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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Selleck, Sir Francis Palmer (1895–1976)

by John Young

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Francis Palmer Selleck (1895-1976), by unknown photographer

Francis Palmer Selleck (1895-1976), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L30640

Sir Francis Palmer Selleck (1895-1976), accountant, businessman and lord mayor, was born on 20 August 1895 at Nathalia, Victoria, son of Christopher Selleck, a miller from England, and his Victorian-born wife Emily, née Latimer. His father and uncle ran Numurkah Roller Flour Mills. Educated at Numurkah State and Shepparton Agricultural High schools, Frank wanted to be a lawyer, but his family could not afford the fees. He moved to Melbourne, joined the army's senior cadets and in October 1912 found a job as a clerk in the Victorian Audit Office.

On 9 March 1915 Selleck enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted to the 24th Battalion, he served (from September) at Gallipoli as quartermaster sergeant. In May 1916 he was sent to the Western Front where he was commissioned (September), appointed adjutant (September 1917), promoted captain (January 1918), mentioned in dispatches (May) and wounded in action (July). For his work between March and September 1918—making reconnaissances under enemy fire and organizing the battalion's movements—he was awarded the Military Cross. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 23 April 1920. In 1923 he helped to form the Legacy Club of Melbourne, of which he was inaugural treasurer. He has been credited with suggesting the name, 'Legacy'. At All Saints Church, St Kilda, on 22 December 1923 he married with Anglican rites Mollie Constance Maud Miller.

Selleck studied part time and qualified as a fellow of the Federal Institute of Accountants (Australian Society of Accountants). On 11 July 1924 he resigned from the Audit Office. He worked (as accountant and secretary) for a company that made ladies' hats before establishing his own accountancy firm in 1934. Three years later he embarked on a joint venture with cinema interests in Sydney, acquiring a picture theatre in Melbourne, and several in the suburbs and in country towns. He was president of the Victorian Independent Exhibitors' Association in 1942-43. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the Federal government had formed a Board of Business Administration to oversee expenditure on defence. Selleck joined the staff as chief inspector of administration and became a board-member in 1944.

In 1949 he was elected to the Melbourne City Council. He improved its management practices and chaired a committee which recommended ways to achieve economies and raise additional revenue. On 30 August 1954 he was elected lord mayor. He held office for three, consecutive, one-year terms. The third term was unexpected: councillors had intended that Sir Frank Beaurepaire would be lord mayor during the Olympic Games, but he died in May 1956. Selleck presided over the redevelopment of the city centre, including the neglected sites of the Eastern and Western markets. Recognizing the potential of postwar Melbourne, he advocated increased loans as a means of providing municipal infrastructure. He took advantage of the Olympic Games and the attendant publicity to promote his city.

Selleck gained a reputation for directness and efficiency, characteristics which were sometimes interpreted as irascibility by council staff. He was a self-made man, and his success had been earned. In 1956 he failed to win Liberal and Country Party pre-selection for a seat in the Legislative Council. He was knighted that year and appointed K.B.E. in 1957. Despite these distinctions and his military background, he asked uniformed council attendants to stop saluting him. In 1954-56 he was treasurer of the Victorian branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia.

Retiring from the council in 1958, Sir Frank became a director of a number of companies; several of them were involved in retailing, including Foy & Gibson and Cox Bros (Australia) Ltd. The crash of the latter in the mid-1960s tested him severely. In 1959-67 he was a member of the board of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation. Although a heart attack in 1965 reduced his mobility, he recovered substantially through sheer will-power. He died on 2 October 1976 at Armadale and was cremated; his wife, and their daughter and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Blatchford, Legacy (Melb, 1932)
  • The Annual Report of the Melbourne City Council, 1955-56
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Dec 1944, 10 June 1955, 26 June 1959, 20 July 1967
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 Aug 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1954
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Young, 'Selleck, Sir Francis Palmer (1895–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 27 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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