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Kater, Norman Murchison (Mick) (1904–1979)

by Martha Rutledge

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

This is a shared entry with Gregory Blaxland Kater

Sir Norman Murchison Kater ('MICK') (1904-1979), grazier, medical practitioner and air force officer, and Sir Gregory Blaxland (1912-1978), businessman and army officer, were born on 26 March 1904 at Sutton Forest, New South Wales, and on 15 May 1912 at Cheeseman's Creek, second and sixth children of native-born parents (Sir) Norman Kater, medical practitioner, pastoralist and politician, and his wife Jean Gaerloch, née Mackenzie. 'Mick' was educated at Tudor House, Moss Vale, The Armidale School and Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). He jackerooed on Tubbo station, Darlington Point, joined his eldest brother Henry at Gummin Gummin, Warrumbungle, in the mid-1920s, and owned Gillinghall (1927-32), Wellington, and Colmlee (1934-37), Moree. As a young man he rode unbroken horses and enjoyed boxing. He was a licensed civil pilot by 1928 and soon acquired his own aeroplane—a Gypsy Moth, followed by a Hornet Moth and a Tiger Moth (the last mentioned was bought from army disposals for £100).

Gregory was educated at Tudor House and The King's School, Parramatta. On 3 November 1930 both brothers matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge. Greg passed the mechanical sciences tripos in electrical engineering (B.A., 1933; M.A., 1937). After reading economics for only one term, Mick spent several years at Egelabra, his father's merino stud at Warren, New South Wales. In 1932 he went on the first of three big-game hunting expeditions in East Africa. Later he became an expert fly-fisherman. At St Peter's Anglican Church, Glenelg, Adelaide, on 15 May 1934 he married Margot Milne; in 1938 they bought a house at Point Piper.

That year Mick entered the University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1943). He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 31 March 1941, but was sent back to university to complete his degree. Following training at Laverton, Victoria, he was commissioned flight lieutenant on 14 November 1944 and served with No.2 Operational Training Unit. As medical officer (from February 1945) of No.75 Squadron, he took part in the invasion of Tarakan, Borneo, in May and was loaned to the 2nd/48th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force. Kater twice carried out major surgery while under heavy fire; on another occasion he silenced a machine-gun post with a hand grenade, rescued a wounded soldier and captured two Japanese prisoners. For these deeds he was awarded the Military Cross.

Transferred to No.77 Squadron in September 1945, Kater served (1946-47) with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan, and was promoted acting wing commander in October 1947. Back in Sydney, he commanded (from February 1948) No.3 R.A.A.F. Hospital, Concord, before serving with No.77 Squadron in Korea where he helped to develop a system for transporting the wounded to hospital by air. His appointment terminated on 3 March 1952. Dark haired, small and swarthy, he invariably returned from war looking like a bandit, draped in the weapons he had souvenired for his gun collection.

From about 1954 Kater managed Egelabra and ran the stud in an autocratic way. He also practised medicine at Warren and supported the local hospital. Charming and kind, he was loved and respected by his patients, mainly Aborigines whom he treated for nothing. In the absence of a veterinary surgeon he often 'doctored' animals and in 1953 had helped to perform a caesarean operation on a lioness at Taronga Zoological Park. Blind in one eye and unable to walk properly after he and his horse had been knocked over by a bull in 1964, he sold his share of Egelabra to his brothers. He purchased nearby Normandoon and in 1966 bought into Wrenford Mathews's Wahroonga merino stud at Nevertire, forming Mathews, Kater & Co. (half of Wahroonga later became Chatswood). Mick was a member of the Early Birds Association of Australia, patron (1978) of No.77 Squadron and—like Gregory—belonged to the Australian, Union and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Mick Kater died on 27 December 1979 at Grovedale, Victoria, and was cremated.

In the 1930s Gregory had gained practical experience with A. Reyrolle & Co. Ltd, Hebburn, England, and the General Electric Co., Schenectady, New York. On 3 April 1937 he married Catherine Mary Ferris-Scott at the parish church of St George, Hanover Square, London. In Sydney, he bought a house at Bellevue Hill and joined Alan Crook Electrical Co. Pty Ltd. Kater enlisted in the A.I.F. on 12 October 1939 and was commissioned lieutenant on 27 December. Reaching Scotland in June 1940, he was promoted captain and sent to the 44th Light Aid Detachment. He was wounded in action at Tobruk, Libya, in June 1941, then served at the 25th Infantry Brigade's headquarters. Back in Australia, he was promoted major in December 1942 and performed engineering duties. In December 1943 he was posted to headquarters, New Guinea Force, and in April 1944 became chief engineer, mechanical equipment, Lae Base Sub-Area. He returned home in November and transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 4 April 1945.

A founder (1950) and chairman (from 1955) of Electrical Equipment of Australia Ltd, Kater moved the company from agency distribution into manufacturing telephone equipment, transmission-line materials, electric motors, clocks and hot-water systems. He took the firm into solar power by forming a joint company with the Solarex Corporation of the United States of America. Believing 'passionately that oil exploration in Australia would succeed . . . years before practical results silenced the sceptics', he was a director and chairman of Oil Search Ltd for twenty-four years. Kater had succeeded his father and grandfather as a director of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd (chairman 1976-78) and the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney (chairman 1966-78). He also sat on the boards of numerous public companies, and of the family's pastoral holdings—H. E. Kater & Son Pty Ltd and Egelabra Pty Ltd. Although 'he had a reputation for being conservative in financial matters, he was willing to back innovative developments' and supported C.S.R.'s entry into aluminium and iron-ore production.

Tall and thickset, Kater rarely smiled in public. Over many years he built a huge, model electric-railway with his children. He was a member of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (1966-75) and of the State advisory board of the Salvation Army, a vice-president of the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children and of the local Institute of Public Affairs, a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Broderers and a freeman of the City of London. In 1974 he was knighted. Sir Gregory died of gastrointestinal bleeding on 9 July 1978 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and was cremated; his wife, daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Medical Services of the R.A.N. and R.A.A.F. (Canb, 1961)
  • D. S. Macmillan, The Kater Family, 1750-1965 (Syd, 1966)
  • Pastoral Review, 19 Apr 1967, p 301
  • Wings, 32, Mar 1980, p 24
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Aug 1932, 31 Oct 1934, 20 Jan 1938, 5 Jan 1951, 11 July 1978
  • Australian Financial Review, 24 May 1960, 11 July 1978
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Kater, Norman Murchison (Mick) (1904–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kater-norman-murchison-mick-10657/text18939, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 September 2014.

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

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