Arthur Coles

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Arthur William Coles (August 7, 1892 - June 14, 1982), later Sir Arthur Coles, was a prominent Australian businessman and philanthropist. He was born in Geelong, Victoria and educated at the elite private school Geelong College. When World War I began, Coles enlisted as a private, fighting at Gallipoli and on the Western Front in France, and was wounded on three separate occasions before being commissioned as a lieutenant.

Coles returned to Australia in 1919 and married Lillian Knight. He joined with two brothers and an uncle to open a variety store in Collingwood, a working-class suburb of Melbourne. Working on the slogan "Nothing over 2/6", the business grew rapidly. The family opened a series of new Coles Variety Stores around the country, Arthur moving to Sydney in 1928 to open and manage the first one in New South Wales. In 1931, at the height of the Great Depression, he returned to Melbourne to become managing director, a post he held until 1944. GJ Coles & Co became the largest retailer in Australia. (Today, the merged Coles-Myer retail empire has around 20% of the entire Australian market.)

Coles became Lord Mayor of Melbourne in 1938, remaining in that position until 1940 when he resigned to stand for the federal seat of Henty as an independent. Coles was one of the two independents who held the balance of power through the early years of the Second World War, and crossed the floor in 1941 to remove the hapless UAP-Country Party government of Arthur Fadden and install John Curtin of the Australian Labor Party as Prime Minister of Australia.

In 1944, Coles retired from business and devoted himself to public works, becoming the chair of both the Commonwealth Rationing Commission and the War Damage Commission. With the end of the war he resigned from Parliament and became chair of British Commonwealth Pacific Airlines (BCPA) and the Australian National Airlines Commission (see TAA). He was appointed chair of the Melbourne Olympic Games Committee in 1952, and a member of the CSIRO Advisory Council in 1956. He was knighted in 1960, and retired in 1965. Sir Arthur Coles died in 1982, leaving three sons and three daughters.

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