VARDON, Edward Charles (1866–1937)
Senator for South Australia, 1921–22 (Nationalist Party)

Edward Charles Vardon was an Adelaide businessman, who, as a printer, a Freemason, a prominent member of the Congregational Church, a member of the South Australian Liberal Union, a South Australian parliamentarian and a senator for South Australia, followed in the footsteps of his father, Joseph Vardon. Edward was born at Hindmarsh in Adelaide on 10 November 1866, one of five children of Joseph Vardon, and his wife Mary Ann, née Pickering. Unlike Joseph, Edward did not leave school early to hump his swag in the Adelaide Hills, but received a sound education at North Adelaide Grammar School, commencing work as an apprentice in his father’s printing firm. He became a director of Vardon and Sons, and of the Mile End Cold Stores Ltd, the Adelaide Fruit and Produce Exchange and the East End market. He was a member of the Apprentices Advisory Board and, at one time, of a South Australian wages board. From 1910–12, he was president of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures. Vardon was also an organist of the Manthorpe Memorial Congregational Church, a position he agreed to fill only on the basis that the church acquire a better organ.[1]

Vardon first entered the House of Assembly as one of the three members for Sturt in 1918, representing the coalition of National Party and Liberals, but resigned in 1921 to accept appointment to a Senate casual vacancy. In 1924, he was re-elected to the Assembly as a Liberal, and again in 1927 for the Liberal‑Country Party Pact. The debates of the South Australian Parliament point to his major areas of interest—federal and state taxation systems, industrial law and the minutiae of government expenditure. He was an advocate of the parliamentary committee system and a member of the Parliament’s printing committee. In favour of conciliation in industrial relations, he said that he wished to see employers and employees brought together ‘in friendly conference’, supported workmen’s compensation and favoured the ‘living wage’. He spoke at length on the Industrial Code Bill, on occasion agreeing with points raised by the Labor Opposition. But by 1924, he was troubled by the number of strikes and opposed Labor’s industrial legislation. He remained vigilant about the estimates, but a cynic may have wondered at his recommendation that the state’s government printing office should be abolished—it would be better, he considered, to contract the work to a private firm.[2]

Appointed by the Governor-in-Council to a Senate casual vacancy on 18 February 1921, Vardon replaced Robert Guthrie, who had died in office. But his term as a senator came to a halt on 4 August due to the South Australian Parliament having failed to confirm his appointment as required under section 15 of the Constitution. Five days later, the necessary joint sitting of the South Australian Parliament occurred and Vardon was a senator once more, one of thirty-five Nationalists in the Senate to the single Labor representative—Senator Gardiner.

Vardon’s speeches in the Senate were the considered views of a thoughtful backbencher committed to government accountability, even when the government was controlled by his own party. He did not have a lot to say, but what he said was sensible, and while he was a supporter of the Prime Minister, W. M. Hughes, he was prepared to criticise the Government, especially in relation to its expenditure. South Australia, he said, had heard ‘a good deal about Federal extravagance’ and of the ‘unnecessary Federal Capital out in the bush’. During debate on the Public Service Bill, he was, he declared, keen to reduce the number of public servants, but only so long as it did not reduce the efficiency of the Service. The Government should be a ‘model employer’, with ‘the best wages’ and ‘best conditions of service’ and should undertake to provide superannuation. He supported an extension of the retirement age and was worried about the duplication of some functions of government as a result of Federation.[3]

A protectionist, he wanted to see Australia ‘self-supporting’. He referred to South Australia leading the ‘Australia Week’ campaign and to his association with Senator Pratten in that campaign. He spoke proudly to the success of South Australia’s government-sponsored All-Australian Exhibition. He saw all this as part of the Australian national spirit, the spirit of Anzac, which embraced businessmen and workmen alike. During debate on the tariff, he spoke at length on matters pertaining to the printing industry, notably paper. Although an advocate of arbitration, he desired to limit the ambit of the Arbitration Court. On the need for tax reform, he referred to the disadvantage suffered by the Institutes Association of South Australia because of an entertainment tax. A South Australian to the core, he was jealous of any suggestion that the north–south railway might go through Queensland. He regretted that the Senate had become ‘as much a party House as the other branch of the Legislature’, and was in favour of proportional representation for Senate elections. He wanted the people of the Northern Territory represented in the Parliament.[4]

Vardon stood for the Senate at the 1922 federal election, but was defeated. Perhaps he was better suited to the South Australian Parliament, where, after his re-election in 1924, he remained until his defeat in 1930. Vardon died at his home in Unley Park on 23 February 1937. On 28 August 1888, he had married Ellen, née Peel, of Exeter, at the Congregational Church, Port Adelaide. There were two children—a son and a daughter—but only his daughter Daisy survived him. The view of Vardon as a kindly man is given credibility by his support of the liberalisation of divorce law in South Australia in 1918, when he commented that he could see ‘no reason to differentiate between men and women’.

In Vardon’s first speech in the Senate, he had referred to a letter sent by the President of the Senate, Thomas Givens, to his father. Edward expressed the hope that he would receive ‘a like measure of confidence and esteem’ as that accorded to Joseph. Though not as influential a politician as his father, Edward seems to have been as well respected. Unfailingly courteous, with the Australian’s love of fair play, he was a faithful representative of the people of South Australia.[5]


Ann Millar


[1] Observer (Adelaide), 8 August 1914, p. 50; Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 August 1914, p. 13, 24 February 1937, p. 22, 17 February 1921, p. 7; SAPD, 7 October 1919, p. 1106; Malcolm Saunders, ‘Vardon, Joseph’, ADB, vol. 12; Information received from the SLSA; Sixty-Eighth Annual Report of the Council of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures for the Year Ended 1937, Adelaide, 1938, p. 28; Don Temby, To Seek Fresh Fields, Saint Andrews Manthorpe Uniting Church, Unley Parish, 1992, p. 53.

[2] SAPD, 13 August 1918, pp. 164–167, 13 August 1925, pp. 444–449, 29 July 1919, p. 229, 30 September 1919, p. 969, 13 August 1918, p. 166, 2 October 1919, p. 1063, 7 October 1919, pp. 1104–1110, 12 November 1924, p. 1654, 18 November 1926, p. 1683, 19 June 1929, p. 428, 30 October 1918, p. 1128.

[3] Advertiser (Adelaide), 10 August 1921, pp. 6, 9; Senate Registry file, A8161, S.271, NAA; CPD, 5 August 1921, p. 10780, 9 August 1921, p. 10793, 20 July 1922, pp. 638–642, 28 September 1922, p. 2825, 27 April 1921, pp. 7754–7755, 5 October 1922, p. 3212, 10 November 1921, pp. 12584–12585.

[4] CPD, 19 July 1921, pp. 10197–10198; SAPD, 17 August 1920, pp. 259–260; CPD, 31 August 1921, pp. 11458–11461, 20 July 1922, pp. 639–640, 21 September 1922, p. 2506, 20 July 1922, p. 640, 28 July 1922, p. 914, 27 September 1922, p. 2696.

[5] SAPD, 24 September 1918, pp. 630–631; CPD, 27 April 1921, p. 7753. 


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 202-204.

VARDON, Edward Charles (1866-1937)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, SA, 1921–22

South Australian Parliament

Member of the House of Assembly, Sturt, 1918–21, 1924–30