DRURY, Arnold Joseph (1912–1995)
Senator for South Australia, 1959–75 (Australian Labor Party)

Arnold Joseph Drury, grocer, was born in Adelaide on 23 July 1912, the sixth of eight children of William, a labourer, and Mary Allen, also known as Green. A member of a close-knit Catholic family, he was educated at St Mary’s Dominican Convent in Franklin Street, Adelaide, selling newspapers as a lad and leaving school at the age of fourteen due to family financial difficulties. Describing himself as a factory hand, Drury worked as a foreman with a firm of leather merchants and grocery manufacturers, Julius Cohn and Company, in the Adelaide suburb of Torrensville. On 4 May 1942 he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces, serving as a cook in the Australian Army Catering Corps. On 13 October 1943, he transferred to the AIF, serving some five months in New Guinea and New Britain before his discharge on 22 August 1945. [1]

After the war, Drury returned to Julius Cohn and Company. A member of the South Australian branch of the Manufacturing Grocers’ Employees’ Federation and of the Thebarton branch of the Australian Labor Party, from 1957 to 1959 he was a member of the ALP state executive. While Drury strongly disliked the Communist Party, he held that the Communist Party Dissolution Bill of 1950 was undemocratic and would set a precedent for other undemocratic moves. Supported by South Australian Labor’s Clyde Cameron, MHR, Drury was preselected for the Senate in 1958. Cameron has stated that Drury’s preselection was to appease those Catholics who, it was feared, might follow their Victorian Labor brethren and drift to the Democratic Labor Party. Drury himself believed that without Cameron’s support he could not have won the third South Australian Senate seat for the ALP, as he was not sufficiently well known in the trade union movement. An energetic campaigner, Drury supported increased social services, and opposed ‘the exorbitant rate of interest’ charged on hire purchase.

He was elected on Communist Party preferences, despite the fact that the ALP had placed the Communist Party after the Liberal and Country Party. He would win again, in third place, in December 1964, and for the November 1970 election was placed at the top of the party ticket. Following the simultaneous dissolution of 1974, he was successful at the subsequent election. Another simultaneous dissolution in 1975 put an early end to his Senate career. He agreed to stand in the unwinnable sixth place in order to assist the campaign as a well-known and popular candidate.[2]

Drury entered the Senate in July 1959. He made his first speech to the Senate in September, speaking of the need for an increase in child endowment. Two weeks later, during debate on the Government’s Repatriation Bill, he urged an extension of medical and hospital benefits to returned servicemen and nurses of World War I. In 1959 Drury was disappointed at the Menzies Government’s refusal to establish an inquiry into education. In 1964, with the Government intent on introducing compulsory military service, he reiterated the ALP’s long-held opposition to conscription for overseas service. After the Whitlam Government took office in 1973, Drury became an adviser to the Minister for Repatriation, Senator Reginald Bishop.[3]

Drury’s Senate career coincided with the development of the Senate committee system, a system that gave a voice to restless backbenchers, as well as to senators such as Drury, better suited to a more measured consideration of public policy than to the cut and thrust of debate on the floor of the Senate. In his first year, Drury served on the Select Committee on Road Safety, where he was shocked by the traffic statistics placed before the committee: ‘If an epidemic sickness were to strike Australia and take 2000 people in a year, there would be panic in the country, but because these lives are lost in road accidents nobody takes any notice, and the dread toll continues’. The committee’s recommendations included road safety education and driver licensing. He later joined the Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures, one of the large number of Senate select committees that emerged in the sixties, and which preceded the establishment of the Senate committee system—the legislative and general purpose standing committees and the estimates committees, later described as ‘the show-piece of the Senate post-war achievement’. The select committee’s work would lead to the adoption of the metric system of weights and measures throughout Australia. Drury also served on three of the new estimates committees.

Judging from his contribution to debate, his membership of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs (1967–72) and the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence (1971–75) increased his interest in, and knowledge of, Australia’s defence needs and capacity. In 1973, as deputy chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, he noted three main issues arising out of the committee’s report on Japan that the new Labor Government needed to address: to seek friendly relations with Japan beyond that of trade; to set out a resources policy for Australia, including an insistence on exporting more processed materials; and to improve the Australian shipping industry. On 27 March 1973 he became chair of the committee. Speaking in the Senate in September, he spoke of Labor’s abolition of national service for the armed forces, and the move from a ‘war-time to a peace-time situation’. He stated: ‘The Australian Labor Party welcomes this absence of threat whereas our political opponents lament the passing of an era in which elections could be won by stressing the threat from the north’. He was proud of the fact that the Whitlam Government had completed the withdrawal of Australian forces from Vietnam.[4]

On 28 August 1975 Drury spoke in support of the Defence Force Re-Organization Bill 1974, which resulted in the elimination of individual departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the establishment of a new Department of Defence. He asked that defence decisions be based on ‘searching analysis and careful planning’. This was his last major contribution to Senate debate.

