LAUCKE, Sir Condor Louis (1914–1993)
Senator for South Australia, 1967–81 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Condor Louis Laucke, wine maker, flour miller and company director, was born in Greenock, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, on 9 November 1914, youngest of six children born to Friedrich and Anna Louise née Jungfer. Anna had been born at Neukirch near Greenock, and Friedrich arrived in Port Adelaide from Germany on 30 May 1895 on board the SS Gera. Condor, who was named after the SMS Condor, a vessel of the German Imperial Navy that had called at Adelaide in the years before World War I, had little recollection of his mother, for Anna died when he was still a child. From Friedrich, who on his arrival in South Australia had gained employment with George Davey’s flour mill in Salisbury, Condor acquired Lutheran principles, and a knowledge of milling inherited from his grandfather in Brandenburg. In 1899 Friedrich acquired the Greenock Mill where, under the name of F. Laucke and Co., he conducted business as a flour miller and grain merchant. On 21 March 1914, he applied for naturalisation and by September was an Australian citizen. This may have been the reason he escaped internment. His brother, Paul, who returned to South Australia from Germany in 1926, would be interned for four years during World War II, because he served with German forces in World War I. By the 1930s Friedrich owned a number of mills. Each of his four sons would serve in one or other as a manager.

Condor was educated, with other Lutherans, at Greenock Primary School (1920–27), Nuriootpa Higher Primary School (1928–29) and, from 1930 to 1932, Immanuel College, a Lutheran school in Adelaide, at which he became head prefect, a member of the choir, and a keen footballer. In 1932 he passed a unit of chemistry at the South Australian School of Mines, probably entering his father’s milling business that year. In May 1942 he joined the Volunteer Defence Corps, but by July was discharged as medically unfit. On 19 June 1943, at St Augustine’s Church, Unley, Condor married Rose Hambour, a businesswoman of Kapunda. They had two children.

By 1947 Condor was a director and general manager of the family business, Laucke Milling Co. Ltd, which had flour mills at Strathalbyn, Angaston, Stockport and Eudunda. He remained a director, as the milling business gradually diversified in the 1950s and 1960s to accommodate stock mill feeding. By the 1970s the firm was known as F. Laucke Pty Ltd. The family also owned a vineyard, Bunawunda, which produced grapes for the Orlando winery and a little wine for home consumption. An occasional bottle of this beverage was later to be seen around the confines of the federal Parliament.

Active in his community and interested in politics, Condor, who assisted in the amalgamation of the Liberal and Country parties in Greenock in 1933, became the inaugural secretary of the Greenock branch of the new Liberal and Country League (LCL). Nineteen years old at that time, he remained an executive member of the Greenock branch until 1965, and represented the Barossa district committee on the state executive between 1965 and 1967. After his father’s death in 1957, he took over his father’s position as nominal agent for the Greenock branch of the Savings Bank of South Australia. President of the Greenock Institute between 1946 and 1952, he was a member of the Council of Institutes Association of South Australia between 1960 and 1968, and its vice-president from 1965 to 1967.[1]

Condor Laucke began his political career when he was elected unopposed for the newly established seat of Barossa in the South Australian House of Assembly at the state election of March 1956. As a member of the LCL, he was re-elected in 1959 (again unopposed) and 1962. He spoke mainly along party lines, carefully making no waves. In his first speech, on 17 May 1956, he referred to ‘the great heritage of the Parliamentary institution, and of the great personal freedom, rights and privileges inherent in that system’. He paid particular attention to the ‘intensification of production in the old-established rural areas’, which he represented, especially in relation to water (including underground water and the rights of property holders) and to legislation such as the Electricity Subsidy Bill 1962, which, as he pointed out, ‘offers immediate relief to almost 50,000 country consumers’. Laucke represented the South Australian Parliament on the University of Adelaide Council from 1956 until 1965. From 1959 to 1964 he served on the Parliamentary Committee on Land Settlement. Loyal to his party, uncontroversial and predictable, he was appointed Government Whip, a position he held from 1962 until the November 1965 election, at which the ALP defeated the long-lived Playford Government. Laucke lost his seat when Labor put up a candidate for the first time. That he was beaten by a woman, Mrs Molly Byrne, appeared, to the Adelaide Advertiser, to have been something of a surprise.[2]

