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Mackenzie, Aubrey Duncan (1895–1962)

by Geoffrey Serle

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

Aubrey Duncan Mackenzie (1895-1962), civil engineer, was born on 3 January 1895 at North Carlton, Melbourne, son of Duncan Mackenzie, a Scottish-born draughtsman, and his wife Emma, née Surman, who came from England. Educated at Melbourne Continuation (High) School, Aubrey joined the Victorian Public Works Department as a pupil-architect in 1912, changing in the following year to pupil-engineer. On 14 April 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served at Gallipoli with the 6th Field Ambulance and on the Western Front in a number of supporting roles. Discharged in Melbourne on 6 July 1919, he rejoined the Public Works Department. On 2 August 1924 at Scots Church, Melbourne, he married Marjorie Kiel with Presbyterian forms.

In December 1934 Mackenzie was promoted to be chief engineer of the department, with particular charge of ports and harbours. He had already been responsible for construction of the Yarra Boulevard and the Mount Donna Buang, Acheron Way and Ben Cairn roads, and for the surroundings of the Shrine of Remembrance. Chairman of the State Tourist Committee, the Motor-Omnibus Advisory Board and the Foreshore Erosion Board, he was vice-president of the marine board, and a member of the committees for rivers and streams and for Mount Buffalo National Park. From 1938 to 1940 he was a full-time commissioner of the Country Roads Board.

In July 1940 Mackenzie was appointed (from a field of twelve applicants) executive-chairman of the Melbourne Harbor Trust, at £1500 a year. He was to be reappointed three times. After stagnating in the interwar period, the port of Melbourne saw unprecedented development over the next twenty years. Under wartime conditions the Commonwealth government enabled extensive shipbuilding and repairing by the trust, initially at the Alfred Graving Dock complex. Merchant vessels were armed and others converted to minesweepers, some forty all told. Naval anti-submarine vessels, freighters and cargo barges were soon under construction; new slipways, fitting-out berths, mobile cranes and workshops were developed. In 1942 Melbourne was the chief American supply port; traffic that year broke all records. Having become chairman of the permanent committee of the Australian Port Authorities' Association, Mackenzie visited Darwin, Fremantle, Western Australia, and Whyalla, South Australia, to advise on urgent harbour improvements.

His achievements during the war won Mackenzie respect which he maintained, and his enthusiasm, determined drive and creative imagination as an administrator took him far. Of medium build, he was a good 'staff man' who habitually made a morning round to talk to the labour force.

Under Mackenzie's administration, Melbourne remained the best mechanized Australian port, especially for bulk-loading. Construction of the Appleton Dock (opened in 1956) was a highlight, the Tasmanian car-ferry a notable innovation, and oil wharves on the River Yarra a lasting problem. So was the Waterside Workers' Federation, bedevilled by years of ruthless exploitation; turn round of goods improved very little. Mackenzie retired on 3 January 1960 and, strangely, received no honour.

A member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, Mackenzie was commodore (1947-57) of the Sandringham Yacht Club, of which his father had been a leading founder. He died of heart disease on 21 March 1962 in his Hampton home and was cremated. His wife, son and daughter survived him, and his estate was sworn for probate at £15,460.

Select Bibliography

  • O. Ruhen, Port of Melbourne, 1835-1976 (Syd, 1976)
  • Port of Melbourne Quarterly, Jan-Mar 1960, Apr-June 1962
  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 Dec 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Mar 1938, 17 May 1949
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 27 Aug 1955
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 Mar 1962.

Citation details

Geoffrey Serle, 'Mackenzie, Aubrey Duncan (1895–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackenzie-aubrey-duncan-10986/text19531, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 12 December 2018.

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

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