Drury was active in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association: in 1960 as an observer at a regional conference in Sarawak; in June and July 1963 as a member of a delegation to South-East Asia, as well as in Canberra in 1970; and, also in 1970, as an observer to the South Pacific Commission Conference. In 1974 he was an observer at the United Nations General Assembly.[5]

After leaving the Senate, Drury continued working for his church, the RSL and welfare organisations, most of which he had continued to support while still a senator. In 1971 he had spoken of his work as a driver for Meals on Wheels: ‘To see the plight of some of the people receiving the meals almost makes one’s heart bleed … We find … that old people will wait at their gates and talk to us on the way into the house, while we are in the house and all the way back to the car. They are talking all the time because they are lonely’. In 1986 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. From 1959 to 1995 he was active in the Knights of the Southern Cross (a Catholic men’s society), including Southern Cross Homes, an aged care facility established by the Knights, and now Southern Cross Care.[6]

Drury died at Lockleys, on 10 October 1995. On 28 June 1938 he had married Mona Kathleen (Bib) Elliott at the Queen of Angels Catholic Church, Thebarton. He was survived by Bib, their son, and four grandchildren to whom, as Gough Whitlam recalled, he was immensely devoted.

Despite the lapse of twenty years since Drury’s departure from the Senate in November 1975, there were generous valedictories in both houses, Senator Schacht referring to Drury as his mentor in the Senate. Even allowing for Labor hagiography, it would be hard to discount the sentiment expressed by Clyde Cameron in the Adelaide Advertiser: ‘Drury, Arnold Joseph: A Labor senator for sixteen years who never once betrayed his Party, his friends or his God’.[7]

Elizabeth Milburn

[1] This entry draws on information from an interview between the author and Peter Drury, 2002; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Lyn Dansie of St Mary’s College, Adelaide; Drury, Arnold Joseph—Defence Service Record, B883, SX31957, NAA; Helen Drury, Major Project: History of Grandfather Arnold Joseph Drury Former Senator Parliament of Australia, Adelaide, 1992, unpublished.

[2] ALP, SA branch, Federal election 1958, SRG 73/60/3, SLSA; ALP, SA branch, Official reports of the 54th and 55th annual state conventions, 1957, p. 15, 1958, p. 10; The editor is indebted to Clyde Cameron for information on aspects of Drury’s life; Advertiser (Adel.), 1 Dec. 1964, p. 8; CPD, 16 Oct. 1995, p. 1797.

[3] CPD, 1 Sept. 1959, pp. 399–401, 16 Sept. 1959, pp. 589–91, 17 Nov. 1964, p. 1898, 16 Oct. 1995, p. 1797.

[4]CPD, 5 Mar. 1964, p. 285; CPP, S2/1960, 19/1968; G. S. Reid and Martyn Forrest, Australia’s Commonwealth Parliament 19011988: Ten Perspectives, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1989, p. 375; CPP, 2/1973; CPD, 8 Mar. 1973, pp. 274–5, 26 Sept. 1973, p. 921, 3 Apr. 1974, pp. 622–3.

[5] CPD, 28 Aug. 1975, pp. 370–1.

[6] The editor acknowledges the assistance of Walter Watt, RSL, SA; CPD, 9 Sept. 1971, p. 615; Letters of recommendation nominating Drury for the Order of Australia, held by Peter Drury; The editor is indebted to Paul Bowler, Southern Cross Care, and Rod Hern, Knights of the Southern Cross, Adelaide.

[7] Information to author from Gough Whitlam, 2002; CPD, 16 Oct. 1995, pp. 1795–7, 16 Oct. 1995 (R), pp. 2108–9; Advertiser (Adel.), 11 Oct. 1995, p. 52.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 213-216.

DRURY, Arnold Joseph (1912–1995)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for South Australia, 1959–75

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on Road Safety, 1959–60

Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures, 1967–68

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, 1967–72

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1967–75

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1971–74, 1975

Estimates Committee B, 1973–74

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1973–75

Publications Committee, 1973–75

Estimates Committee D, 1975

Estimates Committee E, 1975

Select Committee on the Corporations and Securities Industry Bill 1975, 1975