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Mander, Alfred Ernest (1894–1985)

by Murray Goot

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Alfred Ernest Mander (1894-1985), educator, writer and public servant, was born on 13 December 1894 at Great Malvern, Worcester, England, son of Alfred Mander, pharmaceutical chemist, and his wife Amy Elizabeth, née Newman.  Ernest was educated at Queen’s College, Somerset, from 1910 and later engaged in journalism.  During World War I he served in the Royal Field Artillery on the Western Front and was demobilised as a temporary captain.  On 10 March 1917 at Holly Mount Congregational Church, Great Malvern, he married Rosa Ivy Frances Ross Cameron, a nursery governess.  He worked in the Ministry of Munitions in London from 1917 until 1920, when he moved to New Zealand.

In 1920-28 Mander toiled tirelessly for the Workers’ Educational Association in New Zealand.  He served as the New Zealand Political Reform League’s Dominion secretary in 1929.  Subsequently he became national general secretary of the New Zealand Manufacturers’ Federation.

Mander published his first 'little book' in 1922.  Written for the 'dissatisfied majority', New New Zealand was a plea for 'the Abolition of Inheritance of Unearned Incomes' and a program for a seamless transition to a 'People’s Commonwealth'.  The 'supreme national purpose', he declared in Man Marches On (1937), was 'to produce happier and healthier people, people with abler minds and finer qualities of character'.

Psychology for Everyman (and Woman), a contribution to a movement for self-awareness and self-improvement, appeared in 1935.  Ten years later Mander’s venture into popular psychology had been reprinted thirteen times and sold 400,000 copies.  In 1936 Mander produced Clearer Thinking (Logic for Everyman); by its third impression, in 1938, Everyman had become Everyone; in 1947, with the title Logic for the Millions, it was published in New York.  His publisher later claimed that more than 600,000 copies of the 'Clearer Thinking' books were sold.  A substantially revised version, Think for Yourself, was published in 1970.

Migrating to Australia, Mander settled at Manly, Sydney, and joined the New South Wales Public Service in January 1938; he was secretary of the New South Wales Employment Council.  In 1938-39 he advised Premier (Sir) Bertram Stevens on the probability of war in Europe and the consequences of any war for Australia.  In Alarming Australia (1938, expanded edition 1943) he insisted that unless Australia boosted its birth rate and encouraged immigration, 'Australia White and predominantly British' would be in peril.  Unusually an immigration activist in the Depression, he had built a similar case in To Alarm New Zealand (1936).  Some of this and much of Man Marches On were reprised in Something to Live For (1943).

Mander was mobilised in the Australian Intelligence Corps, Citizen Military Forces, in October 1939.  Promoted to temporary major in July 1940, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 24 October 1941.  He was seconded to the Directorate of Military Operations at Army Headquarters in January 1942 but in September he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers and joined the Department of War Organisation of Industry, Melbourne.  He left the department in August 1944.  Back in the New South Wales Public Service, he worked in the Department of Secondary Industries and Building Materials before moving to the Premier’s Department in 1952; he retired in 1959.

Mander wrote Our Sham Democracy (1943; revised and expanded in 1971), in which he revisited a theme that he had first pursued in the Wanganui Herald, and republished in Plain Talks about Democracy (c.1930), where he argued that democracy suffers from the ignorance of the voters because 'Public Opinion always lags far behind the best thought of the day'.  His concern for the 'efficiency' of democracy remained constant.  Public Enemy the Press (1944) elaborated on the power wielded by newspaper proprietors.

Mander also revived his interest in industry:  Spoiled Lives (1944) focused on unskilled, precarious work—the 'tragedy of youth employment'—while Common Cause (1946) focused on capitalism, which should be replaced by a system of 'Socialism Without Bureaucracy'.  Conceived as a form of economic rationalism, his solution to the problem of 'selfishness' was consistent, he said, with the Australian Labor Party’s socialisation objective, the aims of the Communist Party of Australia and Catholic social teaching.

The argument in 6 p.m. Till Midnight (1945) was that the average person’s boredom could be traced to their homes, schools and 'indulgence in mental Dope' (film, radio, newspapers, books), their indifference to genuine relaxation and their loss of 'Community Life'.  In The Making of the Australians (1958), written 'with an eye to New Australians', Mander attempted to show how the characteristics of Australians were shaped by the squatters and the diggers.  The Christian God and Life after Death (c.1963), saw Mander adopt a familiar pedagogy.  He asked those 'bombarded with religious propaganda' from childhood to use the book as a starting point to 'think for themselves'.

From 1947 to 1969 Mander tutored part time for the WEA in Sydney.  Among his most popular classes were those on 'Clearer Thinking' and 'Understanding People'.  With total annual enrolments from 1966 to 1968 of close to six hundred, his 'Sharpening Our Minds' course was the WEA’s best attended.  As well as broadcasting talks on radio and television, he occasionally appeared as a news commentator and as a debater on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Nation’s Forum of the Air.

A poetry lover, Mander corresponded with Tom Inglis Moore for thirty years.  Between 1938 and 1985 he wrote many letters to the Sydney Morning Herald.  Increasingly he felt embattled by a tide running 'strongly . . . against disciplined thinking'; although appalled by the Whitlam government’s 'naive ineptitude', he could not bring himself to support its dismissal.  Suffering ill health, from 1976 he lived in Newcastle with his sister Kit Heyes but later returned to Sydney.  Predeceased by his son (1940) and his wife (1969), he died on 26 February 1985 in his home at Mosman and was cremated.  He was regarded as an 'honorary associate' of the rationalist movement.

Select Bibliography

  • Who’s Who in New Zealand and the Western Pacific (1932, 1941)
  • A. B. Thompson, Adult Education in New Zealand (1945)
  • R. Shuker, Educating the Workers? (1984)
  • N. Petersen, News Not Views (1993)
  • R. Dahlitz, Secular Who’s Who (1994)
  • B884, item N278528 (National Archives of Australia)
  • papers of T. Inglis Moore and A. W. Sheppard (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Murray Goot, 'Mander, Alfred Ernest (1894–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mander-alfred-ernest-14893/text26086, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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