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Nock, Sir Norman Lindfield (1899–1990)

by Shirley Fitzgerald

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

Norman Nock, by Sam Hood, n.d.

Norman Nock, by Sam Hood, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 058751

Sir Norman Lindfield Nock (1899-1990), businessman and lord mayor, was born on 11 April 1899 at Lindfield, Sydney, youngest of six children of Sydney-born parents Thomas Nock, ironmonger, and his wife Eliza Jane, née Simmonds.  Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), Norman joined the staff of Farmer & Co. Ltd’s department store in Pitt Street, Sydney, at age 18.  He was rejected for war service owing to a leg injury.  In 1919 he travelled to England to study modern retailing methods.  He worked at Selfridges & Co. in London for several years, then at John Wanamaker & Co. Ltd’s New York store.  After joining the family firm of Nock & Kirby Ltd he established a branch in London, and returned to Sydney in 1925 to take up the post of managing director.  He married Ethel Evelyna Bradford on 22 October 1927 at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney.

As president (1932-34) of the Retail Traders’ Association of New South Wales, Nock was critical of the Ottawa Agreement, a round of tariff reforms favouring Empire countries; he argued for importation of goods from the cheapest markets.  However, he fell into line over the 1933 Empire Shopping Week, exhorting shoppers to 'follow the flag in all your purchases'.  A good communicator, he became the voice of retailers on local radio and in the newspapers.

In 1934-41 Nock served on the Sydney City Council as an alderman for Gipps Ward; he was to be lord mayor in 1938-39.  He represented the business-oriented Citizens’ (Civic) Reform group, but absented himself for part of 1935 in order to study current retailing practices in the United States of America.  Becoming an enthusiastic advocate of urban improvement through political intervention, he favoured an enlarged Greater Sydney, a metropolitan-wide road board, local government involvement in public housing and public transport, and he constantly criticised the State government in relation to traffic issues.  Although initially careful lest hardship be inflicted on property owners, Nock eventually supported planning regulations to ensure minimum standards for flat developments and to create residential zones, free from industry.

Nock became embroiled in a political fracas in June 1938, when he agreed to make the Sydney Town Hall available for a lecture series by Felix von Luckner, a German naval officer and a world-class yachtsman, who had sailed to Sydney as part of a world propaganda tour for Adolf Hitler.  Due to bitter public protest at the first lecture, the others were cancelled.  Nevertheless, Nock stood for a second term as lord mayor in 1939 on a double nomination from Civic Reform and the Australian Labor Party, a 'first' in the history of the council.  He did not stand for re-election in 1940.  The Sydney Morning Herald’s assessment of his lord mayoralty was that less had been done than dreamed of, but that 'there has been a notable stirring of dry bones'.  He was knighted in 1939 for his services to the sesquicentenary celebrations, with the Sydney Morning Herald citing other contributions—to the Boy Scouts’ Association and the Smith Family Joyspreaders Unlimited.  In 1945-46 he was managing director of David Jones Ltd for fifteen months.

As chairman (1940-68) of the board of the Royal North Shore Hospital of Sydney, Nock was a vocal advocate for the institution, reporting in 1955 that the hospital was in a parlous state, and government promises were too often broken.  He served (1946-69) as a lay member of the National Health and Medical Research Council.  In 1951 he returned to the presidency of the Retail Traders’ Association, where predictably he agitated for the removal of price controls, arguing that increased sales through lower prices would increase local manufacturing.  He favoured tax cuts and opposed compulsory unionism and equal pay for women.

Nock was president (1954-69) of the National Roads and Motorists’ Association, as well as serving on various other boards, including that of Qantas Empire Airways Ltd (1961-66).  During the 1960s, always attuned to retailing trends, he oversaw the establishment of Nock & Kirby stores in suburban and regional locations.  By now he was interested in the new technology of television; in 1963 United Telecasters Sydney Ltd, of which he was a director (1962-66), was successful in obtaining a third television licence for Sydney.  In 1965 the large electrical chain of H. G. Palmer (Consolidated) Ltd went into receivership, and as an ex-director, Nock was summonsed for allegedly knowingly being involved in the issue of a false prospectus.  Although he was discharged, the case dragged on for years, taking a toll on his health.

His son, Graham, took over as sole managing director of Nock & Kirby’s in 1973 and Sir Norman resigned as chairman of the board of directors in 1979.  Nock & Kirby Ltd was delisted from the stock exchange and reorganised in 1980; Nock & Kirby Holdings Ltd was taken over by Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd in 1983.

A tall, agile man with piercing eyes, Nock enjoyed speedboat racing, big-game fishing and motor racing in Australia, Britain and France; he reputedly introduced Dragon class yachts into the country.  Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 24 June 1990 at Kincumber and was cremated.  A lecture theatre at Royal North Shore Hospital was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Perdon (comp), Sydney’s Aldermen (1995)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1932, p 17, 15 December 1937, p 16, 29 December 1939, p 8, 4 July 1990, p 6
  • Journal of the Retail Traders’ Association of N.S.W., 10 July 1951, p 2
  • Open Road (Sydney), October 1990, p 3
  • D. Ritch, taped interview with N. Nock (1987, National Library of Australia)

Citation details

Shirley Fitzgerald, 'Nock, Sir Norman Lindfield (1899–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nock-sir-norman-lindfield-14995/text26184, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 October 2017.

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

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