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Bennett, Norman Louis (1899–1974)

by John D. Kerr

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

Norman Louis Bennett (1899-1974), sugar technologist, was born on 3 March 1899 at Irvinebank, Queensland, son of Frederick Bennett, a native-born schoolteacher, and his Irish-born wife Hannah, née Desmond. Educated at Brisbane Grammar School, Norman won a scholarship to the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1921). After graduating, he spent a year at the South Johnstone sugar-mill before returning to the university (B.Sc.App., 1923). Bennett won a government travelling scholarship in 1924 to study sugar technology. He visited major sugar-producing centres, including Java and Cuba, and worked in a modern engineering plant in Scotland; he also completed a postgraduate course at Louisiana State University (M.Sc., 1926) in the United States of America. On his return, he was the first mill technologist to be appointed to the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Brisbane. In the Catholic presbytery, Emerald, on 28 December 1928 he married a nurse Myrtle Ivy Daniels.

Finding Bennett's style abrasive, the bureau's director Harry Easterby transferred him to Mackay to establish a sugar-mill technology division. As a mill adviser, Bennett found that incompatible methods made the comparison and analysis of results impossible. To improve efficiency, he implemented a 'mutual control scheme', involving uniform methods and the sharing of production data. Having attended a conference of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists in Cuba, in 1929 Bennett organized a meeting at Mackay which formed the Queensland Society of Sugar Cane Technologists; he was its foundation secretary. A. S. Hamilton, chairman of the Racecourse Co-operative Sugar Mill, appointed Bennett manager upon his leaving the bureau in 1932. Bennett remedied the mill's ailing finances within a four-year target. He was permitted by the board to buy (at a discount) shares previously issued to farmers in lieu of dividends and to benefit from their redemption. Though he selected able rather than highly qualified staff, he persistently interfered in their work, causing unrest and resentment. Bennett resigned in 1947, but many blamed Hamilton for engineering his departure.

For several years Bennett was a rather unsuccessful storekeeper at Kin Kin until he was appointed chief chemist of the run-down Invicta sugar-mill at Giru in 1954. As its successful manager, he secured its future by ensuring that cane grown on one-time tobacco farms was assigned to the mill in 1964, and celebrated this victory by blowing the mill's whistle incessantly. In 1960 he had also become director of the Haughton Sugar Co.

Somewhat eccentric, Bennett slept with the lights on and developed unusual hobbies when his work lacked sufficient challenge. The presidency of the Q.S.S.C.T., of which he was an honorary life member (1934), escaped him because he refused to serve first as vice-president. Denied entry to the city club, Bennett and Hamilton had defiantly established the Mackay Suburban Bowling Club, but allegedly fell out when Bennett opposed his own father's promotion to A grade. In 1964 Bennett retired to Bowraville, New South Wales, to raise cattle. Survived by his son and three daughters, he died on 8 April 1974 at Macksville and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Discussions of the 1979 Conference of the Australian Society of Sugar Cane Technologists (Mackay, Qld, 1979)
  • J. Kerr, A Century of Sugar, Racecourse Sugar Mill (Mackay, 1988)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), Queensland Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Reports, 1924-32
  • Australian Sugar Year Book, 1, 1940-41, p 109
  • Australian Sugar Journal, Apr 1974, p 69.

Citation details

John D. Kerr, 'Bennett, Norman Louis (1899–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-norman-louis-9490/text16699, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 17 October 2018.

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

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