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Playford, Thomas 1896-1981

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Born: 5 July 1896 [Norton Summit, South Australia]

Died: 16 June 1981 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Orchardist, Politician; longest serving South Australian Premier, 1938-1965

Playford was the grandson of a former premier of South Australia, also named Thomas Playford and known as 'Honest Tom'. The Playford family were orchardists in the Adelaide Hills. Playford left school at the age of 14 to help his father in the family business. He enlisted in May 1915, serving with the 27th Infantry Battalion and in November 1916 was wounded in action in France. He returned to Australia in May 1919 with the rank of lieutenant and went back to work in the family orchards.

In 1933 Playford was elected the Liberal and Country League Member for Murray and entered the South Australian House of Assembly. He was elected leader of the party and Premier in November 1938 when Richard Butler resigned and also became Treasurer and Minister for Immigration. He was to be Premier for 26 years and 266 days; the longest serving South Australian Premier.

Playford's priority as Premier was to reduce the state's reliance on primary industries. Under his guidance, South Australia became a centre for munitions production during World War II; the Leigh Creek coal fields were developed and the Electricity Trust of South Australia established; uranium mining was developed at Radium Hill; BHP was encouraged to establish steel production at Whyalla; pipelines were constructed to carry River Murray water to several centres; the South Australian Housing Trust was established and the satellite town of Elizabeth was founded, supporting General Motors-Holden's expansion.

Playford's government was defeated at the 1965 election and he left politics shortly afterwards.

Key achievements

1915-1919: Served in World War I

1933: Elected to the House of Assembly as Member for Murray

May 1938: Became Minister of Repatriation and Irrigation and Commissioner of Crown Lands

November 1938: Made leader of the Liberal and Country League and Premier of South Australia

1957: Made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG)

Did you know?

Some conservatives within Playford's party, the Liberal and Country League, felt that he had strong socialist leanings, especially when it came to his initiatives such as the establishment of the state-run Electricity Trust of South Australia; for a time there was a saying 'Tom Playford is the best Labor Premier South Australia ever had'.

Further reading

Cockburn, Stewart. Playford : benevolent despot, Kent Town, S. Aust. : Axiom, 1991

Crocker, Walter. Sir Thomas Playford, a portrait, Carlton, Vic. : Melbourne University Press, 1983

Nicholas, David. The pacemaker : the Playford story, Adelaide : Brolga Books, 1969

O'Neil, Bernard, Judith Raftery and Kerrie Round (eds). Playford's South Australia : essays on the history of South Australia, 1933-1968, Adelaide : Association of Professional Historians, 1996

Playford, Thomas, Sir. Personal papers, PRG 463


Playford Memorial Trust

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