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Sir Edward John Lees Hallstrom

Sir Edward John Lees Hallstrom (25 September 1886 – 27 February 1970) was one of Australia's best-known philanthropists and businessmen of the mid 20th century.[1] He served as a Trustee and/or Director of the Taronga Park Zoo from 1941 – 1967, and made huge contributions over that period.

Hallstrom was born at High Park station, near Coonamble, New South Wales, and was the eighth of a family of nine children born to William Hallstrom, a saddler from England, and his Australian wife Mary Ann (née Colless).

At the age of 4 his father's farm failed and the family moved to Waterloo in Sydney. Hallstrom's parents separated, and by the age of 10 he was working to help supplement the family's income. Having left school at the age of 13, he was largely self-taught and applied himself well to both his studies and his work, eventually managing a furniture factory. He later founded a business of his own, manufacturing bedsteads.

Hallstrom met his wife, Margaret Elliott Jaffrey, on a trip to Queensland. She was a talented artist, and shared his enthusiasm for birds and animals. They were married at her parents' home in the Brisbane on 6 April 1912. The Hallstroms moved to Dee Why, New South Wales, by which time Hallstrom had become interested in the young industry of refrigeration. After some early successes, Hallstrom expanded his product line with the development of the popular Silent Knight upright refrigerator, produced in a factory in Willoughby.

During World War II the factory manufactured munitions, as well as refrigerators for the use of the United States Army. By the mid-1940s, the factory was producing around 1,200 refrigerators weekly, which were exported as well as sold locally. The "Hallstrom Silent Knight" was a fairly priced, locally produced product at a time (post-war era) when imported refrigerators were very expensive. Their resulting popularity made Hallstrom a millionaire.[2]

Hallstrom directed much of his fortune to the Taronga Park Zoo, becoming a trustee and later chairman of the zoo. He personally funded the purchase of many large and exotic species from overseas. He established a farm to produce fresh food for the zoo animals, and also set up a fauna reserve on the outskirts of Sydney, later to form part of the Muogamarra Nature Reserve.

After a fire destroyed restaurant and office facilities at the Zoo in 1943, Hallstrom supervised the building of a two-story office block at his own cost. ‘Hallstrom House’ was opened in 1945 and is still used as the main office facility at Taronga Zoo. Later in 1945, Hallstrom continued with his generosity and had a stone wall built around the southeast boundary of the Zoo, and also arranged for a series of parrot aviaries to be built.[3]

Well ahead of his time, he conceived a nocturnal house display which reversed daylight so that marsupials could be observed during the day.[4]

His company sponsored a conservation-oriented radio program Nature Speaks from 1947–54 on radio 2GB. Hallstrom was also generous in his financial gifts to hospitals and medical research centres as well as numerous charities.

Hallstrom was a member of zoological societies in Sydney (Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales), London (Zoological Society of London) and New York (New York Zoological Society) and was also a member of the Explorers Club and the Royal Australian Historical Society. He was knighted in 1952, and received gold medals from zoological societies in Belgium and San Diego, California, as well as an honorary Swedish knighthood. An unusual first was that he was the first Australian to be named "Father of the Year", in 1957. He genuinely delighted in philanthropy, and personally assessed the many letters with requests that he would receive daily.

A biographical article on Sir Edward related that he “made countless donations to diverse projects, charities and individuals, but especially for medical research. Large sums went to Sydney Hospital for a cancer clinic and to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital for cardiac research. The Hallstrom Institute of Cardiology at R.P.A.H. was set up in recognition of his generosity. There were also donations to smaller hospitals, and he was a board-member of Sydney and RPA hospitals.”[5]

During his tenure at Taronga, he oversaw the rebuilding of many exhibits, and also the importation of a great many animals, largely from Africa and Papua New Guinea. These included rhinoceros, giraffe, baboons, cheetah, lions, zebras, elephants, rhinos, various reptiles and many bird species.

In 1959, Hallstrom imported the first ever gorilla into the recently built facility which he dubbed the ‘Gorilla Villa’ and called the young male King Kong.[6] He followed that with the importation of more gorillas in the 1960s.

Until 1964, no Australian had been made a member of the prestigious International Union of Directors of Zoological Gardens, but that year, Hallstrom invited the group to have their annual conference at Taronga Zoo, and was instrumental in arranging transport for some of itsd European members. The conference was a success and Hallstrom was made a member of this exclusive group, with other members mainly from Europe, North America and Asia.[7]

He died at Northbridge on 27 February 1970.


[1] Tate, Audrey (1996). "Hallstrom, Sir Edward John Lees (1886–1970)". Melbourne University Press. Retrieved 15 March 2007.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ronald Strahan, Beauty and the Beasts, p. 49.
[4] Ibid, p. 51.
[5] Tate, Audrey, Op cit
[6] Ibid, p. 55.

[7] Ibid, pp. 57 – 58.