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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Primrose, Hubert Leslie (1880–1942)

by Andrew Moore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Hubert Leslie Primrose (1880-1942), by unknown photographer, 1931

Hubert Leslie Primrose (1880-1942), by unknown photographer, 1931

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 03795

Hubert Leslie Primrose (1880-1942), solicitor and politician, was born on 14 November 1880 at Cootamundra, New South Wales, second son of native-born parents Charles Herman Burton Primrose, clerk of petty sessions, and his wife Sarah Maria, née Clissold. Privately educated, he qualified as an accountant and on 26 October 1910 married Edith Garfield Briton. On 2 August 1917 Primrose was admitted as a solicitor and practised as a member of the firms, Lee & Primrose until 1927 and Primrose & Primrose in 1931-42.

After his marriage Primrose settled in Crows Nest Road, Wollstonecraft. A Freemason, he quickly achieved community respect and public standing. He served as an alderman on North Sydney Municipal Council in 1920-38 and 1941-42 and was mayor in 1926-32. During the Depression he organized relief work for the unemployed in improving the municipality's parks and ovals. His wife helped to form a ladies' committee which distributed used clothing and set up soup kitchens at North Sydney and McMahon's Point.

Primrose's philanthropic endeavours were tinged with class interest and apprehension. He joined the para-military New Guard and rose to senior rank within its council of action as assistant adjutant and quartermaster general. Through his good offices North Sydney oval was made available as a rallying point for the vast battalions of North Shore New Guardsmen in the event of their mobilization against the unemployed or the Lang government. On 19 March 1932, after another senior New Guardsman, Francis de Groot, had unofficially 'opened' the southern approaches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, on the northern side, Primrose, as North Sydney's mayor, ceremoniously slashed another ribbon. Despite some police reservations about his New Guard allegiances, no attempt was made to stop him. So the New Guard opened the bridge at both ends.

His disillusionment with parliamentary democracy was temporary. On 11 June 1932 Primrose was one of many New Guardsmen elected to the Legislative Assembly for the United Australia Party. His career as member for North Sydney was largely unremarkable. Brought into the Stevens-Bruxner ministry in July 1939, he was acting minister for health until its fall in August, held that portfolio for the next month in the Mair-Bruxner cabinet, then served as assistant minister until May 1941. Again acting minister for health from January to August 1940, in February 1941 he became minister in charge of the National Emergency Services. Here he was in his element but was defeated in the April elections.

In August 1942 Primrose was elected honorary treasurer of the National Roads and Motorists' Association; he was a trustee of Kuring-gai Chase and State president of the Australian Automobile Association. A diminutive figure, he was interested in golf and bowls. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, he died at Waverton on 26 November 1942 of heart disease. After a service at St Thomas's Anglican Church, North Sydney, he was cremated. Primrose died in debt.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Ellyard & R. Raxworthy, The Proud Arch (Syd, 1982)
  • North Shore Historical Society, Journal, Nov 1980
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 June 1932, 27 Nov 1942
  • de Groot papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary Dept file, B32/2669 no B2684 (State Records New South Wales)
  • information from local history collection, Stanton Library, North Sydney.

Citation details

Andrew Moore, 'Primrose, Hubert Leslie (1880–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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