Sir Edward Hallstrom [1886-1970] founded Taronga Zoo Park and directed it from 1941-67. It was in this capacity he gave lectures at ASOPA in 1962 on ‘Capturing of Wild Animals’ and ‘Wild Life in TPNG’, the latter disappointingly offering no advice on how to deal with outstation social excesses let alone activities at Port Moresby’s bottom pub.
As a young man he exhibited an adventurous spirit. In December 1909, he transported one of Australia’s first aircraft, a glider, to the sandhills at Narrabeen Beach and flew it as a kite to make sure it was stable and would support a man.
He had left school at 13 to be apprenticed to a cabinet-maker and studied using the Harmsworth Self-Educator, encyclopaedias and scientific magazines. Intelligent and hard working, he soon had charge of a furniture factory which made innerspring mattresses – the first in Australia. He quit after trying to interest his employers in kerosene-powered incubators. The mattress makers couldn’t understand the leap in logic at all.
In 1923 Hallstrom produced his first Icy Ball absorption refrigerator, a chest model run by kerosene, which he sold around the outback. He then took his idea a step further, adapting the power unit to manufacture Australia’s first electric refrigerator, the Silent Knight. It launched in 1935 and made him a very wealthy man indeed.
By the mid-1940s Hallstroms Pty Ltd was turning out 1,200 refrigerators per week and employed over 700 people. He subsequently invented a machine for refrigerating anaesthetics which he presented to Sydney Hospital.
By this time Hallstrom could afford to indulge two passions—a love of birds and animals (a childhood obsession) and philanthropy. With the proceeds of the sale of five hundred kerosene refrigerators in Africa in 1937, he bought two rhinoceroses which he presented to the Taronga Zoological Park Trust. These were the first of many gifts which gave him extraordinary influence. In 1941 he was appointed a trustee of the zoo which he was to dominate for the next 26 years. As head curator, Hallstrom controversially did away with the miniature railway, elephant and camel rides and performing seals saying, “It’s a zoo, not a circus”.
From 1966 he was also under covert surveillance for illegal trafficking in rare Australian fauna. In 1970, 35 people were convicted and it was thought Hallstrom may have used his influence to have his involvement concealed. The 1993 book, Smuggled, accused him of doing so, but Hallstrom was long dead and the allegations was never proven. Sir Edward died in 1970, aged 83, disspirited by the criminal investigations and with his loss of control over the zoo.
The Hallstrom Pacific Library, established from a £10,000 gift he made to ASOPA, was transferred to the University of NSW upon the demise of the campus in 1998. When ASOP transformed to ITI, the library steadily built a collection of hats donated by students. It was an unusual tribute to Sir Edward Hallstrom, who himself collected the hats of famous men, including Chaplin, Churchill, Truman, Eisenhower and Menzies.
[Lower photo: Jack Davey, Hallstrom and artist Albert Namatjira on Davey's radio show c 1950]