Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jacka, Beryl Elaine (1913–1989)

by D. F. Fairweather

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

Beryl Elaine Jacka (1913-1989), administrator, was born on 9 June 1913 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, fifth of seven children of Victorian-born parents William John Jacka, butcher, and his wife Edith Selina, née Oscar. Educated at Auburn State and Milverton schools, Beryl won a gold medal for shorthand at Stotts Business College and in 1936 joined the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy as a typist (the only woman in its office); she became acting secretary in 1945. Appointed secretary in 1948, over the next twenty-eight years she saw the institute grow from a membership of 1200 in fourteen branches to 6500 in thirty-five branches. Imparting `a vital air of efficiency’ (according to the Age), she was closely involved with all aspects of this expansion.

As secretary Jacka reported to the AusIMM council, in particular to the annually elected president, who came to rely on her judgment. She travelled regularly to the institute’s branches across Australia and attended several overseas congresses, while also publishing many volumes of technical papers and proceedings and developing a wide, often first-hand knowledge of Australian mining science and industry. Planning and managing thirty-one highly successful annual conferences for the institute, she was also organising secretary for two large international meetings in Australia and New Zealand: the Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress (1953) for some five hundred delegates, and the Eighth Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress (1965), with 2300 registrations. In 1959 the Australian Minerals Industry Research Association Ltd was established under her expert administration, with (Sir) Maurice Mawby as inaugural president.

Tough but fair, authoritative and demanding, Jacka drew on her experience in Baptist Church youth groups and the Girl Guides movement. She set exacting standards of work, behaviour and dress to her younger, female staff, and rewarded good results. At her retirement in 1976, she was made an honorary member of the institute—a remarkable tribute in a then essentially male-dominated profession. The president, C. H. Martin, praised `the concentration, the search for perfection, and the originality of ideas which characterize Miss Jacka’s services’. She was then appointed executive officer of the new Australian Academy of Technological Sciences (Engineering was added in 1987), and similarly assisted in its development, organising thirteen symposia and two international convocations before illness forced her resignation in 1989.

Miss Jacka’s prodigious memory extended to details of the lives of those with whom she worked: she never forgot birthdays and was charming and hospitable to staff in social gatherings. She had little time for hobbies but as often as possible she watched her favourite Australian Rules football team, Melbourne, play on Saturday afternoons. Conservative in her dress, she could seem reserved behind the strong, dark-rimmed spectacles she wore from middle age. She was appointed MBE (1965) and AM (1979). Beryl Jacka died on 27 December 1989 at Glen Iris and was cremated. An annual award in her name was established to recognise service to the AusIMM.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Annual Report, 1989-90, p 51
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 Aug 1949, p 5
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

D. F. Fairweather, 'Jacka, Beryl Elaine (1913–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jacka-beryl-elaine-12686/text22869, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 July 2014.

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

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