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Brodribb, Noel Kenric Stevens (1885–1965)

by Darryl Bennet

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

Noel Kenric Stevens Brodribb (1885-1965), by unknown photographer, 1939-45

Noel Kenric Stevens Brodribb (1885-1965), by unknown photographer, 1939-45

Australian War Memorial, 003025

Noel Kenric Stevens Brodribb (1885-1965), public servant, was born on 27 December 1885 at Kew, Melbourne, son of Thomas Brodribb, assistant inspector-general of schools, and his Victorian-born wife Emily Jane, née Stevens. Educated at Kew High School and the Working Men's College, Melbourne, where he studied assaying, Noel showed an early interest in explosives and weaponry. On 4 October 1909 he was appointed chemist at the Commonwealth Government Cordite Factory, Maribyrnong. He held a provisional commission for three months in 1909-10 in the Corps of Engineers, Australian Military Forces. Assistant manager from 1912 at the Maribyrnong factory, in February 1917 he became manager with a salary of £800. On 9 June 1914 at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, he had married Kathleen Elsie Allan.

After the government decided in 1918 to centralize the manufacture of arms, ammunition and cordite at Tuggeranong, Federal Capital Territory, Brodribb was gazetted chief chemical engineer, Australian Arsenal, but the project was soon abandoned and he remained in Melbourne. Appointed O.B.E. in 1920, he acted as controller-general of munitions supply during A. E. Leighton's absences in 1923 and 1933. Brodribb went to Britain in 1936-37 'to study new technical practices and to develop personal contacts with key scientists and engineers'. On his return he was made controller-general, in charge of an organization which he had done much to sustain and which was expanding in anticipation of war.

In 1938 he was seconded to become inspector-general of works and supplies; he was also a member of the Council of Defence. When he resumed his post on 17 June 1939 he was an experienced manager and engineer; practical-minded, he concentrated on technical detail and on the job in hand. He worked hard, appearing confident to one observer, though another sometimes found him jumpy and nervous. Punctilious and patriotic, Brodribb was a familiar figure at the Naval and Military Club, Melbourne. With the appointment of Essington Lewis as director-general of munitions in June 1940, Brodribb served as his deputy and took charge of the government component of armaments production. Australian manufacturing, both public and private, geared up for its greatest challenge. From June 1939 to June 1943 government factories increased from 4 to 48, their workforce from 5055 to 55,954 and the value of their production from £1,326,172 to £38 million: they were able to supply the armed forces with a vast range of high-quality munitions. For his services Brodribb had been elevated to C.B.E. in 1941. Chairman of the Australian Shipbuilding Board from 1943, he sat on other bodies which endeavoured to improve production and to foster technological development.

Brodribb reverted to his permanent appointment in 1945 and retired on 26 December 1950. As chairman (1953-61) of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission, he saw the Bell Bay plant open in Tasmania in 1955. He was a director of Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd and Clyde Industries Ltd, and a fellow (1924) of the Institute of Chemistry, London; of middle height, strongly built and neat in appearance, he played golf and was fond of bridge. Brodribb died on 27 January 1965 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, and was cremated; his son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (Canb, 1958)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Oct 1920, 23 Dec 1935, 20 Dec 1939, 12 June 1941, 26 Oct 1943, 30 May 1945, 8 Feb 1955
  • A. T. Ross, The Arming of Australia: the Politics and Administration of Australia's Self Containment Strategy for Munitions Supply 1901-1945 (Ph.D. thesis, ADFA, University of New South Wales, 1986)
  • J. L. Knight, Explosives in Australia (manuscript, privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Brodribb, Noel Kenric Stevens (1885–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brodribb-noel-kenric-stevens-9588/text16899, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 November 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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