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Cordner, George Denis Pruen (1924–1990)

by Gillian M. Hibbins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

George Denis Pruen Cordner (1924-1990), footballer and businessman, was born on 28 June 1924 at Diamond Creek, Victoria, third of four sons of Edward Rae Cordner (1887-1963), a Victorian-born medical practitioner, and his English wife Margaret Constance, née Pruen. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Denis enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve on 6 May 1942. He served in the South-West Pacific in HMA ships San Michele, Kapunda and Barcoo, and was promoted to sub-lieutenant in 1944. Demobilised in 1946, he was to be active in the naval volunteer reserve until 1964, rising to lieutenant commander (1957). He studied metallurgy at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1949; M.Sc., 1951) under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. On 15 January 1947 at St John’s Church of England, Darlinghurst, Sydney, he married Patricia Shirley Bowes, a stenographer.

Standing 6 ft 4 ins (193 cm), Cordner played once for the Melbourne Football Club in 1942 and for the University Blacks in 1946-48, gaining a Blue in the first season. In 1947 he was awarded a Blue for cricket and a half-Blue for athletics. As his final examinations approached in 1948, he was reluctantly persuaded to play at centre half-back for Melbourne in the Victorian Football League grand final against Essendon. The game was drawn and Cordner was named one of Melbourne’s six best. He took part in the rematch, which his team won. Thereafter, he was a ruckman. Playing 152 games for Melbourne, he captained the side in the 1951-53 seasons and won its Best and Fairest trophy in 1950 and 1954 before retiring in 1956. That year he led a team comprising VFL and Victorian Football Association amateurs that defeated a Victorian Amateur Football Association side in an exhibition match at the Olympic Games. He had represented Victoria in 1949, 1951, 1952 and 1955.

In 1951, calling himself `an industrial chemist and spare-time footballer’, Cordner had started working for Wunderlich Ltd. Six years later British Nylon Spinners (Australia) Pty Ltd (later Fibremakers Ltd), a subsidiary of Imperial Chemical Industries (Australasia) Ltd, appointed him production superintendent. Selected in 1964 to be general manager of Fibremakers (New Zealand) Ltd, he moved to Auckland and started a synthetic-fibre factory, despite protests from the wool industry. By 1968 he was back in Australia as general manager of ICI’s alkali-chemical group. In 1970 he became an executive director of ICI Australia Ltd, and in 1972 managing director of Fibre-makers Ltd. The following year he was posted to Britain as joint deputy-chairman of ICI Fibres Ltd, returning to Australia in 1977. He was a managing director of ICI Australia Ltd and chairman of Australian Fertilisers Ltd and Consolidated Fertilisers Ltd from 1979.

Appointed by the Fraser coalition government to a three-year term as Australian consul-general, New York, Cordner stepped down from his directorships and took office in March 1982. The Hawke Labor government recalled him after two years. His candid disappointment at what he considered an `unearned’ dismissal did not impress the government. He joined the boards of AMI Toyota Ltd (chairman from 1985), British Petroleum Co. of Australia Ltd, Plessey Pacific Pty Ltd and John Holland Holdings Ltd (chairman from 1986).

Cordner studied naval history in his spare time. In 1978-80 he was Australian co-ordinator of Operation Drake, a `discovery voyage’ for young people organised by the (British) Scientific Exploration Society. Later he was active in the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Trust for Young Australians. He encouraged the restoration of the schooner Alma Doepel in Melbourne. Prints of sailing ships adorned his office walls, and he was able to observe the vessels entering Port Phillip heads from the Cordner family holiday house at Point Lonsdale, where he and his three brothers, Edward, Donald and John, spent many happy times with their families. The rangy brothers were renowned as `brainy’ sportsmen. Ted and Don became medical practitioners and John a chemist and company director. All played football for the Melbourne club, as had their father and his brother Henry (Harry) before them, and Ted’s son David after them. The family’s collective sporting ability was acknowledged in the naming of the Cordner Entrance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1993.

Good looking with fair, wavy hair, Denis Cordner was quiet, straightforward, unassuming and popular. In later life he played tennis and golf and allowed himself the extravagance of a succession of red Jaguar cars. He died of coronary heart disease on 17 October 1990 at his East Kew home and was buried in Point Lonsdale cemetery. His wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Holmesby and J. Main, The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers (2002)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 July 1972, p 2
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Dec 1978, p 17, 25 Mar 1990, p 4, 18 Oct 1990, p 28
  • Sunday Press (Mel­bourne), 18 Oct 1981, p 8
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian M. Hibbins, 'Cordner, George Denis Pruen (1924–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cordner-george-denis-pruen-12357/text22201, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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