Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lambert, Cecil Ralph (Eski) (1899–1971)

by Peter C. Grundy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Cecil Ralph (Eski) Lambert (1899-1971), bank officer and public servant, was born on 6 January 1899 at Leichhardt, Sydney, third of twelve children of William Addison Lambert, a dairyman from England who officiated (1920-23 and 1925) as mayor of Leichhardt, and his native-born wife Edith, née Barrell. Educated at Cleveland Street Intermediate High School, Cecil entered the Commonwealth Public Service at the age of 16. He worked first in the Treasury's taxation branch and then in the Attorney-General's Department.

Short and stocky, Lambert had an olive complexion, black hair and dark eyes. From childhood he had disliked the name Cecil and embraced his nickname 'Eski', accepting that he looked like an Eskimo. He represented New South Wales in baseball in 1919, 1921-26 and 1928, and captained the State side in 1921-24. When a team from Stanford University, California, United States of America, visited in 1928, he captained Australia (once) and New South Wales (once) in matches against them. In the 1927-28 cricket season he achieved the best bowling average for Petersham district club. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Scarborough, on 9 March 1929 he married Jessie Marshall, a 24-year-old schoolteacher; they had one daughter before Jessie died in 1935. He married 25-year-old Bronwen Evans on 12 June 1937 at the Presbyterian Church, Mosman.

In 1933 Lambert had joined the Rural Bank of New South Wales as an executive-officer; he was appointed a deputy-director to implement the Farmers' Relief Act (1932). From December 1939 he served as chairman and director of the Rural Reconstruction Board of New South Wales. Seconded to the Commonwealth Rural Reconstruction Commission between February 1943 and September 1945, he resumed his post with the reconstruction board and became a member (1947) of the economic advisory committee which considered proposals to divert waters of the Snowy River. Returning again to the Commonwealth public service, he was appointed director of regional development in the Department of Post-war Reconstruction in August 1948. In the following year he was made director (later assistant-secretary) of Northern Territory affairs, Department of the Interior, an office he held until 11 May 1951 when he took up the duties of secretary, Department of Territories.

As head of this department, Lambert served only one minister—(Sir) Paul Hasluck—for more than a decade. He was selected in preference to James Halligan because Hasluck believed that, unlike Halligan, Lambert possessed capacities and qualities which he himself lacked. In addition, Hasluck knew of Lambert's reputation for solving problems 'in an intensely practical way', and understood that he was 'forceful, perpetually industrious and widely experienced in public service practice'.

The ambitious Hasluck was sometimes impatient with his departmental officers and complained that preparation of advice was often protracted. He appreciated the position of public servants, but his frustration grew to anger on occasions. Hasluck claimed that Lambert never fully understood what he had in mind for increasing the participation of Papuans and New Guineans in the advancement of their country. Moreover, although Hasluck wrote a long memorandum on social and community development in the Territory, he doubted that he 'really got through to' Lambert on the subject.

An unusually demanding minister, Hasluck continued to hold his secretary in regard. Lambert had qualified as a fellow (1946) of the Federal Institute of Accountants and Hasluck praised the presentation of the department's financial submissions. Hasluck also recognized Lambert's capacity for hard work—despite his narrow vision—and valued his expertise in agricultural development. In 1955 Lambert was appointed C.B.E. From March 1961 he represented the government on the board of Commonwealth-New Guinea Timbers Ltd.

Lambert retired on 15 May 1964 and pursued his interests in Freemasonry and horse-racing. He died on 21 July 1971 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; his wife and their daughter survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, A Time for Building (Melb, 1976)
  • author's research notes and papers (held in ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter C. Grundy, 'Lambert, Cecil Ralph (Eski) (1899–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lambert-cecil-ralph-eski-10774/text19105, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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