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ALEXANDER MAIR, FARMER, BUSINESSMAN, PREMIER of NEW SOUTH WALES

The advertising cover of Alexander Mair & Co., Victoria & Leicester St. Melbourne, Agents for William Dockers Ltd., English Varnish and Ever Shining Sun Brand was addressed to the Boston Woven Hose and Keebler Co., San Francisco, Cal. The blue 2½d ‘POSTAGE’ stamp of Victoria was cancelled MELBOURNE/ 4 6 04/ -14-. On the reverse was an indistinct reception postmark of San Francisco (Figure 1).

Alexander Mair, farmer, businessman and politician, was born on 25 August 1889 at North Carlton, Melbourne, eldest child of Alexander Mair, ironmonger, and his wife Florence. On leaving Wesley College he was apprenticed to a blacksmith at Thoona. He returned to Melbourne to study commerce at Bradshaw's Business College and to work in the family firm, Alexander Mair & Co., timber, iron and steel merchants. Mair married Grace Lennox on 29 October 1913. On his father's death that year Mair took over the family firm, which moved into hardware. He several times visited overseas suppliers, but a bout of influenza in the 1919 epidemic and subsequent asthma led him gradually to withdraw from business. In 1922 he sold the steelyard and in 1925 the company's other assets to James McEwan & Co., serving as a director of the latter firm until 1927. Next year he bought Rockwood near Albury, New South Wales, a mixed grazing property that included a Corriedale stud.

In 1932 Mair won the State seat of Albury for the United Australia Party (UAP) in a nasty campaign. Calling for the people to deliver themselves from 'ruin and disaster' and opposing protection, Mair defeated the sitting Labor member with United Country Party preferences. His particular brand of Presbyterian idealism emerged when he proposed that wealthier people should help the State in its financial crisis by paying their income tax in advance. Unlike most politicians Mair put his rhetoric into practice, for in June he decided to distribute his parliamentary salary to the suffering in his electorate, a gesture he continued until 1938. A capable back-bencher, he promoted local issues, spending most of his time in his electorate.

In April 1938 Mair joined Sir Bertram Stevens reconstructed cabinet as an assistant minister. Ten weeks later he became minister for labour and industry and had to cope with several industrial disputes. In October Stevens, whose hold on the coalition was slipping, transferred the treasury to Mair. Confronted with a growing deficit in 1939, Mair proposed drastic cuts in public works expenditure. In July cabinet approved Mair's proposal to channel unemployment expenditure through a subcommittee of four. Stevens resigned, and when (Sir) Michael Bruxner refused to continue the coalition with Eric Sydney Spooner, the leadership of the U.A.P. devolved on Mair, who was sworn in as Premier on 5 August 1939.

On the declaration of war Mair backed the 'Mother Country' and in December his cabinet refused to register German refugee doctors, and in June 1940 he attacked the Menzies Federal government for its failure to intern aliens. He committed his own resources to Britain's defence for in May 1940 he lent the Commonwealth £4000 interest free for the duration of the war and secretly paid the life insurance of sundry servicemen, but could not galvanize his government.

When attacked by the new Labor leader (Sir) William McKell, Mair could neither point to the elimination of unemployment nor a concerted war effort. In the May 1941 elections McKell won a landslide victory. Mair remained leader of the U.A.P. until February 1944; I n May he held Albury as a Democratic candidate. In November 1945 he accepted leadership of the new Liberal Party, and joined the anti-Communist crusade. He resigned in August 1946 to contest unsuccessfully the Federal Senate election.

Mair returned to Rockwood, but sold the property in 1948 and departed for Melbourne, where he accepted a number of directorships, and was elected to the boards of various charitable institutions. One of the least colourful of all New South Wales premiers, Mair was no power broker. Ingenuous and generous, he was more businessman than politician. Survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter, he died on 3 August 1969 at his St Kilda home and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at $439,423. Mair’s picture is shown in Figure 2.

Founded in 1870, Theodore Dodge of Cambridge, Mass. developed a fire hose constructed of stitched, rubberized canvas strips to replace the riveted leather hoses of the day. Two years later, foreseeing the need for fabric reinforced hoses, Dodge hired an engineer that had developed a machine, which could loom fabric in a tubular shape. By 1880, the two men had significantly improved the loom's design to produce a cotton-jacketed rubber hose. It soon became the industry standard for manufacturing fire hoses, and, to this day, the loom they invented stands as the basis for such machines. Their successful joint venture resulted in the formation of the Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company. The Boston Bulldog was created as a trademark to identify this high quality brand of hose (Figure 3).

I acknowledge that the text and Figure 2 were derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Addendum (March 2011):  An additional cover was found with the red octagonal KGV Head 1½d uprated with a red 1½d KGV stamp postmarked MELBOIURNE/ 15 JE -11-P/ 1925 with a slogan POST EARLY/ EACH DAY.  It had a diagram of the Alex Mair building in Elizabeth St. Melbourne, and advertising text of TIMBER & IRON  MERCHANTS, Supplyers to Coachbuilding, Motor and Hardware Trades, Michelin Tyres, Willey's Colors, and it was addressed to Messrs. W.J. Kingsland & Co., 21 State Street, New York, U.S.A. (Figure 4).

 

 
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