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Taylor, Leslie Athol (1920–2001)

by Michael Mironov

Athol Taylor, 1989

Athol Taylor, 1989

Leslie Athol Taylor (1920-2001), public servant, was born on 8 September 1920 at Parramatta, Sydney, to John Thomas Taylor, builder, and his wife Ethel Matilda, née Whiting. Growing up at Albury N.S.W., Taylor lived out of a tent for part of his childhood as his family struggled financially during the Depression. From 1933 to 1934, Taylor attended Albury High School and, in 1935, he worked as a messenger for the Post Master General but failed to secure a permanent position due to one spelling error in his exam. Taylor returned to his education in 1936 at Albury Grammar School and attained his Intermediate Certificate in November. At the request of his father who still had financial concerns, Taylor successfully completed his Leaving Certificate in one year, rather than two, and still managed to finish dux of the school. Taylor then attended the Sydney Teachers’ Training College in 1938 but left in May of the same year after accepting a post at the Immigration Branch of the Department of the Interior.

Whilst working for the government, Taylor commenced a correspondence course in accounting with Hemmingway and Robertson Ltd in September 1938. He also served in the Citizens Military Force as a private in the 3rd Battalion. On 27 September 1940, Taylor voluntarily enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force, easily passing the selection interviews. Described as ‘[y]oung but shows promise of strength of character’, Taylor was recommended to train as a pilot but, instead, he trained as a wireless radio operator. On 1 April 1943, Taylor was elevated to the rank of sergeant and, although primarily based in Australia, he entered the Pacific War. He spent six months in Papua between November 1942 and May 1943, returning in December 1944 for a further two months and then spent a month in the Philippines in June 1945. Whilst in Papua, Taylor completed two mechanical courses that qualified him to work on Loran airborne equipment.

On 19 November 1945, Taylor was discharged from the military after the newly formed Department of Immigration recalled him to resume immigration duties. Following the war, the Australian government embarked on an ambitious immigration program to bolster Australia’s dwindling population. To achieve this, the Department of Immigration needed to move away from Britain, Australia’s traditional supply of migrants, and locate alternative European sources. Initially, Taylor’s role was to help locate these potential ‘pools’ of migrants.

Taylor’s first post was at Shanghai, China in 1947 and his task was to assess the suitability of two European refugee communities in the city. The first group were Central European Jews that had fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s and the second were White Russians who were anti-communists displaced by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. This tough assignment was inappropriate for Taylor who was, albeit intelligent, but also very young, inexperienced and lacked the necessary tertiary education to adequately understand refugee issues. This was reflected in his reports. He incorrectly believed that the Jews in Shanghai had been evicted from Nazi Germany because they were apparently communists and he essentially purported that the White Russians were actually Soviets in disguise. It is likely that Taylor came under the influence of O.C.W. Fuhrman, the Australian Consul-General in Shanghai who resolutely opposed immigration from the city. Taylor’s reports echo Fuhrman’s to such an extent that members of the international Jewish community accused Fuhrman of writing them. Only in Shanghai for one month, Taylor managed to convince the Department of Immigration to restrict Jewish and ban White Russian immigration from Shanghai.   

Taylor was promoted on 5 February 1948, placing him in charge of the examination section of the Department of Immigration. Despite adhering to the Church of England during his youth, Taylor married Maureen Catherine Moloney at St Christopher’s Catholic Cathedral at Forrest, Canberra on 7 May 1948. Between 1948 and 1951, Taylor served as a selection officer in the displaced persons’ camps in Germany. In this capacity, he selected willing European individuals who satisfied certain age and health conditions for a free passage to Australia as migrants. Whilst in Germany, Taylor experienced the Berlin Blockade, an abortive Soviet attempt to bring the city under its influence by preventing Western supplies from entering. It was in Germany that Taylor matured as an immigration officer. His colleagues remembered the helpful suggestions and guidance he provided and were grateful when he mediated between them and the intimidating Head of the Australian Military Mission in Berlin, Major-General Frederick Gallegher ‘Black Jack’ Galleghan.

In 1962, Taylor was promoted to senior migration officer. Between 1964 and 1968, he worked in Italy. These were believed to be the most enjoyable years of his life. Promoted to Director in 1968, Taylor ran immigration operations in South Australia until 1969. He retired in 1980 as Assistant Secretary of the Department of Immigration. A man of average height, with blue eyes and fair hair, Taylor had a passion for a wide variety of sports including football, tennis, cricket and, particularly, golf. He was a charitable man who assisted St. Thomas More’s Church in Campbell and collected donations at Canberra shopping centres for the Calvary hospital.

Survived by his wife and five children, Taylor died on 12 September 2001 at Clare Holland House, Barton, Canberra and was cremated. His life and work is representative of post-war migration officials as many began their careers as young ex-servicemen with little experience. Taylor also captures the culture of post-war migration officers as he understood the significance and the benefits that immigration has given Australia and the migrants themselves. Although he may not have been famous or involved with momentous policy formulations, Taylor, along with other post-war migration officers, were instrumental in implementing Australia’s revolutionary post-war European migration program. Their decisions and selections of migrants ultimately shaped post-war Australian society and yet they continue to receive little recognition from biographers and historians. Like so many other post-war migration officers, Taylor is history’s ‘consummate “quiet achiever”’.


Bibliography

Reports from Shanghai on Alien Immigration - H Loveday, O C W Furman, L A Taylor, series A434, item 1947/3/21 (National Archives of Australia)

Non-British European Migration from China Part 1, series A6980, item S250253 (National Archives of Australia)

war service record, A9301/34546 (National Archives of Australia)

Canberra Times, 14 Sept 2001

Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 1948-1968

Grant, H., ‘Leslie Athol Taylor’, in M. Armit, ed., Immigration The Waves That Shaped Australia, 1945-2006, Canberra: Armit, 2006, p 483

Gouttman, R., ‘The Two Faces of Fuhrman’, Menorah, vol. 4, no. 1&2, iss. 6, 1990, p 67.

Original Publication

  • People Australia, 2011

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Citation details

Michael Mironov, 'Taylor, Leslie Athol (1920–2001)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-leslie-athol-15251/text31236, accessed 22 November 2019.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012