Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Armstrong, Sir Alfred Norman (1899–1966)

by D. J. Anderson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Alfred Norman Armstrong (1899-1966), banker, was born on 6 March 1899 at Auburn, Sydney, fourth surviving child of William John Armstrong, plumber, and his wife Sarah, née Gough, both Sydneysiders. Nothing is known of Alfred's schooling. At 15 he joined the Australian Bank of Commerce Ltd and on 25 April 1916 moved to the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Initially employed in administrative work, he transferred in 1924 to the inspectors' department and in 1935 was promoted sub-inspector. While gaining experience in the bank's London office in 1936, he was briefly attached to the Bank of England. He returned to Sydney in May 1937 and resumed his former duties.

In 1940 he became a special assistant to the chairman of the bank's board of directors, Sir Claude Reading. Appointed general manager of the industrial finance department on 11 September 1945, 'Jack' Armstrong implemented government policy to finance the development of small manufacturing enterprises. He successfully diverted funds to investment and helped to ease the postwar shortage of capital; his aggressive reduction of interest rates took business from hire purchase companies. By 1949 the department was not meeting its primary objective of providing a source of long-term loans for small manufacturers, and its activities were reduced. From 1945 Armstrong had been a member of the Federal treasurer's advisory committee on capital issues, originally established to conserve resources for war purposes; in 1950-53 he served on the reconstituted capital issues board. He was also a member (1949-51) of the Commonwealth Bank's advisory council.

Having been promoted assistant-governor (commercial banking) in December 1951, Armstrong was responsible for the general supervision of the four lending departments: general banking, industrial finance, rural credits and the mortgage bank. On the inauguration of the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia in June 1953, he was appointed general manager and soon advocated increased private savings to accelerate economic development. He was made deputy managing director and a member of the board when the Commonwealth Banking Corporation was established in 1960. Appointed C.B.E. in 1962, he retired from the bank on 5 March 1965 and was knighted that year.

Sir Alfred's financial and management skills had benefited a range of bodies: he was a member of the Decimal Currency Board (deputy-chairman 1963-66), the Australian Wool Board (deputy-chairman 1964-66) and the Export Development Council (chairman 1965-66); from 1964 he was also a member of the board of the International Wool Secretariat and chairman of the Australian Meat Board selection committee; he was, as well, a long-serving director of the New South Wales division of the National Heart Foundation of Australia. Tall, broad shouldered, with reddish hair, Armstrong was his own man and somewhat a loner, though he could mix well when occasion required. His support of the Commonwealth Bank Bowling Club (New South Wales) earned him the office of patron (1955) and life membership.

On 14 January 1965 in St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, Armstrong married a 64-year-old divorcee Rose, née Neschling, late Lands. Survived by her, he died of coronary vascular disease on 1 July 1966 at Essendon, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1977)
  • H. C. Coombs, Trial Balance (Melb, 1981)
  • R. T. Appleyard and C. B. Schedvin (eds), Australian Financiers (Melb, 1988)
  • Bank Notes (Sydney), Nov 1963, Aug 1966
  • Pastoral Review, 19 July 1966
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Sept 1945, 27 Oct 1953, 6 Feb, 6 July 1965, 2 July 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 11 June 1953
  • private information.

Citation details

D. J. Anderson, 'Armstrong, Sir Alfred Norman (1899–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/armstrong-sir-alfred-norman-9383/text16485, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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