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Hollingdale, Peter Eustace (1927–2008)

by Malcolm Brown

Peter Hollingdale could scarcely have escaped law as a career. His father, Eustace Thomas Hollingdale, a World War I veteran, had taken up law and joined Francis Bede Freehill in Freehill Hollingdale & Co. The firm had two other partners, Peter's uncle, Bernard Hollingdale, and Brian Page.

Peter followed suit, committing his career to help develop the legal firm into one of Australia's foremost. A quiet, steady presence in the firm's operations, he was to focus on planning, administration, encouraging and counselling, though in his private life he could be carefree and fun-loving.

In his family life, he was certainly robust, fathering nine children. When a hospital nurse commented on the fact, he said: "Yes. I only had to kiss [my wife] and there was a baby."

Peter Eustace Hollingdale, who has died at 81, was born in Sydney to Eustace and Elizabeth (Dell). Completing his schooling at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, where he also rowed and specialised in the high jump, he graduated in arts and law from Sydney University. In 1944 he began his articles with his father in Freehill Hollingdale & Co. A fellow article clerk was Frank McAlary, later to become a QC, and famous for his victory jig in Martin Place at the end of World War II.

In 1950 Hollingdale was admitted as a solicitor and married Patricia Murphy, whom he had met as a student, in the St Ignatius' chapel. Four months later Hollingdale accepted a partnership with Freehill Hollingdale & Page, as it then was. In 1960 brothers Eustace and Bernard Hollingdale retired from the firm, which was growing in reputation, helped by Brian Page's vigorous contribution.

Hollingdale worked hard in conveyancing, sending out letters bearing his initials, PEH, later deemed by admirers to represent his virtues of patience, encouragement and hopefulness. He instituted a "clean desk" policy: that everyone should leave the office with a clean desk every day, having prepared a list of tasks for the next day. He also preached the virtues of integrity, saying that even to look at someone's personal notes without their permission amounted to stealing.

In the 1970s Hollingdale took a larger role in administration. The firm no longer depended on its original clients, including the MLC Company, Tooheys and Lend Lease, but widened its client base. It drew in some formidable legal talent, including Kim Santow, later a Supreme Court judge, Warren Asprey, John Rothery, David Gonski and Rod McLeod.

Hollingdale's private or more frivolous side sometimes got him into strife, such as when he crashed his car into the back of Page's new Rolls-Royce. On another occasion, when his eldest daughter was holding a wild party in Killara, he and Asprey patrolled the street with lengths of hose to deter gatecrashers. After an office party, Hollingdale and other partners relaxed in garden chairs in the shallow end of Asprey's pool. During an annual cricket match between Freehill, Hollingdale & Page and Tooheys, he released a duck to follow Lloyd Hartigan, managing director of Tooheys, onto the field when he went out to bat.

In the 1980s Freehill, Hollingdale & Page expanded to 80 partners in Sydney, with offices in Perth, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane. It formally became a national firm in 1984, taking its place beside the other monoliths, Stephen, Jaques & Stephen and Allen Allen & Hemsley. As managing partner in the Sydney office for many years, Hollingdale developed systems to handle the workload and ensured the staff were up to it. He taught, trained and encouraged young lawyers.

The firm handled big property developments, such as the MLC Centre in the city and in The Rocks area. In 1987 Hollingdale went to the Perth office for two years.

Hollingdale devoted time to charity work and was inaugural governor of United Way Australia, an organisation distributing donations from the commercial and professional sector to charities. He also gardened, played squash and became a sailor.

He retired as a partner in 1994, when the firm had 160 partners and about 1000 employees. He remained a consultant and returned to Perth to consult for his son Michael, who had set up a practice. He stayed for eight years, setting up his garden shed as an office, complete with the logo of the firm, which eventually became just Freehills. In 2004, suffering from multiple myeloma, he retired. He died a few months after Brian Page.

Peter Hollingdale is survived by Patricia, children Genevieve, Camille, Deborah, Penelope, Michael, Gillian, Georgina, Patrick and Edwina, 22 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 2009

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Hollingdale, Peter Eustace (1927–2008)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hollingdale-peter-eustace-16920/text28808, accessed 25 April 2019.

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