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Dobie, James Donald (Don) (1927–1996)

by Chris Cunneen

James Mathieson ‘Donald’ Dobie (1927-1996), bank officer and politician, was born on 28 July 1927 in Glasgow, Scotland, only child of Alexander Dobie (1902-1963)[1] and his wife Annie Burns, née Mathieson (1903-1990). In 1923 Alexander’s younger brother John McFadzean Dobie (1905-c.1973) had emigrated with 96 other young men to Queensland as “farm lads” under an Australian government immigration scheme.[2] Five years later Alexander, his wife, infant son (always known as Don) and 13-year-old niece followed, arriving in Brisbane on the Largs Bay on 24 February 1928.[3]

Annie returned briefly to Scotland with her son in 1930-31[4]. The Dobie family settled at Newstead, Brisbane, Alexander worked as a fitter, later as an engineer, and was a freemason, sometime worshipful master of the Silver Cross Lodge number 17, United Grand Lodge of Queensland, and companion of the North Brisbane Royal Arts Chapter, Number 28.[5] Annie, said to have been at one time a trade union secretary,[6] became prominent in the Order of the Eastern Star and later in the Liberal Party.

Don was educated at Ascot State School, where he was a good swimmer, and at Brisbane Grammar School.[7]  In 1943 he joined the Bank of New South Wales and worked in branches around Queensland. Called up for military service in 1951 he served as a gunner with the 2nd Light Artillery Regiment, Citizens Military Forces. Dobie visited Britain in 1953 and on return was transferred by the bank to Melbourne, where he lived at Brighton.[8] He worked in the economics section of the bank and took the opportunity offered by his employer to study part-time at the University of Melbourne. In 1957 he moved to an apartment in South Yarra.[9] About this time he met his life partner George Garrett Burniston, a medical practitioner from Sydney who worked in Melbourne from 1953 to 1963. Burniston moved into Dobie’s apartment.[10] Dobie graduated Bachelor of Commerce, University of Melbourne, on 25 March 1961.[11] He then spent 12 months in New York, where he obtained a Masters degree in Business Administration at Columbia University. On his return to Australia, Dobie obtained a transfer to New South Wales as relieving manager of the Sylvania branch of the Bank of New South Wales and moved into Burniston’s apartment in nearby Cronulla, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

In 1964 Dobie was elected president of the Woolooware branch of the Liberal Party and next year became a member of the party’s State council.[12] In April 1966 he won Liberal pre-selection for the Labor-held seat of Hughes in the forthcoming Federal election – one of the members of the selection committee was the future Prime Minister John Winston Howard.[13] Against general expectations, Dobie won the seat on 26 November and began his long career as a federal parliamentarian. In the 1969 election the electorate was redistributed and Dobie stood for Cook, the seat that covered the Cronulla Sutherland area, and won comfortably. In 1971-72 Dobie served as assistant minister to Prime Minister William McMahon. He lost his seat in the 1972 election when the Gough Whitlam-led Labor Party surged to power.

With his party in Opposition, Dobie worked as a management consultant with Coopers-Lybrand Services. He attempted but failed to re-enter parliament in May 1974 but won on 13 December 1975 and held the seat of Cook until he retired – as ‘father of the house’ – in 1996, though he never held ministerial office. Courteous, portly and popular, with a mane of silver hair, he was an assiduous local member and supported the peninsula’s hospital, surf and servicemen’s clubs and other institutions. He had a good baritone voice, had trained professionally as a singer and would happily perform negro spirituals at community functions. In the 1984 election the unsuccessful campaign of his opponent Peter McIlwaine was the subject of Graham Chase’s documentary film, Democracy. Dobie was active in the local Presbyterian Church, a member of the choir and of the fellowship and sometime State executive-member.  In parliament he was a good committee-man, chief opposition whip (1983-85), a strong supporter of Andrew Peacock and a great traveller – he was an indefatigable member of numerous overseas parliamentary delegations. He was interested in, and knowledgeable about Australian art. The death of his mother in 1990[14] and George Burniston in 1992 were heavy personal blows.

At the elections on 2 March 1996 Dobie retired from Federal Parliament. On 27 November that year he died following a stroke and a heart attack with diabetic complications. An aunt survived him.  He was cremated after a state funeral at Cronulla Presbyterian Community Church and his ashes placed in the Henry Lawson Garden, Woronora Cemetery.

Main Sources:
Australian, 9 April 1983, weekend magazine, p 7
Australian, 10 December 1996, p. 15
Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November 1984, p 7
Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 December 1996
St George and Sutherland Leader (Sydney), 28 November 1996, p 8
Who’s Who in Australia
condolence motions, Australian Parliament, 2 December 1996.

Original Publication

Other Entries for James Donald (Don) Dobie

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Dobie, James Donald (Don) (1927–1996)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/dobie-james-donald-don-18343/text29965, accessed 3 July 2022.

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