On 2 November 1967, Laucke, already nominated by the LCL for first place on the party’s Senate ticket for the federal election of 25 November, was appointed at a joint sitting of the South Australian Parliament to fill the casual vacancy in the Senate caused by the death of Senator Hannaford. He was sworn on 2 November 1967, and would prove himself as loyal an advocate for South Australia as he was to his party. Laucke’s personal involvement in the Barossa region’s wine industry undoubtedly influenced his strong objections to the imposition of an excise duty on wine under the Excise Tariff 1970, but not sufficiently for him to vote against the Liberal Government of John Gorton, as Labor’s G. T. McLaren pointed out. Laucke was prepared to speak out against the legislation, in and out of the chamber, yet each time the bill was put to the vote, he was paired. The excise tax was removed by the Labor Government of Gough Whitlam in 1973, with the support of both parties. Laucke commended the Government on its prompt action and welcomed the legislation. Some federal parliamentarians also welcomed their invitations to enjoy the hospitality of Laucke’s magnificent cellar at Bunawunda. In 1974 he was one of the founding members of the Barons of Barossa, a winemaking fraternity formed to promote the South Australian wine industry.[3]

His advocacy of South Australian products did not rest only with wine, though rural interests predominated, as he spoke on behalf of Adelaide as a port of call, on state aviation and state railways, and promoted fruit canning, beef cattle roads and the Australian Wheat Board. As in the South Australian Parliament, his major concern was with drought and water conservation, especially the interstate management of the River Murray. He touched on cloud seeding, and was a strong supporter of the ambitious Chowilla Dam proposal and, later, of the Dartmouth Dam project after the Chowilla Dam venture had been abandoned because of concerns about salinity.[4]

Laucke described himself as ‘a progressive conservative’. He had an enquiring mind, and strong opinions firmly held; he frequently asked questions on international affairs. He was sensitive to the needs of people, such as the soldier settlers on Kangaroo Island, though he favoured retention of the death penalty, voting against the second reading of the Death Penalty Abolition Bill, which passed the Senate in 1973. He spoke sympathetically of the increase in funding to the Aboriginal people by the Whitlam Government in 1973, legislation that engaged bipartisan support. His ongoing support of education, including scientific research, may have reflected his own desire to have had more education; he was known to murmur in the Senate that he was ‘only a businessman’. While he wished to see Joan Sutherland and Sidney Nolan return to Australia, he became notorious for his opposition to the Whitlam Government’s purchase of the painting by Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles. A keen committee man, he chaired the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment from 1971 to 1973; one of the committee’s reports considered the environmental conditions of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders and the preservation of their sacred sites. He was also deputy chairman of the Select Committee on Air Pollution. Deeply committed to Parliament and its procedures, from 1969 to 1972 he served as a temporary chairman of committees, and in 1971 was a party room candidate for the position of President of the Senate.[5]

With his party in Opposition from 1972 to 1975, Laucke was considered, at least for a time, a close political ally of the Liberal Leader of the Opposition, Billy Snedden, and in January 1973 became spokesman (so far, the term ‘shadow minister’ had been used only by Labor) for pensions, repatriation and Aboriginal affairs. Later in the month, Laucke’s responsibilities were changed to social development—tourism, recreation, the media and the ABC. In June 1974 Snedden dropped Laucke from the front bench. During the constitutional crisis of November 1975, Laucke joined with Neville Bonner, Alan Missen, Eric Bessell and Don Jessop in expressing reservations about his party’s intention to block supply to the Whitlam Government, though none of the group crossed the floor.[6]

In February 1976, two months after the election of the Fraser Liberal Government, Laucke was appointed President of the Senate with Snedden as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Both wore the traditional regalia that had been discontinued by the Whitlam Government, which included the lace ruffles of the jabot and cuffs, and the full bottomed wig. Laucke argued that the wearing of wig and gown lent authority to the office, and was in keeping with the Westminster tradition. He remained a traditionalist, inordinately loyal to the Queen, taking every opportunity to propose the loyal toast, and to extend his presidential hospitality wherever possible. He was in his element in hosting, on 5 May 1977, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the 50th anniversary of the 1927 opening of Parliament House in Canberra. On one occasion, he gave a dinner for the clerks at the table. He sang their praises to such an extent that Rose quietly remarked, ‘You’re not retiring yet you know’, at which Laucke gently patted her hand. ‘Quite so, my love’, he murmured, ‘quite so’.

