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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dittmer, Felix Cyril Sigismund (1904–1977)

by Brian F. Stevenson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Felix Cyril Sigismund Dittmer (1904-1977), medical practitioner and politician, was born on 27 June 1904 at Dugandan, near Boonah, Queensland, son of Gustav Dittmer, a chemist from Germany, and his native-born wife Marie Farris, née Massie. Felix was educated at a convent school at Bowen, Childers Primary School, St Joseph's College, Nudgee, and the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1925; B.A., 1927). On 29 October 1927 he married Minnie Elizabeth Crow (d.1975) at St James's Catholic Church, Forest Lodge, Sydney. After studying medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1930), he practised at Proserpine, Queensland. From 1937 he was chairman of Kelsey Creek Gold Mines Pty Ltd (later Dittmer Gold Mines Pty Ltd), near Proserpine, and subsequently claimed that his miners were among the first to work a 40-hour week. In 1940 he moved to Brisbane to specialize in ear, nose and throat surgery, becoming an honorary surgeon to the Mater Public and Mater Children's hospitals.

Appointed captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps on 12 July 1943, Dittmer served in hospitals at Katherine, Northern Territory, and in Brisbane before transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 26 February 1946. As Labor's candidate he had unsuccessfully contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Oxley in a 1943 by-election; he also failed as mayoral candidate for Brisbane in 1949, despite a lively canvassing for health, water and sewerage services. In 1950 he was returned to the assembly as the member for Mount Gravatt. At the 1953 Labor Party convention Dittmer introduced a motion to provide three weeks annual leave under State awards, a motion which was reaffirmed at the 1956 convention and which divided the party. He became convinced that his stand had cost him a place in Vincent Gair's cabinet. When Gair and most of his ministers were expelled in the split, Dittmer became deputy-leader of the party rump in April 1957. In August he narrowly lost his seat. Elected to the Senate next year, he sat (1963-71) on the standing committee on public works. He was attracted by foreign affairs, and was a member of the Australian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1962 and a parliamentary delegate to South America in 1965. As chairman of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party committee on social services, health and repatriation, he was an early critic of phenacetin, a drug which was eventually banned.

In 1969 Dittmer lost his Senate endorsement in what he termed a 'bloody organised assassination' by his enemies at Trades Hall. He returned to his medical practice and began to study for a commerce degree at the University of Queensland where he had been a member (1950-56) of the senate. Unostentatious in his habits, he was described in his later years as 'a little man, with a kind of hurried, slightly limping gait'. Although some found him logical, sincere and approachable, others perceived him to be wily, irascible and over-confident. His friend but political enemy Gair thought that Dittmer had made a mistake in entering politics and that he 'would have left a greater mark if he hadn't'. Survived by his two sons and four of his five daughters, Dittmer died on 29 August 1977, at Oxley, and was buried in Mount Gravatt cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1 Sept 1977, p 327
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 31 Mar 1949, 30 Aug 1977
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Aug 1957, 4 June 1966, 1 Sept 1969
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 28 Aug 1959, 22 July 1967
  • Australian, 19 July 1966
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 1 Sept 1969
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Aug 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

Brian F. Stevenson, 'Dittmer, Felix Cyril Sigismund (1904–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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