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Chippindall, Sir Giles Tatlock (1893–1969)

by Ian Carnell

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

Sir Giles Tatlock Chippindall (1893-1969), public servant, was born on 21 May 1893 at North Carlton, Melbourne, thirteenth child of Giles Tatlock Chippindall, an inspector of works from New South Wales, and his English-born wife Sarah Isaac, née Dawson. Educated at state schools and Prahran College, young Giles joined the Postmaster-General's Department on 28 September 1908 as a telegraph messenger: 'I started at the bottom of the ladder', was one of his few boasts. On 18 February 1918 he married Grace Elizabeth Bayley in the Baptist Church, Armadale. 'Chip' performed clerical work in the telegraph, mail, electrical engineer's and telephone branches, and was chief inspector (personnel) in 1936-41.

Promoted deputy-director, Department of War Organization of Industry, in 1941, Chippindall became director-general next year. He held the related post of chief executive-officer to the production executive of cabinet and was a member of numerous wartime bodies, among them the Allied Supply Standing Committee, and the Commonwealth War Commitments and Prices Stabilization committees. Responsible for co-ordinating the deployment of labour, plant and material to meet essential war needs, his department was often hampered by other branches of the public service.

Some of the W.O.I.'s efforts to conserve resources were controversial: the 'Victory' suit for men was austere and unpopular, and an order curtailing Christmas advertising in 1942 occasioned derision. J. J. Dedman and his senior officials were accused of being ignorant of business practicalities. At times the department was over enthusiastic, but much of the criticism levelled against it was unfair. In 1945 Chippindall was appointed secretary, Department of Supply and Shipping, and chairman of the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. Although it was considered to be slow in the early years of its operation, the commission avoided malpractices that were common in similar bodies overseas.

With a reputation as a tough-minded administrator who got things done, in 1946 Chippindall returned to the Postmaster-General's Department as assistant director-general. He was appointed director-general in March 1949 and was to guide the organization through nearly ten years of growth. The number of telephones in service doubled, automatic telephone exchanges replaced manual ones, planning began for a national subscriber-dialling system, the volume of mail increased by 45 per cent, the teleprinter exchange service (telex) boomed and assets more than quadrupled to some £403 million. In 1956 television commenced in Australia: Chippindall had been influential in convincing the government that the telecommunications network could cope with a range of stations.

He restructured the post office into three streamlined divisions, implemented an extensive committee system, and fostered good relations between technical and clerical personnel. His administration had to contend with increasing public debate over capital requirements, cross-subsidization and pricing policies. In 1954 parliament's joint committee of public accounts condemned the department for emphasizing 'technical efficiency' at the expense of 'business management'.

Chippindall was proud of his organization's contribution to Australia's development. He was held in high regard in the public service, though some of his staff regarded him as a martinet. An effective lobbyist who was skilled in marshalling arguments, he approached ministers, 'Tweed suited, his briefcase conspicuously stuffed with papers, his expression earnest but mild'. (Sir) Robert Menzies was a personal friend. Appointed C.B.E. (1950), Chippindall was knighted in 1955. He published The Australian Post Office: Ten Years of Progress (Melbourne, 1958).

Following his formal retirement on 20 May 1958, Sir Giles was chairman of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (1961-62) and of the Australian National Airlines Commission (1959-66). In the aftermath of the Airlines Equipment Act (1958) his support for the government's cross-charter arrangements displeased the staff of Trans-Australia Airlines, but they came to appreciate his 'human approach to problems and people'. Chippindall engaged in robust public exchanges with (Sir) Reginald Ansett over airline competition, and told Ansett to 'stop bleating' and 'count his blessings'.

Chairman of W. R. Rolph & Sons Pty Ltd, Chippindall was also a director of many companies. In 1958, when he had joined the board of Telephone & Electrical Industries Pty Ltd (a major supplier to the Postmaster-General's Department), questions were raised in Federal parliament. In 1958-69 he presided over the National Old People's Welfare Council of Australia (Australian Council on the Ageing). He was president (1946-47) and captain (1948-49) of the Kingston Heath Golf Club. An enthusiastic angler, in November 1969 he collapsed while fishing at Flinders Island, off Tasmania. Chippindall died on 20 December that year in East Melbourne and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945 (Canb, 1970)
  • I. Sabey, Challenge in the Skies (Melb, 1979)
  • A. Moyal, Clear Across Australia (Melb, 1984)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1958, p 1115, 1960, p 772, 1966, p 1130
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1953-54, 6, p 1147
  • Telecommunication Journal of Australia, 7, no 3, Feb 1949
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Apr 1958, 29 Mar 1960, 13 July 1961, 22 Dec 1969
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 July 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 Dec 1969
  • Canberra Times, 22 Dec 1969
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 22 Dec 1969.

Citation details

Ian Carnell, 'Chippindall, Sir Giles Tatlock (1893–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chippindall-sir-giles-tatlock-9740/text17203, 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

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