Brookes, Sir Norman Everard (1877–1968)

by W. H. Frederick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Norman Brookes, [with his wife], n.d.

Norman Brookes, [with his wife], n.d.

Library of Congress, USA

Sir Norman Everard Brookes (1877-1968), tennis-player, was born on 14 November 1877 at St Kilda, Victoria, youngest son of William Brookes, contractor, mining entrepreneur and manufacturer, and his wife Catherine Margaret, née Robinson. His elder brother was Herbert. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Norman matriculated in 1895 and on leaving school joined the Australian Paper Mills Co. Ltd of which his father was managing director. He began as a junior clerk; by 1904 he was a director of the firm.

Brookes showed a precocious aptitude for all ball games. At school he excelled at cricket, football and lawn tennis. Later he took up golf and won the Victorian foursomes championship once and the Australian twice. His great enthusiasm, however, was tennis and he devoted much of his time to improving his game. The family had its own court where he could play regularly; near by, he could study the strokes and tactics of leading players; and he received valuable coaching from Dr Wilberforce Eaves. Moreover, he had the means to go to Europe and play in tournaments there.

In 1896 Brookes was selected to represent Victoria against New South Wales. At this stage he was a fierce hitter and a baseliner. By the time he made his first journey to Wimbledon in 1905, he had changed his style of play to the controlled speed in ground shots and the aggressive net-attack that were to take him to the top. At Wimbledon in 1905 he won the all-comers' event but lost his challenge to the title-holder H. L. Doherty. That year he and New Zealander Anthony Wilding challenged for Australasia in the Davis Cup; lacking experience, they were eliminated early.

On his second visit to Wimbledon, in 1907, Brookes won the singles, doubles (with Wilding) and mixed events. He was the first player from overseas and the first left-hander to win the world title. That year Brooks and Wilding captured the Davis Cup from Great Britain; their remarkable partnership enabled Australasia to retain it in 1908, 1909 and 1911 (there was no challenge in 1910) and gave tremendous stimulus to tennis in Australia.

In 1914 Brookes again won the singles championship at Wimbledon and, with Wilding, the doubles. They regained the Davis Cup from the United States of America in New York a few days after the outbreak of World War I. Wilding enlisted and was killed in France in May 1915. Brookes, who suffered from stomach ulcers, was rejected for active service. He became a commissioner for the Australian branch of the British Red Cross in Egypt from August 1915 to late 1916; he resigned in January 1917 and in May became commissioner for the British Red Cross in Mesopotamia. Soon after, he was appointed assistant director of local resources for the British Expeditionary Force there, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.

After the war, in 1919 and 1920, Brookes represented Australasia in Davis Cup matches, and in 1924 played for the last time at Wimbledon. Over the years he had won innumerable championships in Australia, Europe and the United States. Known as 'The Wizard', Brookes was a master strategist and a shrewd tactician. Spare in build, his stamina sometimes failed in long matches, but he played with rare determination and concentration. Always immaculately dressed, he wore long-sleeved shirts and a peaked tweed cap and for many years used a heavy flat-top racquet with slack strings. His ground strokes, produced with a minimum of back-swing, were accurate and powerful; his strongest weapons were his service and his volleying. He had phenomenal delicacy of touch and control of angled shots.

Brookes was president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Victoria from 1925 until 1937; it was largely due to his enterprise that Kooyong, purchased in 1919, was developed as a tennis centre. In 1926 he became president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Australia, holding the office for twenty-eight years. Though naturally taciturn and reserved he could at times be outspokenly blunt, stubborn and uncompromising. Despite his great prestige he did not escape the charge of being autocratic and he came under criticism as a selector of Davis Cup teams, but Brookes's name and fame were legendary. In recognition of his distinguished services to tennis he was knighted in 1939.

On 19 April 1911 at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Brookes had married 20-year-old Mabel Balcombe, daughter of Harry Emmerton, a solicitor; they had three daughters. (Dame) Mabel was for many years Melbourne's leading society hostess. In 1921 Brookes had resumed his place at A.P.M., becoming chairman of directors of the firm and later of North British and Mercantile Insurance Co. Ltd. He was a director of several other companies and a partner in the family pastoral firm, William Brookes & Co.

Brookes died at his home, Elm Tree House, South Yarra, on 28 September 1968 and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. His wife and two daughters survived him. His portrait by William Dargie is held in the family.

Select Bibliography

  • A. W. Myers, Fifty Years of Wimbledon (Lond, 1926)
  • W. T. Tilden, The Art of Lawn Tennis, 10th edn (Lond, 1935)
  • M. Brookes, Crowded Galleries (Melb, 1956)
  • P. Metzler, Tennis Styles and Stylists (Syd, 1967)
  • R. S. Whitington, An Illustrated History of Australian Tennis (Melb, 1975)
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1959, 30 Sept 1968
  • Herald (Melbourne), 30 Sept 1968.

Citation details

W. H. Frederick, 'Brookes, Sir Norman Everard (1877–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brookes-sir-norman-everard-5373/text9091, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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