Laucke proved himself a competent President, his fair-minded approach standing him in good stead. While most of his rulings and interjections related to unparliamentary language, in 1976, when asked to investigate, in contentious political circumstances, the accusation that J. R. Odgers had given political advice to Cleaver Bunton and Steele Hall regarding the passing of the supply bills in 1975, he fully defended the impartiality and confidentiality of relations between the Clerk of the Senate and senators. Laucke was reluctant to suspend senators, but did so on six occasions, usually for the use of objectionable language. His long-time antagonist, Senator Keeffe, moved two motions of dissent to Laucke’s rulings, both of them defeated. With the upgrading of security following the bombing of the Hilton Hotel in Sydney in February 1978, Laucke was responsible for overseeing new security measures, which, in many ways, changed the atmosphere at the Old Parliament House. In 1981 he was responsible for a closure of the federal Parliament to the public, when police were summoned to clear King’s Hall of women who were protesting against decreases in the funding of women’s services.[7]

Laucke’s Senate term ended on 30 June 1981. He had not sought re-election and returned to his home state and his vineyard. From 1991 he was patron of the Association of Former Members of the Parliament of Australia. In 1969 he had led the Australian delegation to the 57th Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference in New Delhi, and in 1981 was special guest at the 27th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference. In his presidential role, he travelled overseas on several occasions, attending conferences of presiding officers and clerks of the parliaments of Australia and the Pacific region, and of the Commonwealth. The Barossa Valley service clubs named an annual event after him, the Sir Condor Laucke Oration, and he was president of Toc H Australia from 1983 to 1985. Appointed KCMG in 1978, Laucke was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia in 1982 by the Tonkin Liberal Government. Although Labor took office soon afterwards, his unfailing courtesy and sense of propriety resulted in his appointment being extended until 1992.

Laucke died at home in Greenock on 30 July 1993, survived by his wife and children, and was accorded a state funeral at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Adelaide. The oration was given by the former Premier of South Australia, Don Dunstan. A kind, gentle and immensely hospitable man, Laucke’s name was considered synonymous with politeness and trust, which lent respect to the institution of Parliament. He once commented ‘there’s never any need to be nasty to anyone’. In February 2003 the Barons of the Barossa honoured Laucke with a plaque, later mounted in the Barossa town of Tanunda, acknowledging his pivotal role in the promotion of the South Australian wine industry.[8]

Sylvia Marchant

[1] The editor is indebted to the Laucke family for their assistance; Geoff Saegenschnitter, Greenock and District 1846–1986: A History of Greenock and the Surrounding Districts of Nain, Daveyston, Moppa, Walton and Seppeltsfield, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1986, pp. 54, 100, 144, 251–3, 272; Friedrich Laucke Naturalization, A1, 1914/15464, NAA; Jürgen Tampke, ‘Ruthless Warfare’: German Military Planning and Surveillance in the Australia–New Zealand Region before the Great War, Southern Highlands Publishers, Canberra, 1998, pp. 14–15, 107–8; Jean P. Fielding, The Golden Grain: A History of Edwin Davey & Sons, Pioneer Flourmillers and Grain Merchants of South Australia at Penrice, Angaston, Eudunda, Salisbury, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney 1865–1985, Hyland House Publishing, Melbourne, 1985, pp. 30–2, 120; Greenock Primary School Centenary 1878–1978, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, 1978, pp. 22, 34, 50; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Jo Zander, Local History Officer, Barossa Council Library, SA, of Kerry Viney, Nuriootpa Primary School, and of Cathy Davis, Records Management and Copyright Officer, University of South Australia; The ‘Echo’: Immanuel College Magazine, 1930, 1931–32; Laucke, Condor Louis—Defence Service Record, B884, S80310, NAA; Laucke, Paul Theodor, Migration records, A435, 1946/4/4621, NAA; Transcript of evidence of objection by P. T. Laucke, German internee, MP529/3, Tribunal 4/Laucke, NAA; Laucke, Paul Theodor, MP14/1, Laucke/PT, NAA; Liberal Party, SA division, Records, SRG 168/1/43, SLSA.

[2] LCL Newsletter (Adel.), June 1958, p. 3; SAPD, 17 May 1956, pp. 127–31, 2 Dec. 1959, pp. 2028–9, 29 Aug. 1962, p. 795; Advertiser (Adel.), 3 Nov. 1967, p. 3.

