MS 7296
Papers of Sir Arthur William Coles (1892-1982)



Scope and Content Note

  • Papers
  • 1937-78
  • 56 cm. (4 boxes)
  • Available for reference

The papers of Sir Arthur Coles were donated by his wife, Lady Coles, to the National Library after his death in 1982.

The collection includes letters to Sir Arthur, newscutting books and loose cuttings, photographs, programmes, invitations, menus and various pamphlets collected by Sir Arthur. The papers relate to his period as Lord Mayor of Melbourne, his term as a Member of the House of Representatives, and his involvement with the War Damage Commission, the Commonwealth Rationing Commission, the British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines, the National Australian Airlines Commission, and the C.S.I.R.O.

A recorded interview with Sir Arthur is available from the Oral History Section of the National Library.

Biographical Note

Arthur William Coles was born in 1892 in Geelong, Victoria, and was educated at Geelong College. He served in the First World War, after enlisting as a private, and fought at Gallipoli and in France. After being wounded three times, he received his lieutenant's commission and returned to Australia in 1919.

After his return, Coles joined his uncle and two brothers in opening the first of the stores that were to become the Coles marketing chain. After the Coles Company was established in 1921, he helped build up the company and in 1928 he opened a Sydney store, which he managed for three years. During the years 1931-44, Coles was Managing Director of the Coles Company.

In 1938 Coles was elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne, having served as a Councillor for several years previously. He held the position for three terms until 1940, when he resigned to take up a seat in Parliament. In 1940 he ran for and won the seat of Henty (Victoria) as an independant. In 1941 he was one of two Independants who held the balance of power in the House of Representatives, and whose decision to vote against the Government toppled the Fadden Ministry.

Coles retired from the Coles Company in 1944, after becoming the Chairman of the Commonwealth Rationing Commission and the War Damage Commission. After completing the work of these two commissions, he resigned from Federal Parliament to chair the British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines and the Australian National Airlines Commission. In 1952 he was appointed Chairman of the Melbourne Olympic Games Committee, from which he resigned in 1953.

In 1956, Coles was appointed a part-time member of the Executive and Advisory Councils of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, from which he retired in 1965.

Coles married Lillian Knight in 1919, and had three sons and three daughters. He was knighted in 1960 and died in 1982.

References: Who's Who (1956)

Series List

  1. General correspondence
  2. Melbourne City Council, 1937-40
  3. Visit to London, 1941
  4. Member of House of Representatives, 1940-46
  5. Commonwealth Rationing Commission, 1942-50
  6. War Damage Commission, 1942-48
  7. Airlines, 1946-50
  8. Olympic Games, 1952-53
  9. C.S.I.R.O., 1956-65
  10. Miscellaneous papers, 1938-64
  11. Object

Series Descriptions

Series 1. General correspondence

The general correspondence is arranged chronologically. Many of the letters are letters of thanks, congratulations or notices of appointments sent to Coles. Letters were received from public figures such as Artie Fadden,
Sir Robert Menzies, Ben Chifley and Gough Whitlam. There is also some personal correspondence from friends, including a letter to Lady Coles and two drafts of letters sent by Sir Arthur Coles. There is no family correspondence.

Series 2. Melbourne City Council, 1937-40

This series consists of newscuttings, books, loose cuttings and photographs from the period when Coles was Councillor and Lord Mayor of Melbourne. The photographs and newscuttings are arranged in chronological order. The series breakdown is as follows:

A. Photographs of a Council visit to O'Shannassy Watershed and Souvenir copy of a Special Notice and Minutes of a Melbourne Council Meeting to commemorate the incorporation of the city of Melbourne.
B. (i) Newscuttings scrapbook, 1934-38. Includes clippings on the family business, the purchase of Sir Arthur and Lady Lillian's house in Toorak, and Sir Arthur's election as a Councillor.
B. (ii) Loose cuttings from the above book, that covers much the same topics.
C. Newscuttings scrapbook, October to December 1938. Covers the period when Sir Arthur was first elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne.
D. Newscuttings scrapbook, 1938 to February 1940, during which Sir Arthur retained the Lord Mayorship of Melbourne. Some loose cuttings were retained in the book.
E. Newscuttings scrapbook, August to November 1940. During this period, Sir Arthur was elected for his third term of office as Lord Mayor. Some loose cuttings were retained in the book.
F. Newscuttings scrapbook, March to November 1940. Covers the period up to and including Sir Arthur's resignation as Lord Mayor to take up his seat as a Member of the House of Representives.

Series 3. Visit to London, 1941

This series consists of two newscutting scrapbooks that cover Sir Arthur's visit to London in 1941, while he was a Member of Parliament.

Series 4. Member of House of Representatives, 1940-46

Covered in this series are Sir Arthur's collection of newscuttings, covering the years during which he was a Member of the House of Representatives. It includes his election pamphlets, and some photographs and loose newscuttings. Newscuttings and photographs dealing with Sir Arthur's involvement with the War Damage and Rationing Commissions are included under those headings, unless they have been pasted into the following scrapbooks. The series breakdown is as follows:

A. Newscuttings scrapbook, January 1940 to October 1941. Contains articles that cover Sir Arthur's first run and subsequent election, for the Victorian seat of Henty. Also includes articles on the defeat of the Fadden Ministry.
B. Newscuttings scrapbook, 1940 to August 1943. Includes articles on Sir Arthur's second run for the seat of Henty, as well as his election campaign leaflets.
C. (i) Newscuttings scrapbook, August 1943 to 1945.
C. (ii) Loose cuttings from C (i) that cover his resignation in February 1946 from the House of Representatives. Some earlier articles that were included in the book have been included, as they were in the scrapbook. They include articles from when he was Lord Mayor, and later articles about his knighthood and his career.

Series 5. Commonwealth Rationing Commission, 1942-50

The series consists of a group of cuttings about rationing.

Series 6. War Damage Commission, 1942-48

Contained in this series are photographs and Sir Arthur's copies of the Regulations and Reports of the Commission. The series breakdown is as follows:

A. Statutory regulations, copies of various reports (1942-48), and handbook for assessors registered by the War Damage Commissioner.
B. Photographs, two albums and one set of loose photographs in a brown envelope, covering the War Damage Commission to New Guinea.

Series 7. Airlines, 1946-50

In this series are contained all the documents relating to Sir Arthur's involvement, as Chairman, with the British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines (1946-50) and the Australian National Airlines Commissioner (1946-50). Series breakdown is as follows:

A. Contains two photographs, a photocopy of an article sent to Sir Arthur and printed matter collected by Sir Arthur on TAA's beginnings.
B. Memorial photograph album presented to Sir Arthur, commemorating the inaugural flight of the BCPA's new DC-6, in February 1949.

Series 8. Olympic Games, 1952-53

Within this series are contained loose newsclippings and photocopies covering the period during which Sir Arthur was Chairman of the Melbourne Olympic Games Committee.

Series 9. C.S.I.R.O., 1956-65

This series contains printed matter collected by, or presented to Sir Arthur about the C.S.I.R.O. during the period in which he served as a part-time member of the Executive and Advisory Councils of the C.S.I.R.O.

Series 10. Miscellaneous papers, 1938-64

Includes photographs, invitations, cuttings and printed matter

Series 11. Object

Plaque presented to Sir Arthur by the United Airlines as a token of his membership to their 100,000 Mile Club.

Guide compiled June 1987. Last updated July 1996