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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Swanson, Victor George (1910–1972)

by J. S. Hardy

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

Victor George Swanson (1910-1972), engineer, was born on 9 October 1910 at Maryborough, Victoria, son of Australian-born parents George Swanson, engine driver, and his wife Clementina Victoria, née Pearce. Educated at Kyneton High School, Vic began his career in 1927 as an engineering cadet with the Victorian Department of Public Works. After surveying roads for three years, he entered the University of Melbourne (B.C.E., 1934), where he won Argus and Stawell scholarships. In 1934 he joined the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission. His duties involved him, successively, in hydraulic research, design work and hydraulic modelling. At Scots Church, Melbourne, on 8 February 1941 he married with Presbyterian forms Phyllis Jean Heron, a clerk.

In 1935 Swanson had been commissioned in the Citizen Military Forces. Called up for full-time duty on 30 July 1941 as a temporary major (substantive August 1943), he served in the Northern Territory with the Royal Australian Engineers and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 21 July 1942. From October 1943 he commanded the 20th Field Company, R.A.E., in New Guinea. The company helped to build the 2nd/7th Australian General Hospital at Lae and provided a reticulated water supply to its 1000-bed hospital. Swanson was mentioned in dispatches for his work. In May 1945 he was posted to the staff of Major General (Sir) Clive Steele, engineer-in-chief at Army Headquarters, Melbourne. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 24 August. Active in the C.M.F. in 1950-56, he commanded (from 1954) the 22nd Construction Regiment as a temporary lieutenant colonel.

When World War II ended, Swanson had returned to the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission. In 1946-50 he was resident engineer with the Cairn Curran Dam project, on the Loddon River. For the next five years he was assistant-engineer, supervision, engaged in enlarging the Eildon Reservoir and building the associated township. Located on the Goulburn River, the dam was one of Victoria's major water conservation and hydro-electric undertakings. With a storage capacity of 2.75 million acre feet (3.39 million Ml), it was the largest dam in Australia, providing water for irrigation to northern Victoria and peak-load electricity to Melbourne. Swanson was promoted assistant chief construction engineer before transferring in 1956 to the Department of Public Works as chief civil engineer and chief engineer, ports and harbours.

On 4 March 1960 Swanson was appointed chairman of the Melbourne Harbor Trust commissioners, becoming, in effect, general manager 'of Australia's largest general cargo port'. His twelve-year tenure witnessed 'an unprecedented period of major development'. The throughput of cargo rose from 9.4 million tons in 1960 to 17 million in 1972, and the capital value of the port doubled. As a result of his recommendations, it was decided in 1965 'to prepare for the entry of container and unit ships'. He ensured that specialized facilities and equipment were provided for these vessels at a separate dock, which was named after him. The first container berth for overseas trade was opened in 1969 and the fourth began handling ships in 1972.

Swanson was an associate-member (1938), member (1953) and fellow (1968) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, a member (1936) of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a director and president (1969-71) of the International Association of Ports and Harbors, and president (from 1971) of the Association of Australian Port and Marine Authorities. In 1970 he was appointed C.B.E. Five ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, with blue eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion, he was modest and quietly spoken. He suffered from renal failure for some years. During the last six months of his working life he was only able to continue with the aid of a dialysis machine. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died of acute coronary insufficiency on 14 September 1972 at his Mont Albert home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • O. Ruhen, Port of Melbourne 1835-1976 (Syd, 1976)
  • Port of Melbourne Quarterly, Apr-June 1969, p 13, Oct-Dec 1972, p 13
  • Cargo Handling and Shipbuilding Quarterly, 11, no 4, Dec 1972, p 26
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 Sept 1972.

Citation details

J. S. Hardy, 'Swanson, Victor George (1910–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 October 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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