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Tony Sallmann (1927–2012)

by Peter Sallmann


When Tony Sallmann stepped down as managing director of the major international property group Richard Ellis in 1985, he was hailed in the business pages of one newspaper as “the man who sold Melbourne”.

So ended 25 years of prominent involvement in real estate and, arguably, as the most successful and best-known local practitioner of the era. It also marked the end of a 65-year family association with high-level Melbourne real estate.

His father, Morris Sallmann, arrived in Melbourne from Dimboola in 1920 to establish a real estate business in Collins Street. Within a very short time, Morris was acting for significant clients such as Foy and Gibson; Coles, the Nicholas family, Commonwealth Bank, TAA (later Australian Airlines), and many others – at one point, he negotiated the sales of all four corners of the Bourke Street-Swanston Street intersection.

Morris died not long after Tony joined him and Ken Menzies, a son of Sir Robert Menzies, in the business; Tony took over as chairman and managing director.

In 1966, the firm formed a partnership with Richard Ellis, London chartered surveyors since 1773, and the business continued to grow, with major new clients including the Duke of Westminster, the Earl of Radnor, the Duke of Bedford and the Marquis of Bath, all of whom were keen to invest in Melbourne real estate.

In later years, the firm, led by Tony, negotiated arrangements for landmarks such as BHP House, the Rialto, State Bank, Collins Place, 200 Queen Street, Melbourne Central, Nauru House, 101 and 120 Collins Street, and the move of The Age newspaper from Collins to Spencer Street.

At one stage, Tony was advising the Melbourne arch-diocese of the Anglican Church, handling matters for the Free-masons and a significant number of Jewish clients, as well as looking after the property interests of the Catholic Church.

And yet real estate was only the middle of three substantial careers for this charismatic man, who has died of heart failure, aged 85, in the garden of his weekend retreat on the Mornington Peninsula.

He had already had an earlier career as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy – and after real estate he immersed himself in a range of public interest and charitable projects.

Tony joined the RAN as a 13-year-old officer cadet in 1941 at Flinders Naval Depot (now Cerberus). Thus began an illustrious naval career. While at naval College, he met his future wife, Ann Foley, the daughter of captain James Foley, the Australian naval liaison officer in London during World War II. Ann and Tony married in 1948.

At the College, Tony became the chief cadet captain, was awarded the King’s Medal for gunnery, a first class certificate in seamanship, and the MacDonald Memorial Prize for dux of Communications, He was also a star athlete, breaking the 400 yards (364 metres) record, and running the 100-yard (91-metre) dash in 10.3 seconds.

During the early years of his naval career, he had the rare experience of serving on 16 ships, 10 Australian, six British. He was stationed in England in 1952 when King George VI died, and had the honour of being the officer-in-charge of the naval catafalque guard that escorted the funeral gun carriage. For this, the newly throned Queen appointed him a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (LVO).

In the late 1950s, Tony was promoted to the rank of commander, the youngest to hold the rank in the RAN, and appointed fleet gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. He was expected to rise to great heights but in 1959, essentially for family reasons, he left the navy and joined Morris Sallmann Pty Ltd.

His second and third careers overlapped to some degree. In 1968, he was invited by the Sisters of Charity to join the advisory council of St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne; he remained involved for 25 years, the last five as chairman of the board of directors – the only non-Catholic on the council. Over time, he was also chairman of the public hospital re-building committee and the St Vincent’s Medical Research Institute.

During the later part of the St Vincent’s years, he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism; Ann was Catholic which, combined with his enormous regard for the Sisters of Charity, drove his decision. However, he remained deeply ecumenical in his religious thinking and practices; he saw the possible unification of the various Christian churches as a highly desirable and achievable goal.

In 1986, just after he retired from real estate, Tony was invited to join The Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem, founded in Europe in 1098 to treat leprosy. Its key modern purposes are to defend Christianity, to work for Christian unity, and to assist the sick and the vulnerable. The order obviously appealed to Tony because of its unusual combination of military traditions, Christian ecumenical orientation and, most importantly, its extensive fund-raising work, especially for medical research.

In due course, he became Australian grand prior of the order, and was awarded a number of honours, including the highest, the Grand Collar of the Order. (His funeral Service was at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Eastern Hill, the local church of the order.)

During this busy “retirement” period, Tony somehow found time to chair the appeal for the restoration of St Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral in Melbourne, work for Catholic Health, sit on the boards of a number of major public companies, be a fellow of the Institute of Management and the Institute of Directors, a board member of the National Theatre in St Kilda, also the then Victorian State Opera, as well as doing extensive voluntary advising to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. For the last of these, he was made a member of the college’s Court of Honour.

In 2002, for his Services to the general Community, public health and St Vincent’s Hospital in particular, Tony was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia.

In 1998, he published a history of the Sallmann family in Australia.

Tony is survived by Arm, his wife of 64 years, children Peter, Christopher, Jeremy and Jane, three nephews, numerous grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren.

Peter Sallmann is the eldest of Tony Sallmann’s three sons.

Reproduced, with acknowledgement, from The Age, Thursday 3 May 2012.

Anthony Sallmann traced his ancestry back to Wends from Werben, a small town in the Spreewald.