Athol Gordon Townley (1905 - 1963)

Athol Townley
Minister for Civil Aviation 1954-1956

Athol Gordon Townley was born in Hobart, Tas., on 3 October 1905 and qualified as a pharmaceutical chemist in 1928. About 1930 Athol Townley and his elder brother Rex moved to Sydney seeking employment, where Athol joined Gartrell White Ltd, bakers, where he was placed in charge of the laboratory responsible for quality control. In 1935 Athol, now married, returned to Hobart where he joined his brother in running a chain of phrarmacies, eventually becoming General Manager of the business.

On 15 September 1940 Townley was appointed a probationary sub-lieutenant, Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, and was mobilized eight days later. He was sent to England, where he trained for and was briefly involved in bomb- and mine-disposal work. Back in Australia, he was in command of the patrol boat Steady Hour which assisted in destroying a Japanese midget submarine in Sydney Harbour on 1 June 1942. He then took command of Fairmile Motor Launch No.817 in January 1943 and saw action around the coast of Papua and New Guinea. Lieutenant Commander Athol Townley was later given command of a flotilla of Fairmile patrol boats.

Returning to Hobart and the pharmacy business after the war, Athol Townley was unexpectedly invited to stand as a Liberal candidate in the Federal election of 10 December 1949. He won the House of Representatives seat of Denison, which he was to hold until his death. Townley was a popular member of Parliament, being described as "a bluff, friendly, robust man", able to mix easily, and who called most people 'mate'.

In 1951 Prime Minister Menzies elevated Athol Townley to become Minister for Social Services, a portfolio well-suited to his personality and outlook. On 9 July 1954 Townley became the Minister for Civil Aviation, a post he held for two years before moving on to become Minister for Immigration in 1956, followed by Minister for Supply and Defence Production in 1958, later Minister for Defence. He was regarded as a "safe, if unspectacular, junior Minister". Among his notable acts were sending the first Australian Army advisors to Vietnam in 1962 and committing Australia to purchasing the F-111 in 1963.

Athol Townley suffered a long period of ill-health in the early 1960s and died of a heart attack on 24 December 1963 at the Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne.

(Photo: CAHS collection)

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