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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McKenzie, Hugh (1853–1942)

by Amanda M. Rolfe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Hugh McKenzie (1853-1942), politician and stock and station agent, was born on 13 December 1853 at Rogart, Sutherlandshire, Scotland, elder son of John McKenzie, game warden, and his wife Elizabeth, née Clark. He came to South Australia in 1855 when his father was appointed manager of Glencoe station in the Mount Gambier district; the family moved to (Sir) James MacBain's Wyuna station, near Kyabram, Victoria, in 1865.

Educated at the Murchison local school and Scotch College, Melbourne, Hugh was an overseer at Wyuna from 1869 until the early 1870s. In 1877, with Laurence Kickham, he opened a profitable general store at Undera, south-east of Echuca, on land he had earlier selected with his father. McKenzie was a staunch Presbyterian but on 15 January 1878 at Echuca he married a Catholic, Margaret Jane Mitchell; their six children were raised as Catholics. Following his marriage McKenzie opened a livery stable at Echuca with his brother-in-law Edward Mitchell, but he soon joined J. M. Chanter in a stock and station agency. The Murray River Stock Station & Agency Co., formed by a merger in 1889, was forced into liquidation in 1892, but McKenzie, undaunted, immediately joined the Echuca auctioneer, Thomas Copp, to form the Echuca stock and station agency, McKenzie & Co. He, and later his sons, managed the business until its acquisition by Younghusband Ltd in 1939.

McKenzie's political life began in 1882 when he joined the Echuca Borough Council; he served fourteen years as councillor, with two terms as mayor (1883-84, 1903-04). In 1904 he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Rodney as a Liberal and represented the electorate (usually polling about 70 per cent of the Echuca vote) until his defeat by the Victorian Farmers' Union candidate John Allan in 1917. He was president of the Board of Lands and Works and commissioner of crown lands and survey in the Murray and the Watt governments (1909-13) and minister of railways and of water supply and vice-president of the Board of Lands and Works in 1915-17 under Peacock.

McKenzie was important in developing closer settlement policy. In May 1910 he headed an overseas mission in an attempt to attract 6000 settlers skilled in irrigation. Ironically, his defeat in November 1917 was largely caused by his steadfast support for the controversial clause 69 of the Closer Settlement Act (1912) which made title to the land conditional upon residence. In Echuca, however, it was widely considered that he had revealed 'true greatness' by sacrificing 'place and position for a principle'.

McKenzie's involvement in community affairs included membership of the Farmers & Citizens Trustee Co., Bendigo, the Echuca Agricultural Society, the board of management of the Echuca Presbyterian Church and the technical college council. A justice of the peace, he founded the Echuca branch of the Australian Natives' Association in 1886 and was a captain in the Echuca volunteer militia. He also served terms as president of the Echuca Gentlemen's Club, Fathers' Association and Hospital Board and as chief of the Caledonian Society.

A tall, distinguished-looking man, McKenzie was noted for his 'kindly, sympathetic and understanding nature'. When he died at Echuca on 4 August 1942 the town hall flag was flown at half mast while the town mourned the passing of its 'Grand Old Man'. Survived by three sons and a daughter, he was buried in Echuca cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. G. Houston, Ministers of Water Supply in Victoria (Melb, 1965)
  • S. Priestley, Echuca, a Centenary History (Brisb, 1965)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1912, p 3136
  • Riverine Herald, 3 Oct 1916, 7 Aug 1922, 12 Nov 1924, 22 July 1940, 5, 6, 12 Aug, 11 Sept 1942
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Aug 1942
  • A. M. Rolfe, Echuca in the Twentieth Century: Aspects of its Social History (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1979).

Citation details

Amanda M. Rolfe, 'McKenzie, Hugh (1853–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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