supervisor)

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