Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hibberd, Sir Donald James (1916–1982)

by Michael Bell

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

Sir Donald James Hibberd (1916-1982), businessman, was born on 26 June 1916 at Mosman, Sydney, son of London-born William James Hibberd, commercial traveller, and his New South Wales-born wife Laura Isabel, née Abernethy. Educated at Fort Street Boys’ High School, Donald won a bursary to study part time at the University of Sydney (B.Ec., 1939), while working in the State Auditor-General’s Office, and in 1939 joined the Commonwealth Department of Trade and Customs. On 4 April 1942 at Deepdene, Melbourne, he married Florence Alice Kennedy Macandie.

In 1946 Hibberd transferred to the Commonwealth Treasury: he was involved in preparing Prime Minister Chifley’s [q.v.13] bank nationalisation plans in 1947 and—when the legislation was found in the High Court of Australia and Privy Council to be unconstitutional—in setting up the Commonwealth Trading Bank. Promoted to first assistant secretary of the banking, trade and industry branch (1953), he also served as a member of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission (1953-57), established in recognition of the strategic importance of such a processing capacity.

In 1957 Hibberd accepted (Sir) Maurice Mawby’s invitation to become executive director of the Commonwealth Aluminium Corporation Pty Ltd (Comalco), a company formed to exploit new opportunities to develop an integrated aluminium industry in Australia following the discovery of bauxite at Weipa, Queensland. As Comalco’s managing director (1960-69), chairman and chief executive (1969-78), and non-executive chairman (1978-80), Hibberd sought to raise finance and secure expert partners. Following the failure in 1960 of the partnership with British interests, Hibberd persuaded the California-based Kaiser Aluminium & Chemical Corporation to join Comalco and Consolidated Zinc Pty Ltd (later Conzinc Riotinto Australia) in developing the Weipa mine. He was made a director (1962-71) of CRA. In 1960 he also became a director of the Aluminium Production Corporation Ltd, formed to purchase and expand the AAPC smelter at Bell Bay, Tasmania. He later drew together an international consortium to build the Queensland Alumina Ltd refinery at Gladstone; he was vice-chairman in 1964-80.

Hibberd’s successes not only benefited Comalco but improved the Australian resource sector’s international standing. To underpin Weipa’s development, Comalco secured long-term Japanese bauxite contracts and convinced European aluminium companies that Australia was a viable source of raw materials. Through the 1970s, despite economic fluctuations, Comalco became the world’s largest bauxite exporter. Its operations included smelting and refining works in Italy and New Zealand. Hibberd was chairman of New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Ltd in 1977-80. He took particular pride in the development of several residential communities for workers.

A large-framed, disciplined, modest and softly spoken `man of vision’ (according to the Australian), with `an infectious smile’, Hibberd was a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia (1966-80), the council of the University of Melbourne (for which he chaired the finance committee in 1966-82) and the Australian Mining Industry Council (president 1972-73). He was a long-serving member of the Australia-Japan Business Co-operation Committee and a delegate with the first Australian trade mission to China in 1973. In 1956-81 he sat on the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital’s committee of management. Appointed OBE in 1957, he was knighted in 1977. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, Sir Donald died of cancer at Richmond, Melbourne, on 31 December 1982; he was cremated. A visiting lectureship at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Management was established in his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Carroll, Potlines and People (1980)
  • Australian, 5 June 1976, p 12, 13 May 1967, p 14
  • CRA Gazette, 14 July 1978, p 4
  • Hibberd papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael Bell, 'Hibberd, Sir Donald James (1916–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hibberd-sir-donald-james-12630/text22755, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 November 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 17

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