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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Meyer, Sir Oscar Gwynne (1910–1981)

by Stella M. Barber

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

Sir Oscar Gwynne Meyer (1910-1981), engineer and businessman, was born on 10 February 1910 at North Sydney, eldest of three children of Italian-born Oscar Arthur Meyer and his wife Muriel Alice Gwynne, née O’Brien, born in New South Wales.  Oscar was educated at North Sydney Boys’ High School.  He followed his father, a clerk with New South Wales Railways, joining as a cadet engineer in 1926.  Studying mechanical engineering at Sydney Technical College, he qualified in 1931 and the next year was appointed an engineer with the railways.  On 19 December 1938 at St John’s Church of England, Milsons Point, he married Marion Bohlé, a secretary.

Having served in the Citizen Military Forces since 1931, Meyer was appointed as a captain, Royal Australian Engineers, Australian Imperial Force, on 1 May 1940.  Promoted to major, he embarked for the Middle East in October with the 7th Division.  He saw action in Syria and was mentioned in despatches before returning to Australia in April 1942.  Promoted to lieutenant colonel in September, he joined the Northern Territory Force.  He was seconded to Advanced Land Headquarters in November 1944 and in 1945 served in New Guinea, Borneo and Morotai, and was again mentioned in despatches.  In March 1946 he was placed on the Reserve of Officers with the rank of honorary colonel and the following year was appointed OBE.  He continued his association with the CMF, serving as colonel commandant RAE, 3rd Military District, until 1976.

In 1946 Meyer became assistant-director of civil engineering, later of mechanical engineering, in the rail standardisation branch, Commonwealth Department of Shipping and Transport.  Appointed Victorian railways commissioner in 1950, he was also deputy-chairman in 1956-58.  He oversaw planning for an underground railway in Melbourne.  From September to December 1956, sponsored by the State government, he attended an advanced management course at Harvard Business School, United States of America; he returned at the end of January 1957 after inspecting modern railway methods in the USA.  He resigned from the railways early in 1958, prompting questions in the Victorian parliament; the assistant-minister for transport, (Sir) Murray Porter, notified the House of Assembly that Meyer had given 'a verbal agreement to remain with the railways for a reasonable time'.

On 1 April 1958 Meyer became managing director of Australian Carbon Black Pty Ltd.  Plans to locate its plant at Altona, Victoria, were initially rejected by the local shire council, which was worried about pollution, but were finally approved after intervention by the Victorian government, fearful of rival bids from other States.  Meyer successfully steered the firm through these negotiations.  Stepping down as managing director in 1973, he served to 1975 as chairman.

In 1965 Meyer was appointed chairman of the Lower Yarra Crossing (later the West Gate Bridge) Authority.  He was a strong advocate for the bridge which, when completed in 1978, was the largest of its type in the southern hemisphere, spanning the Yarra River and providing ready access between Melbourne and Geelong.  Construction was not without its problems, the worst of which saw the deaths of thirty-five workmen when part of the structure collapsed on 15 October 1970.  The building design was then modified; asked about the safety of the bridge, Meyer replied with his characteristic humour 'it will stand up to a herd of copulating elephants'.

Meyer served on a number of boards of directors, including Yellow Express Carriers Ltd (1961-71), Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd (1966-80), Australian Innovation Corporation Ltd (1976-79) and Nylex Corporation Ltd (1967-80).  He was also a member of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission (1962-67) and the Export Development Council (1965-71).  Later he was chairman of (E.A.) Watts Holdings Ltd (1974-81) and Mildara Wines Ltd (1979-81).  President of the Melbourne division (1965-66) and national president (1970-72) of the Australian Institute of Management, in 1970 he became a fellow; in 1976 he was awarded the John Storey [q.v.12] medal.  He was knighted in 1978.

For many years Meyer lived at Toorak and spent leisure time at Barwon Heads, where he enjoyed sailing.  He was a member of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Naval & Military and Australian clubs (Melbourne), and the Royal Melbourne and Barwon Heads golf clubs.  A colourful character, who smoked a pipe, he was known for 'calling a spade a spade'.  Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 30 September 1981 at Prahran, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 November 1955, p 5
  • 13 March 1958, p 2
  • 10 April 1958, p 9
  • Age (Melbourne), 20 March 1958, p 7
  • 13 November 1978, p 17
  • 2 October 1981, p 19
  • B883, item NX384 (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Stella M. Barber, 'Meyer, Sir Oscar Gwynne (1910–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 18

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