HENDRICKSON, Albion (1897–1977)
Senator for Victoria, 1947–71 (Australian Labor Party)

Albion (‘Bert’) Hendrickson, who hailed from the region surrounding Maryborough in Victoria, was born on 17 December 1897 at Adelaide Lead, a small mining community. His father was Peter Hendrickson, a miner, and his mother was Mary, née Broad, formerly Robinson.

It is likely that Bert attended Maryborough State School, at least for a short time, later joining the Victorian Railways as a porter. On 19 July 1915 he enlisted with the AIF, joining the 22nd Battalion. Service records describe him as 5 feet 8 inches (173 centimetres) tall, and as having blue eyes and fair hair. Hendrickson embarked at Melbourne on the transport ship, the Commonwealth, on 20 November and was transferred to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion in March 1916. He saw active service in France, and was wounded in action on 3 May 1917. Hospitalised in England, he returned to Australia in December 1917, and was discharged in Melbourne as medically unfit on 26 March 1918.

On 20 November 1919 Hendrickson married Eunice Elizabeth Matthews, a milliner, at the Maryborough Presbyterian Church. They had four children. At the time of his marriage Hendrickson was recovering from his war injuries but was undertaking vocational training. Evidence of his political activism emerged during this period, when, as Hendrickson later recalled, he participated in a march through Melbourne, probably in 1921, protesting against restrictions imposed by the Melbourne City Council on the annual St Patrick’s Day march.

From 1926 until the early 1930s, when the family moved to Bendigo, Hendrickson worked out of Maryborough as a linesman. He became president of the Bendigo Trades Hall Council, secretary of the Bendigo branch of the ALP, and worked in the Postmaster-General’s engineering branch. In 1941 Hendrickson was appointed private secretary to Senator R. V. Keane, Minister for Trade and Customs in the Curtin Government (formerly MHR for Bendigo). By 1943 the Hendricksons were settled in the Melbourne suburb of Caulfield North.[1]

Hendrickson had first stood unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1940, third on the ticket. He was preselected again, in June 1946, for the forthcoming federal election, and placed first on the party ticket, having been put forward and defeated in the Victorian Parliament for the casual vacancy arising from Keane’s death on 26 April 1946. Contrary to the general practice in Victoria, the vacancy was not filled by a Labor candidate, but by Liberal A. J. Fraser.

At the 28 September 1946 federal election, Hendrickson topped the Victorian poll. His election campaign targeted country areas, especially Maryborough. Advertisements in the Maryborough Advertiser stressed his concerns for issues relevant to the farming community. Even though Hendrickson had not resided in Maryborough for approximately ten years, much was made of his earlier associations with the town and his sympathies with its rural community, and it was suggested that Hendrickson was ‘a source of legitimate pride to the townspeople’. In 1953 the ‘Maryborough boy’ was re-elected at the head of the ALP’s Senate ticket, while at the Senate elections of 1958 and 1964, he was listed second, after Pat Kennelly.[2]

Eligible to sit in the Senate from 1 July 1947, Hendrickson gave his first speech on 16 October, in which he expressed views that resonated with many other Australians who, like himself, had had firsthand experience of war and the Depression, and who now wanted something better. The power of the banks had to be curbed. The bank directors, he said, ‘are the sort of people who financed Hitler’ and were to blame for the failure of soldier settlement schemes following World War I. They were ruining primary industry because farmers were indebted to them. With the press and ‘other moneyed powers’, he asserted, they were the main obstacle to the Labor Government implementing its policies, which were based on the ‘true principles of Christianity and democracy’. Labor, he said, was for democracy and against the ‘little dictatorship’ that took the form of the Victorian Legislative Council, with its property qualifications for candidates and electors. Hendrickson was genuinely anti-communist, but he believed that people turned to communism out of poverty and desperation: ‘Nothing breeds communism more quickly than do unemployment, misery and starvation’, he said. He would continue to speak on these matters, and on a range of subjects, which included repatriation, land settlement for ex-servicemen, war service homes, social services, the cost of living, unemployment, and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, as well as trade and international affairs.[3]

From 1956 to 1966 he served as a temporary chairman of committees in the Senate. In 1959 he was a member of the Australian delegation to the United Nations 14th General Assembly, representing Australia at a committee drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Between 1957 and 1966 he was a regular critic of the European Common Market, whose formation he saw as a ‘rigid economic barrier’ and ‘one of the major problems of the twentieth century’. In particular, he bemoaned its impact on the export of Australia’s meat, wheat, wool and butter, and feared that without this revenue, Australia could not afford machinery and manufactured goods.[4]

