Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hyland, Charles Keith (1914–1989)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Charles Keith Hyland (1914-1989), businessman, was born on 15 November 1914 at Randwick, Sydney, second child of Victorian-born parents Charles David Hyland, exporter, and his wife Jessie Emma, née Jobbins. Educated at The Armidale School, Keith moved to Melbourne, where he attended business college and began working for the family company, David Hyland & Sons Pty Ltd. The firm had a subsidiary, Australian Feather Mills Pty Ltd, in Sydney.

Two months after World War II started in September 1939, Hyland was appointed a lieutenant in the Army Service Corps, Militia. He transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 19 June 1942 and served at a succession of supply depots as a captain. In May 1945 he embarked for Morotai and on arrival joined the 2/27th Transport Platoon. By the time the war ended in September 1945, Australian Feather Mills was experiencing difficulties due to the unavailability of down from China. Hyland decided to travel to Hong Kong with a view to placing new orders. In February 1946 he left Morotai aboard a military aircraft, without first obtaining proper authority. His quest took him to several Asian countries. Returning in April, he was court martialled for being absent without leave and dismissed from the army on 24 May.

Hyland moved to Bangkok and, with little capital, established a factory to process feathers and manufacture items such as quilts and sleeping-bags. In the mid-1950s he set up a feather-processing plant at Cholon, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). His father died in 1953 and he took over the family company in Sydney, but Bangkok and Saigon remained his bases. Diversifying his operations, he added timber and agricultural products to the range of goods he shipped to Europe, Australia and the United States of America. He became an advocate of increased trade between Australia and South-East Asia and developed an affection for the peoples of the region. In Saigon he lived with Ann Chi Quang; their son, Charles Hap, was born in 1964. On 17 March 1967 in Bangkok he married Lisa Ludlow, an American model whom he had met on a skiing holiday in Austria; they had a daughter and a son before separating.

During the Vietnam War, Hyland continued to spend part of the year in Saigon. On 6 February 1968 he was driving from the city to Cholon, when he was captured by the People’s Liberation Armed Forces (Viet Cong). Bound and blindfolded, marched through the jungle, periodically confined in a cage or covered pit, incessantly interrogated, chained more securely after an attempted escape, and suffering from dysentery, he was eventually released on 25 November. In his account of his ordeal (Sydney Sun, 19-20, 23-24 December 1968), he expressed no animosity towards his former captors who, overall, had treated him as well as their circumstances and limited supplies of food and medicine permitted.

Hyland’s fair and honourable business dealings in South-East Asia had gained him the trust of the locals and helped to make him rich. He tried to convince the Australian and American governments that, to reduce the influence of the Viet Cong, they needed to subsidise production by South Vietnamese farmers, who were unable to export because of their country’s overvalued currency.

Five ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, Hyland was physically `tough as teak’. From 1976 he divided his time between Thailand and Australia. The flamboyant `duck-feather king’ built a beach house at Pattaya, Thailand, and a ski-lodge in the shape of a Thai temple at Falls Creek, Victoria, and drove a silver and maroon Bentley formerly owned by Ingrid Bergman. He died on 16 April 1989 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, and was cremated. His children survived him, as did Ann who, with Charles Hap, carried on the business.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian, 5 Apr 1969, p 8, 16 July 1976, p 5
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 May 1969, p 5
  • Sydney Morning Hearld, 22 Oct 1971, p 14, 10 Nov 1972, p 6
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 20 Aug 1989, p 28
  • series A471, item 78167, series A1838, item 2034/14/55 and series B883, item VX104217 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Hyland, Charles Keith (1914–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/hyland-charles-keith-12679/text22855, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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