[3] Advertiser (Adel.), 3 Nov. 1967, p. 3; CPD, 2 Nov. 1967, p. 2059, 16 Oct. 1970, pp. 1227–8, 19 Oct. 1970, pp. 1256–61, 10 Dec. 1971, pp. 2705–6, 11 Apr. 1973, pp. 1043–4, 17 Aug. 1993, pp. 31–6.

[4] CPD, 21 May 1969, p. 1405, 28 Sept. 1971, p. 869, 7 Dec. 1971, p. 2460, 12 Apr. 1970, p. 914, 13 June 1968, pp. 1795–6, 29 Nov. 1973, pp. 2320–1, 19 Mar. 1970, pp. 466–8, 13 Mar. 1968, pp. 35–6, 8 May 1968, p. 848, 30 May 1968, pp. 1331–3, 25 Feb. 1969, pp. 55–8, 23 Aug. 1973, pp. 190–1.

[5] CPD, 17 Aug. 1993, p. 29, 7 Mar. 1973, pp. 213–14, 31 May 1973, p. 2133, 3 May 1973, pp. 1327–8; Senate, Journals, 8 May 1973, pp. 155–6, 28 Aug. 1973, pp. 314–16; CPD, 6 Dec. 1973, pp. 2604–5, 12 Apr. 1973, pp. 1071–2, 8 May 1968, pp. 882–3; Australian (Syd.), 15 May 1974, p. 11; CPD, 25 Sept. 1973, p. 810; Advertiser (Adel.), 26 Sept. 1973, p. 10; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 25 Sept. 1973, p. 15; Lindsay Barrett, The Prime Minister’s Christmas Card: Blue Poles and Cultural Politics in the Whitlam Era, Power Publications, Sydney, 2001, pp. 18–19; CPP, 150/1972, 91/1969; CPD, 30 May 1973, pp. 2081–3; Australian (Syd.), 17 Aug. 1971, p. 3.

[6] SMH, 9 Jan. 1973, pp. 1–2, 30 Jan. 1973, p. 3, 15 June 1974, p. 2; CPD, 4 Nov. 1975, p. 1684; SMH, 17 Feb. 1976, p. 2; Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, p. 541; CPD, 22 Oct. 1975, pp. 1393–5.

[7] CPD, 17 Feb. 1976, pp. 2–5; Advertiser (Adel.), 17 Feb. 1976, pp. 1, 4; Australian (Syd.), 18 Feb. 1976, p. 9; J. R. Odgers, Australian Senate Practice, 6th edn, Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration, ACT division, Canberra, 1991, pp. 279, 372; Speeches to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Parliament, 5 May 1977, TRC 545, NLA; CPD, 24 Aug. 1976, p. 214, 25 Aug. 1976, p. 283; CT, 28 Aug. 1976, p. 2; CPD, 17 Aug. 1993, p. 36, 17 Aug. 1993 (R), p. 17; Senate, Journals, 24 May 1979, pp. 737–8, 20 May 1980, pp. 1360–2; CPD, 2 Mar. 1978, p. 261, 2 June 1981, pp. 2403–4; AFR, (Syd.), 3 June 1981, p. 3.

[8] Advertiser (Adel.), 29 June 1981, p. 6; Federal Gallery, Newsletter of the Association of the Former Members of the Parliament of Australia, Sept. 1993, pp. 1–2; CPP, 21/1970; Ian Grey, The Parliamentarians: The History of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association 1911–1985, Gower, Aldershot, Hampshire, England, 1986, p. 267; Advertiser (Adel.), 29 June 1982, p. 3, 31 July 1993, p. 7; The editor acknowledges the assistance of Brian Waples, Barons of Barossa; Saegenschnitter, Greenock and District 1846–1986, p. 273; Advertiser (Adel.), 30 Dec. 1978, p. 1, 29 June 1982, pp. 3, 5, 31 July 1993, p. 7, 17 Feb. 1976, p. 4; The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker, Apr. 2003, p. 7.

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. 237-241.

LAUCKE, Sir Condor Louis (1914–1993)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for South Australia, 1967–81

President of the Senate, 1976–81

South Australian Parliament

Member of the House of Assembly, Barossa, 1956–65

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on Air Pollution, 1968–69

Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources, 1969–71

Estimates Committee C, 1970–71, 1973–75

Estimates Committee D, 1971–73

Standing Committee on Social Environment, 1971–73

House Committee, 1971–81

Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, 1974–75

Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, 1976–80

Joint Committee on the Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, 1976–81

Library Committee, 1976–81

Standing Orders Committee, 1976–81

Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House, 1980–81