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Hunt, Ralph Alec (1891–1980)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Ralph Alec Hunt (1891-1980), engineer and administrator, was born on 13 March 1891 at Brighton, Melbourne, eldest son of Victorian-born parents Henry William Hunt, solicitor, and his wife Wilhelmine Jane, née Rule. Ralph was educated at Brighton and Melbourne Church of England grammar schools, and at the University of Melbourne (B.C.E., 1916). He joined the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission of Victoria as an assistant-engineer in 1915.

On 10 October 1916 Hunt enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Commissioned in September 1917, he served in France from April 1918 with the 12th Field Company, Engineers. In May he was promoted lieutenant. At Cérisy-Gailly, on 8 August, he reconnoitred roads and bridges while under heavy fire and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Mentioned in dispatches, he returned to Melbourne in August 1919 and his appointment terminated on 12 September. He returned to State Rivers as a design and construction engineer on the Hume Reservoir project.

Hunt married Parisian-born Henriette Kaczka (d.1945) at the registry office, Melbourne, on 24 January 1920. That year he began his career with the State Electricity Commission. Although his early engineering posts were relatively minor, he was one of the pioneers under Sir John Monash who developed the generation of electricity from brown coal. In 1934 Hunt became an administrator, rising in 1938 to general superintendent, Yallourn. On 31 October 1949 at St Paul's Anglican Church, Warragul, he married Betty May Budge, a 27-year-old trained nurse.

One month earlier he had been unexpectedly catapulted to the top of the S.E.C. as chairman and general manager, the first time the posts had been combined since Monash's death in 1931. Hunt's war record, early commission links, proven capacity to bring about organizational reform and pleasant manner secured him the dual offices. He was to need all his skills over the next seven years. The commission's supply system had been stretched to its limits in the 1940s. Its unpopular electricity restrictions had provoked political threats to transfer its distribution network to regional supply boards and allocate the brown-coal installations to a separate organization. Severe financial shortages prevented much-needed expansion at Morwell and Kiewa, and in 1956, his last year as chairman, Hunt advised the minister of electrical undertakings (Sir) George Reid that the commission would be unable to accept new load unless its future capital could be assured.

'Sharp-featured, keen-eyed and stockily built', Hunt was committed to the S.E.C. to an extent that left little time for relaxation, other than an occasional game of golf. He was an associate (1922) of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, and a foundation member (1919) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. In retirement, he was president (1957-58) of the Old Melburnians, Australian deputy-chairman of Malcolm Moore Industries Ltd, and a member of the committees of management of the Austin Hospital and of the court of directors of the Royal Humane Society. Survived by his wife and their son, and by the son of his first marriage, he died on 26 April 1980 at Mont Albert and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gill, Three Decades (Melb, 1949)
  • C. Edwards, Brown Power (Melb, 1969)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1947 (5)
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Sept 1949, 17 May 1957
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 24 Sept 1949
  • Australasian Post, 27 Oct 1949
  • M. J. Holmes, The State Electricity Commission of Victoria—a Case Study in Autonomy (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1969)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Hunt, Ralph Alec (1891–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hunt-ralph-alec-10576/text18785, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 27 July 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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