Sir Henry Edward Bolte, GCMG

Henry-BolteBallarat Grammar 1922 – 1924

  • Premier of Victoria 1955 – 1972
  • Victoria’s Longest Serving Premier
  • Deceased 1990

Sir Henry Bolte was Premier of Victoria for 17 years. He was a colourful character, a veteran politician who could outsmart his political opponents but who created no bitter enemies. Sir Henry guided Victoria during the turbulent period of social and economic change between 1955 to 1972. Sir Henry and his wife, Dame Edith Bolte, frequently met both international figures and ordinary members of the public.

He spent his childhood in Skipton, where his parents operated a hotel and later a drapery store. Henry attended the local school and then, with the assistance of a junior technical scholarship, he boarded at Ballarat Grammar. He was a member of the Cricket First XI in 1923 and 1924. In the school magazine of 1923, an item titled Characters of the Eleven, noted: “Bolte. Has done remarkably well as a wicket keep, and should become first-class in this position with more experience. He still tends to play with a crossed bat and has not yet conquered a bad tendency to hit at everything.” A contemporary remarked that, “any polish Henry may have acquired he owed to [Chaplain Alex] Macpherson”!

After leaving school, Henry worked as a rouseabout and was able to purchase a farm near Meredith in 1934, with the help of his grandmother. In the same year Henry married Edith Elder, who was known to her close friends as Jill. The couple settled on the property “Kialla” and started to improve the farm.

Henry entered parliament in 1947 on his election as the Member for the seat of Hampden. He showed a flair for politics and was given different ministerial portfolios within a year. In 1951 he became Deputy Leader of the Victorian Liberal Party and took over the leadership after the tragic death of Trevor Oldham in 1953. He held this position for 20 years. The Liberal and Country Party took office as the Victorian Government in June 1955 after defeating the Labour Party led by John Cain.

Henry Bolte became Premier of Victoria in 1955 and went on to be Victoria’s longest serving Premier. Bolte well understood the concerns and desires of the average Australian. He was an uncut diamond, a plain talker and a good and canny leader, able to deliver pithy phrases and chart the right course by means that were often unconventional.

Henry began an active program to improve the economy of the State and raised the general standard of living for the average family. He agitated for more money to be redistributed back to the States from the Federal Government. Henry also sought overseas investment for Victoria and dealt directly with foreign politicians and companies. Through his efforts, large manufacturing groups such as Ford, established new plants in Victoria.

In recognition of his service, Henry Bolte was knighted on 1 January 1966 as Knight Commander of the Order of St.Michael and St. George, and in 1972 was made Knight Grand Cross of the same Order (GCMG). His wife, Edith, was appointed DBE in 1973; “two working, one on the payroll”, was Sir Henry’s description of their partnership.

Sir Henry Bolte died in January 1990. The name of Bolte will remain legendary in Victorian politics.