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King, Norman Joseph (1905–1981)

by John D. Kerr

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

Norman Joseph King (1905-1981), sugar technologist and administrator, was born on 27 December 1905 at Toowoomba, Queensland, fifth child of Queensland-born parents Philip King, engine driver, and his wife Margaret, formerly Bourke, née McMahon. Raised at Ipswich and Brisbane, Norman completed his secondary education at St Laurence’s College, Brisbane, and in 1922 joined the Queensland Public Service as a clerk in the Registrar-General’s Department. In 1925 he took up a post as records clerk at the Bureau of Central Sugar Mills. Gaining a diploma of industrial chemistry from Central Technical College in 1927, he transferred to the agricultural chemical laboratory, Department of Agriculture and Stock. In 1932 he was seconded to the Queensland Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Bundaberg, to conduct a soil survey in the district. On 10 June 1933 at the bride’s home Mayfield House, Montville, he married with Catholic rites Myrtle Mary Dart (d.1979). A permanent employee of BSES from 1933, he was appointed chemist-in-charge at Bundaberg (1937), senior adviser (1945) and assistant-director (1947).

Back in Brisbane from 1947, King was named director in 1948. He welded men returning from wartime service or secondment and well-chosen new staff into an effective organisation. In 1950-51 he served on the royal commission appointed to prepare a plan for the orderly development of the sugar industry. The BSES was removed from public service control in 1951 and a board established to oversee its operations. Under King’s direction BSES staff, including Reg Mungomery, monitored the various diseases and pests affecting cane and assessed the efficacy of insecticides and other control measures. By 1956 two important industry problems were contained: cane grubs and ratoon stunting disease. King recruited sufficient staff to provide for the first time an adequate extension service to the State’s scattered sugar areas, and strengthened the breeding programs developing cane varieties suitable for the Queensland environment. A new head office was opened in Brisbane in 1958, additional stations in the Burdekin and Tully districts established, and existing facilities expanded or rebuilt.

An able administrator, King delegated day-to-day operations to his deputy and concentrated on major industry issues, including funding of research and future directions. He compiled The Australian Sugar Industry: Some Facts and Figures (1953), one of several publications showing his good grasp of detail. Visiting country areas regularly, he was noted for giving staff a fair hearing. He raised the profile of regional officers-in-charge and enhanced their status as the bureau’s representatives.

King was active in the Queensland and International societies of sugar cane technologists. In 1950 he hosted the international group’s conference in Brisbane. President (1953) of the local society and a general vice-president of the international body (1953-56), he was made a life member of both in 1971. He advised on methods to improve the productivity of cane in the Philippines (1956) and Puerto Rico (1970). In 1963 he served on a committee of inquiry into matters concerning the expansion of the Australian sugar industry. Appointed OBE in 1968, he retired in 1972. He enjoyed fishing, and the industry’s traditional drink, rum. Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 25 May 1981 at his Greenslopes home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations 1900-1975 (1975)
  • Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Annual Report, 1948-72
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 28 May 1981, p 16
  • Bundaberg News-Mail, 28 May 1981, p 16
  • Public Service Board staff file (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

John D. Kerr, 'King, Norman Joseph (1905–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/king-norman-joseph-12741/text22983, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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