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McLarty, David Lyon (1889–1962)

by L. E. Fredman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

David McLarty, n.d.

David McLarty, n.d.

David Lyon McLarty (1889-1962), engineer and dockyard director, was born on 22 September 1889 at Penang, Straits Settlements (Malaysia), son of Farquhar Matheson McLarty, mechanical engineer, and his wife Wilhelmina, née Lyon. Educated at the Collegiate School, Greenock, and at the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College, Lyon was apprenticed to Scott & Sons, shipbuilders and repairers. He transferred to the firm's drawing office, joined John Brown & Co. Ltd, shipbuilders of Clydebank, and became assistant works manager with Barclay, Curie & Co. Ltd, shipbuilders. On 2 April 1921 at St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, he married with Episcopalian rites Meta Dusha Tucker, an office manageress; they were to have no children, but gave ready affection to those of friends. From 1922 McLarty was based in China as assistant general manager of the Shanghai Dock & Engineering Co. Ltd. Reaching Sydney in 1925, he joined the staff of Cockatoo Island Dockyard. He managed the engineering firm of Morison & Bearby Ltd at Newcastle in 1927-37 and Robison Bros & Co. Pty Ltd in Melbourne in 1937-39, and was a director (1939-40) of Malleys Ltd in Sydney.

Due to the exigencies of World War II, the McKell government decided in 1941 to build a State dockyard at Newcastle, using much of the plant and buildings from the Walsh Island Dockyard and Engineering Works which had ceased operations eight years earlier. McLarty was appointed director. The dockyard at Carrington launched its first vessel in July 1943. By 1945 it employed 1329 people and had built two vessels for the Royal Australian Navy and twenty-two for the United States; it had also repaired six hundred ships and completed other engineering projects. At the end of 1957 the vessels built numbered forty-seven and the site had grown to 30 acres (12 ha), well equipped with workshops, berths and a floating dock. Total turnover was £22.5 million. The £3 million turnover in 1956-57 included a profit of £1.4 million, available for interest repayment and a share at 10 per cent among the 1700 employees.

Appointed O.B.E. in 1954, in the following year McLarty urged his staff to appreciate their workplace and what they produced: 'especially does this apply to the creation of a ship [beyond] which there is no more interesting and comprehensive product of man'. He retired in 1957, declaring that he had been fortunate in his life and colleagues. Former staff and neighbours recalled his outgoing personality, leadership, considerate nature, and his modest residence amid the Newcastle establishment on The Hill overlooking the harbour. They also remembered his lively speeches and social skills at many ship-launching ceremonies. Tall and genial, he enjoyed playing golf and bowls, and belonged to the Newcastle Club, the Royal Automobile Club of Australia and the Rotary Club of Newcastle.

McLarty also practised as a part-time consulting engineer and was founding chairman of the Newcastle Industrial Promotion Panel. He was president (1947-48) of the Newcastle division, Institution of Engineers, Australia, and a member of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, the North-East Coast Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders, England (1946-62), and the New South Wales Electricity Commission (1950-57). His support for technical education and public service continued into his retirement. He had joined the Technical Education District Council in 1944 and was a director (1956) of the Hunter Valley Research Foundation. A council-member (1957-62) of the University of New South Wales, he was foundation chairman (1962) of the council of Newcastle University College.

Five days after his wife's death, McLarty died on 30 November 1962 at Royal Newcastle Hospital and was cremated. He had left an indelible mark on the industry and city. His constant faith in the enterprise and the workmanship of his staff suggests an Antipodean version of M'Andrew, Rudyard Kipling's Scots marine engineer: 'Predestination in the stride o' yon connectin'-rod'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Armstrong (ed), Shaping the Hunter (Newcastle, NSW, 1983)
  • EJE Group, Record of the State Dockyard (Newcastle, 1993)
  • State Dockyard (New South Wales), Annual Report, 1953-57 and Shipshape, Dec 1955, June 1957
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21, 22 Aug 1941, 10 June 1954, 1 Dec 1962
  • Newcastle Sun, 24 Jan 1956
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 1 Dec 1962, 2 May 1972, 23 Sept 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

L. E. Fredman, 'McLarty, David Lyon (1889–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/mclarty-david-lyon-11003/text19567, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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