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Patrick Darcy (Pat) Hills (1917–1992)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Mr Pat Hills, who died in Sydney yesterday at the age of 74, was one Labor leader who never forgot or forsook his working class roots.

A Catholic, born in Surry Hills, a toolmaker by trade, with a broad working class accent, he wore his background as a badge of honour, as Gavin Souter, the author and former Herald journalist, once wrote.

He was Lord Mayor, Deputy Premier and Opposition Leader, but one vote in a party room ballot against Neville Wran stopped his progress towards the premiership.

Personable and a man who inspired great loyalty and affection, Mr Hills's laconic style did not fit readily with the demands of the television age.

Patrick Darcy Hills was born on December 31, 1917, the son of an English-born foreman fireman at Pyrmont power station. He attended Marist Brothers' High School, Darlinghurst. After an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, he became a toolmaker and started his own engineering business.

He joined the ALP at 15 and, at 19, represented its Phillip State electorate council at the annual conference of the party.

Mr Hills concentrated at first on local politics. He was a city council alderman from 1948 to 1956 and a Sydney County Council member from 1949 to 1954, the latter years as chairman.

He made such swift and spectacular progress through the party ranks in the early years that he became known as Labor's "golden boy" — a term that always annoyed him, because of its suggestion of some influence or preferment not available to others.

Elected in 1952 as Sydney's youngest Lord Mayor at the age of 34, he still held the position when he won the State seat of Phillip in 1954. This caused bitter opposition within the party machine and the then-leftish State ALP executive forced him out of the Lord Mayoralty, on the principle of "one man, one job".

But by then he had hosted the Queen's first visit to Sydney in 1954 — a momentous event for a then much more British-minded Australia.

He was photographed with his hand touching her arm as he accompanied her down the Town Hall steps — an incident reminiscent of Paul Keating's hand behind the Queen's back and one which caused even greater controversy.

He confided later that he had been concerned that she might fall.

In 1959, only five years after his election to Parliament, the then Premier, Mr Joe Cahill, appointed Mr Hills as Assistant Minister to the Premier.

After Mr Cahill's death, Mr Hills became Minister for Local Government and Highways in the Heffron Government, serving in that position from 1959 to 1965.

He gained a reputation as the most energetic and imaginative minister to have held that portfolio. New technical and technological ideas always interested him.

Mr Hills was Deputy Leader of the Opposition in 1965-68. He could have taken over the Federal seat of East Sydney very easily after the death of Mr Eddie Ward but he resisted every pressure to get him to Canberra.

He reckoned that a senior post in the NSW Cabinet was much more attractive than enrolling as a new boy on the Federal back bench. He turned the inner suburbs of Sydney into his political fiefdom and was well on the way to doing the same with the Labor Caucus.

He led the State ALP after 1968 and won back seats from the Askin Government in the 1971 and 1973 elections. But even before the 1973 results had been posted, Labor's power brokers had decided he should be replaced by Neville Wran, who had enjoyed Mr Hills's patronage.

Mr Hills was bitter over the decision and went onto the back bench until Labor came to power in 1976. But there was never a chink in his public loyalty to the Labor Party.

He served as Minister for Industrial Relations and Mines and Energy in the Wran and Unsworth Governments. Power blackouts in 1981 put him under great public pressure and resulted in his removal from the energy portfolio.

His contributions in politics were as a planner and builder, as well as a political strategist.

To the public in the later years, he often seemed a dour and unattractive figure. But he inspired great affection and loyalty among those who knew him well.

Mr Hills is survived by his wife Stella, daughters Carol, Maria and Margaret and sons Michael and Paul.

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Citation details

'Hills, Patrick Darcy (Pat) (1917–1992)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Patrick Hills, 1985

Patrick Hills, 1985

State Library of New South Wales, 376017

Life Summary [details]


31 December, 1917
Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


22 April, 1992 (aged 74)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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