A fiery speaker, he aroused deep passions, on one occasion being told by Senator Gair that he should be gaoled. On 18 October 1962, during the debate on the adjournment, he accused the Liberal Party’s George Hannan of supporting Hitler and anti-Semitism, after the ALP’s Sam Cohen had told the chamber: ‘Senator Hannan has made himself the vehicle … for a spiteful campaign levelled largely against me’. The context was a debate about the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union. When Cohen said ‘Modern anti-Semitism started with Hitler’, Hendrickson interjected with the words, ‘Which Senator Hannan supports’. Hannan informed the President that he found the remark offensive and asked that it be withdrawn. Hendrickson refused, and left the chamber. The President then ordered the Usher of the Black Rod to bring Hendrickson back, whereupon the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate, Shane Paltridge, called on Hendrickson to apologise to the President. When Hendrickson declined, Paltridge successfully moved for Hendrickson’s suspension for the remainder of the day’s sitting.[5]

In 1967 when the ALP’s Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Lance Barnard, returned from a visit to South Vietnam and suggested that Labor might need to reconsider its defence and foreign policies, given the ‘large scale invasion’ by North Vietnam, Hendrickson reaffirmed his unequivocal opposition to a Labor government having any part in an ‘immoral and unjust war’. In 1970, he and three other parliamentarians, Jim Cairns, MHR, Moss Cass, MHR, and Senator Arthur Poyser, faced the possibility of prosecution under the Crimes Act for offering sanctuary to draft resisters. The controversy arose over a statement in the broadside, Resist, published by the Draft Resisters’ Union on 7 October 1970. The statement carried the parliamentarians’ endorsement and pledged ‘sanctuary in the form of shelter, work and sustenance to all young men who courageously defy the National Service Act’, though Hendrickson informed the police that he had not authorised the use of his name. In December the Commonwealth decided not to proceed with charges, due to lack of evidence.[6]

Having decided not to stand for the 1970 Senate election, Hendrickson left the Senate on 30 June 1971 at the end of his term. He had not been well for some time, and had collapsed while attending the state funeral for former ALP colleague Sam Cohen in 1969. Watching football had long been a recreation, to which he now added golf and fishing. Hendrickson died in Melbourne, on 28 April 1977, survived by Eunice and three of their four children. Bert Hendrickson’s death was noted by the Returned Services League, Caulfield Central, of which he had been a member. Despite his long service to his country and his loyalty to the ALP, the Labor Star reported his passing only briefly. He was better remembered in the Senate, where senators spoke of him as being sound and sincere, with a gregarious and jovial personality.[7]

Barry York

[1] Hendrickson, Albion—Defence Service Record, B2455, NAA; CPD, 5 May 1971, pp. 1388–90; Colin Cleary, Bendigo Labor: The Maintenance of Traditions in a Regional City, Colin Cleary, Epsom, Vic., 1999, pp. 88, 94, 98, 105.

[2] Argus (Melb.), 22 June 1946, p. 3, 16 May 1948, p. 20; Maryborough Advertiser, 24 Sept. 1946, p. 7; Philip Osborn (ed.), My Struggle: The Journals of Les Henderson, Estate of Les Henderson, Maryborough, Vic. 1993, p. 92.

[3] CPD, 16 Oct. 1947, pp. 836–41, 16 Mar. 1949, p. 1516, 21 Mar. 1957, pp. 103, 105.

[4] CPP, 38/1960; CPD, 29 Apr. 1959, pp. 1089–90, 16 May 1957, pp. 760–1, 30 Apr. 1959, pp. 1136–7.

[5] CPD, 12 Aug. 1969, pp. 7–8, 20 Aug. 1969, p. 168, 18 Oct. 1962, pp. 1005–8.

[6] Age (Melb.), 29 May 1967, p. 3; Australian (Syd.), 30 Oct. 1970, p. 1; Resist (Melb.), 7 Oct. 1970, p. 1; Australian (Syd.), 12 Dec. 1970, p. 3.

[7] CT, 10 Oct. 1969, p. 3; AWM, Roll of Honour: Peter Albion Hendrickson, viewed 12 Mar. 2009, <http://www.awm.gov.au/roh/>; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 30 Apr. 1977, p. 54; Labor Star, June 1977, p. 19; CPD, 12 May 1971, pp. 1708, 1711, 1714–17.

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. 11-14.

HENDRICKSON, Albion (1897–1977)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Victoria, 1947–71

Senate Committee Service

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1951–62

House Committee, 1964–67

Standing Orders Committee, 1964–67