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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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O'Connor, Francis Alexander (1894–1972)

by Helen Boxall

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

Francis Alexander O'Connor (1894-1972), public servant, was born on 13 October 1894 at Leongatha, Victoria, fifth child of Alexander O'Connor, a stationmaster from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Christina, née McDermid. Educated at Melbourne Continuation (High) School, Frank joined the Commonwealth Public Service on 1 January 1912 and worked as a naval staff clerk in the Department of Defence. By 1924 he was employed with the Contract Supply Board (Contract Board) attached to that department. At St Monica's Catholic Church, Essendon, on 15 April 1925 he married Annie Morrison Nunan.

In 1936 O'Connor was appointed secretary of the Contract Board, which from 1939 was administered by the new Department of Supply and Development (Supply and Shipping 1942-48, Supply and Development 1948-50, Supply 1950-74). Promoted assistant-secretary, he became the board's chairman in 1941. He and his colleagues authorized the purchase of stores and equipment (other than munitions) needed by the armed services, and disposed of surplus material. In 1942, at the peak of its wartime activity, the board authorized 25,419 requisitions for goods valued at £142.3 million. Next year O'Connor was given the additional post of director of supply.

As secretary of the Department of Supply and Shipping from September 1946, O'Connor oversaw the importation, production and distribution of fuel and strategic material (such as aluminium and tin-plate); he also supervised the purchase of supplies for the armed services and regulated the shipping industry. Reverting to first assistant secretary after a departmental reorganization in April 1948, he assumed the secretaryship once more on 16 April 1953. He worked with British and Australian scientists who were developing the Weapons Research Establishment at Salisbury, South Australia, and the rocket range at Woomera, and testing atomic weapons on the Monte Bello Islands, off Western Australia, and at Emu and Maralinga, South Australia. His duties were extended in 1958 when the Department of Defence Production was abolished and its functions (including the government's munitions and aircraft factories) were transferred to Supply.

O'Connor was tall and distinguished looking, and approachable in manner. A capable and dedicated head of department, he inspired respect and commitment among his staff. The minister he most appreciated serving was a Liberal, (Sir) Howard Beale, who remembered him as an 'old time Labor man and a great friend of Arthur Calwell'. Yet, at the time O'Connor took over as head of the department, Beale 'knew nothing of his present politics and never asked; all I knew was that he was wise, experienced, [and] loyal to the government he served'. O'Connor's integrity and sense of fairness helped him to maintain harmonious working and personal relationships. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1953 and elevated to C.B.E. in 1957.

In 1959 O'Connor retired. His interests included horse-racing—he belonged to the Moonee Valley Racing Club—cards, and gardening. A devout Catholic and a dedicated family man, he loved telling stories to his grandchildren. He died on 16 April 1972 at Fitzroy and was buried in Box Hill cemetery; his wife, three sons and one of his two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Beale, This Inch of Time (Melb, 1977)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1977)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 6 Sept 1941
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Boxall, 'O'Connor, Francis Alexander (1894–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 19 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 15

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