Alick Downer

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The Honourable
Sir Alick Downer
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Angas
In office
10 December 1949 – 23 April 1964
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Geoffrey Giles
Personal details
Born Alexander Russell Downer
(1910-04-07)7 April 1910
North Adelaide, South Australia
Died 30 March 1981(1981-03-30) (aged 70)
Barossa Valley
Nationality Australian
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Mary Downer (née Gosse)
Children Alexander Downer
Parents John William Downer and Una Stella Haslingden Downer (née Russell)
Residence Arbury Park
Alma mater University of Oxford
Profession Barrister
Military service
Allegiance Australia
Service/branch Second Australian Imperial Force
Years of service 1940–1945
Rank Sergeant
Unit 2/14th Field Regiment

Second World War

Sir Alexander Russell Downer, KBE (7 April 1910 – 30 March 1981), generally known as Sir Alick Downer, was an Australian politician and diplomat. Downer was a member of the Australian House of Representatives between 1949 and 1963 before serving as Australian High Commissioner to London between 1963 and 1972.

Family, early life and career[edit]

Downer was born in Adelaide as a member of the influential Downer family. His father, Sir John Downer, was a Premier of South Australia and a member of the Australian Senate.[1] His mother was Una Russell, daughter of Henry Chamberlain Russell, who remarried when Alick was 8, to D’Arcy Wentworth Addison.[2][3] Sir Alick's son, Alexander Downer, also a Liberal politician, was Leader of the Opposition 1994–95 and Foreign Minister of Australia 1996–2007.

He was educated at Geelong Grammar School and at the University of Oxford, where he graduated in economics and political science. He was the godfather of Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, brother of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Earl's godmother was Queen Elizabeth II.

After graduating from Oxford in 1932 he read law in London, and in 1934 he was admitted to the bar at Inner Temple. Returning to Adelaide, he joined the South Australian Bar in 1935. He practised as a barrister until joining the Australian Army in 1940. He served in Malaya and was a prisoner-of-war for three years,[4] where he set up a camp library and gave lessons to other prisoners. He was promoted to sergeant due to these efforts, but the promotion was not recognised upon his release.[5]

His book Six prime ministers (Robert Menzies, John Gorton, Harold Holt, Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough) was published in 1982.[6]

Political career[edit]

After the war, Downer joined the newly formed Liberal Party of Australia, and in 1949 he was elected to the House of Representatives for the rural-based Division of Angas. By invitation of the premier, Thomas Playford, he joined the board of the Electricity Trust of South Australia for three years and the Art Gallery board where he remained for seventeen years until his appointment as High Commissioner.[7] He served as Minister for Immigration from 1958 to 1963. During his term in office, migration laws were reformed, which led to the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly from Britain and Europe, where new recruitment posts had been created. Many refugees were also accepted. As a result of his experience as a prisoner of war, he arranged for non-criminal deportees to be held in detention centres instead of being sent to jail.[8]

Diplomatic career[edit]

He retired from Parliament upon his appointment as Australian High Commissioner in London,[9] a position he held until 1972. The building of the High Commission, Australia House, has a Downer Room on the first floor, named in his honour.[10] He was knighted in 1965 as Sir Alexander Downer. He was made a Freeman of the City of London in 1965.

Personal life[edit]

On 23 April 1947, he married Mary Gosse, daughter of Sir James Gosse, whom he had met at a cocktail party in Adelaide.[11] Together they had four children, Stella Mary (born 1948), Angela (born 1949), Alexander John Gosse (born 1951) and Una Joanna (born 1955).


  1. ^ "Downer, Sir Alexander Russell (Alick) (1910–1981)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 30 May 2012. 
  2. ^ "Interesting Weddings.". Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930). Sydney, NSW: National Library of Australia. 2 March 1919. p. 2. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  3. ^ Downer, Alick (2012). The Downers of South Australia, p. 114. Wakefield Press, Adelaide. ISBN 9781743051993
  4. ^ AUSTRALIAN PRISONERS of WAR – World War 2
  5. ^ Downer, Alick (2012). The Downers of South Australia, p. 123. Wakefield Press, Adelaide. ISBN 9781743051993
  6. ^ Downer, Alexander (1982). Six prime ministers. Melbourne: Hill of Content. p. 324. ISBN 0855721294. 
  7. ^ Downer, Alick (2012). The Downers of South Australia, p. 124. Wakefield Press, Adelaide. ISBN 9781743051993
  8. ^ Hancock, I.R. (2007). "Downer, Sir Alexander (Alick), 1910 – 1981". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  9. ^ "A journey into Downer's dark past". The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 June 2005. 
  10. ^ "Australia House, The Strand, London, OS, United Kingdom". Australian Heritage Database. 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2014. 
  11. ^ Downer, Alick (2012). The Downers of South Australia, p. 125. Wakefield Press, Adelaide. ISBN 9781743051993

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Athol Townley
Minister for Immigration
Succeeded by
Hubert Opperman
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Angas
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Giles
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Sir Eric Harrison
Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
John Armstrong