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Noakes, Lyndon Charles (1914–1990)

by D. F. Branagan

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

Lyndon Charles Noakes (1914-1990), geologist, coastwatcher and public servant, was born on 9 March 1914 at Epping, Sydney, son of English-born Louis Foley Noakes, engineering draftsman, and his wife Leila Kathleen, née Warren, born in Tasmania.  Educated at Fort Street Boys’ High School and the University of Sydney (BA, 1935), Lyn majored in geology; fellow students included K. G. Mosher, E. O. Rayner and J. W. Whiting.

Joining the Mandated Territory of New Guinea administration in July 1935, Noakes was stationed at Wau as assistant government geologist to N. H. Fisher, with whom he was to be associated for many years, under the warden Eric Feldt.  He undertook fieldwork in the Morobe district, before accompanying Fisher to Bougainville to examine a gold mine at Kupei.  At times with Fisher, at others the lone European, he worked in the largely unexplored Sepik district (1937) and on New Britain, which had active volcanoes; with Fisher he published Geological Reports on New Britain (1942).  On 19 August 1939 at St Clement’s Church of England, Marrickville, Sydney, he married Muriel Elsie Hayward (d.1975), a schoolteacher.

On 10 December 1941 Noakes enlisted in the Wau group of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles.  He returned to Australia, where in August 1942 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force and posted to 'Z' Special Unit.  From November to March 1943 he occupied a coastwatching post near the mouth of the Mambare River, Papua.  Maintaining close contact with the Japanese, he reported their movements accurately, enabling effective air-strikes to be mounted against them.  For this work he was appointed to the United States of America’s Legion of Merit.  In October 1943 he carried out a reconnaissance around occupied Gasmata, New Britain.  His AIF service ended in Australia in June 1944.

In 1945 Noakes and Fisher joined the Commonwealth Mineral Resources Survey which, under (Sir) Harold Raggatt, became the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics the following year.  Noakes began the Northern Territory mapping fieldwork for which the BMR became famous.  One of his most important achievements was the adoption of a suitable colour code for the depiction of geology on Australian maps, based on the scheme that had been developed by the US Geological Survey.  He was appointed (1959) assistant chief geologist of BMR and transferred to Canberra.

Seconded (1961-63) to London as Commonwealth government geological liaison officer, Noakes made many international contacts.  He became secretary in 1966 (chairman 1974-79) of the technical committee on oceanography, United Nations Development Program, and from 1967 was the special adviser on detrital mineral deposits to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.  In October 1974 Fisher and Noakes lectured in China about the Australian mineral industry.  Considerable geological co-operation between the two countries followed; China was formally admitted to the International Union of Geological Sciences at the International Geological Congress in Sydney in 1976.  Noakes was assistant-director (1967-74) and acting-director (1974-75) of the BMR.  Criticism of him in 1974 by the minister for minerals and energy, 'Rex' Connor, placed his promotion to director in jeopardy.  While the minister had maintained that three-fifths of the mining industry was foreign-owned, Noakes publicly argued that the proportion was 35 per cent.  Noakes was appointed director on 30 October 1975, two weeks after Connor resigned.  He retired in 1979 and became a senior consultant to UNDP in 1980.

Noakes was very active in the Canberra branch of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy; a fellow of the Geological Society of London (1963) and a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy (Great Britain), he was also a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales (from 1945).  On 6 April 1976 at All Saints Church of England, Parramatta, he married Margaret Grace Graham, formerly Walker, a trained nurse.  Appointed OBE in 1977, he was a director (1980-88) of Cluff Oil (Australia) NL (later Cluff Resources Pacific Ltd).  Of medium height, he had a pleasant personality and participated fully in social activities wherever he worked; in Canberra he enjoyed boating and golf.  Survived by his wife and his daughter and two sons from his first marriage, he died on 29 June 1990 in Canberra and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Feldt, The Coast Watchers (1946)
  • R. Wilkinson, Rocks to Riches (1996)
  • Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 124, 1991, p 86
  • Canberra Times, 15 July 1990, p 2
  • B883, item NGX253 (National Archives of Australia)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'Noakes, Lyndon Charles (1914–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/noakes-lyndon-charles-14992/text26181, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 22 May 2018.

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

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