Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McCracken, John (1895–1956)

by Kay Cohen

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

John McCracken (1895-1956), public servant, was born on 13 September 1895 at Motherwell, Lanarkshire, Scotland, son of Joseph McCracken, a turning-machinist, and his wife Agnes, née McMaster. John completed his schooling at Dalziel High School before the family emigrated to Brisbane in 1911. That year he joined the Queensland Audit Office as a messenger. In July 1912 he was appointed a cadet-clerk with the State Public Service Board. Studying at night at the Central Technical College, he gained qualifications in accountancy. He became an associate-member (1921) of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants and later a fellow of the Australian Society of Accountants; in the 1930s he returned to the college to teach the subject part time.

On 19 August 1915 McCracken had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served with the 13th Battery, 5th Field Artillery Brigade, in Egypt (December 1915 to March 1916) and on the Western Front. Severely wounded in the leg in April 1917, he spent several months in hospital in England; although his leg was not amputated, he was left with a permanent, painful disability. He was repatriated in March 1918 and discharged in Brisbane in the following month. On 22 February 1919 at her Hill End home he married with Baptist forms Amy Gertrude Bell, a 26-year-old public servant.

Appointed assistant-secretary (1924) in the office of the public service commissioner J. D. Story, McCracken was promoted senior public service inspector in 1935 and deputy public service commissioner in 1936. He was a member of the Bureau of Industry under J. B. Brigden, and in 1937 was one of two commissioners chosen by Premier William Forgan Smith to report on the Brisbane City Council's administration. Story retired in 1939. Despite pressure on the Queensland government to expand the number of public service commissioners to three, McCracken succeeded him as sole commissioner.

During World War II McCracken's responsibilities markedly increased. He took on the duties of deputy food controller for Queensland and director of civil defence, and chaired both the public safety advisory committee and the advisory committee under the Public Service Act. In addition, he served on the Public Service and the Police Superannuation boards, and presided over the Crown Employees Patriotic Fund which raised thousands of pounds for war relief. Keenly aware of the situation of ex-servicemen, he continued to advocate their rights when the war ended.

Lack of money had prevented McCracken from studying law as a young man. He relished his role as the public service industrial-relations representative in the State Industrial Court and the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. The exhaustive preparation that lay behind his regular appearances throughout the 1940s and early 1950s at the forty-hour week and basic-wage hearings won him respect, but Queensland's trade-union officials regarded him as a 'hard man' for his inflexible adherence to government directives. Publicly known as Jock, he used the term 'laddie' and a heightened Scots accent in forceful encounters.

Despite his war injury, McCracken was a keen, albeit occasional, fisherman. He dabbled in carpentry and joinery, read avidly, enjoyed testing his car on the open road and grew beautiful roses. A member (from 1954) of the senate of the University of Queensland, he assisted Story to introduce a diploma of public administration. In February 1956 he retired as public service commissioner and was appointed to the State Industrial Court. Although he was involved in a motorcar accident near Gunning, New South Wales, he acted entirely in character, accepting work until a few months before his death.

McCracken died of cancer on 4 September 1956 in St Helen's Private Hospital, South Brisbane, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; his wife, daughter and three sons survived him. Contemporaries referred to him as the last of his kind. Loyalty and a highly developed sense of duty had been his guiding principles. Government decisions may not have always accorded with his concept of right and wrong, but he was unswerving in carrying them out. His taciturnity in public masked a sense of humour and many acts of kindness. In Story's view, he was 'one of the brightest and best of the back-room boys'.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Greenwood and J. Laverty, Brisbane 1859-1959 (Brisb, 1959)
  • G. Whitehouse and K. Wiltshire, The History of the Queensland Professional Officers' Association (Brisb, 1987)
  • University of Queensland Gazette, Dec 1956
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 12 Mar 1944
  • private information.

Citation details

Kay Cohen, 'McCracken, John (1895–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mccracken-john-10921/text19401, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 October 2018.

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

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