The HIA’s origins can be traced back to the Melbourne suburb of Ormond in 1945 – just after the end of the Second World War – and a chance meeting between two local builders, Bill Hunt and Perce Newton, outside a real estate agent’s office where both bought blocks on which to build ‘spec’ houses. Building at that time was difficult because of acute shortages of building materials, so it was not surprising that their conversation focused on those problems.
After an hour and a half of complaining about their problems and the lack of an organisation prepared to represent and fight for them they came to a decision. They thought the best way to tackle the issues confronting them was to get other builders and the subcontract trades to join them in an organisation which would raise the voice of small builders trying to build houses. When the idea found ready acceptance, they called an initial meeting on 26 November 1945.
The enthusiasm for the proposal prompted a follow-up meeting on 21 January 1946 at which the 45 people present agreed to establish the Builders and Allied Trades Association (BATA).
Because it was all so new to everyone involved, the new Association asked a professional chairman, public broadcaster Jack Atkinson, to become the inaugural President. Jack Atkinson gave the fledgling organisation a powerful voice and it is on record that he “worked unceasingly in the case of the private enterprise building industry” until 1958. His prodigious efforts on behalf of BATA over 11 years involved him in a great deal of personal sacrifice, but he gave his time without payment.
Perce Newton and Bill Hunt were elected Senior Vice President and Junior Vice President respectively and the Secretary’s position was filled by Les Norman. The Treasurer, George McLaren, was well known to all the local builders as the manager of HJ Reece Pty Ltd, hardware merchants. Randal Dossetor, who later became National President of HIA and played a dominant role in the growth of the fledgling Association, was a member of the earliest recorded general committee.
After that inaugural gathering, BATA organised meetings in most Melbourne suburbs and rapidly won support as builders, electricians, plumbers, painters and others connected with the housing industry learned of the aims the new organisation had set itself. Foremost among these was a political lobbying campaign to rid the industry of the oppressive post-war controls and shortages which were holding it back.
By 1949, less than three years after its formation, BATA had signed up its 1,000th member. Each member paid an annual membership fee of two guineas.
The following year BATA became an incorporated body and in the 1950s and early 1960s, extended its operations to other states. Price fixing and severe shortages of materials persisted into the 1950s and there was a growing conviction among the membership that a housing industry association, organised on an Australia wide basis, would be more beneficial to the industry as a whole. So, between 1960 and 1963, the Victorian President, David Thomson, and the Chief Executive, Cyril Bennett, travelled around the country to canvass the idea of a national association.
As a result, the Housing Industry Association came into being in June 1965.