Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Packer, Gerald (1900–1962)

by Chris Clark

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

Gerald Packer (1900-1962), army and air force officer, businessman and government adviser, was born on 14 April 1900 at Brighton, Melbourne, eldest of three children of John William Packer, an English-born accountant, and his Melbourne-born wife Linda Amy Yates, née Woolcott. Educated at Brighton Grammar School (dux 1915) and (on a scholarship) at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Gerry entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in 1917. He graduated in December 1920 and won the King's Medal for coming top of his class. Lieutenant Packer trained with British Army units in England and Germany in 1921-22. He returned to Australia in June 1922 and was posted to the 1st Coast Artillery Brigade, centred in Sydney.

In 1923, following a reduction in the military establishment, Packer obtained a secondment (later a transfer) to the Royal Australian Air Force. He completed pilot training at Point Cook, Victoria, in December 1924 and was posted to Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne. After attending the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1926), he was sent to England to learn aerial photography. Back at R.A.A.F. Headquarters in 1927, he planned aerial surveys, flew on an expedition around Papua and the Mandated Territory of New Guinea as a photographer, and served (1928) with a detachment at Bowen, Queensland, mapping the Great Barrier Reef from the air.

On 16 May 1929 at the Presbyterian Church, Armadale, Melbourne, Flight Lieutenant Packer married Maida Helen Crawford. In September he was posted to No.1 Squadron at Laverton, where he was a flight commander and unit photographic officer. Problems with his eyesight, wrongly diagnosed as glaucoma, led him to resign in February 1932. Beginning his civilian career as an investment adviser and consultant, he became a public accountant in 1935 and sat on the boards of several companies. He joined the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand and the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and contributed to their publications. In 1930 he had also joined the Young Nationalist Organisation.

As a captain, then a major, on the army's Unattached List, Packer spent an increasing amount of his time on intelligence and operational planning duties at Army Headquarters in 1937-40. Disillusioned with the complacency of some of his superiors over the threat posed by Japan, he left the army in July 1940. He unsuccessfully sought United Australia Party pre-selection for the House of Representatives seat of Corio. In September he was mobilized in the R.A.A.F. as a flight lieutenant and posted to the Directorate of Operations and Intelligence. Promoted temporary wing commander in April 1941, he was appointed director of intelligence on 18 September. Following Japanese air-raids on Darwin in February 1942, he gave evidence to (Sir) Charles Lowe's inquiry into the state of the R.A.A.F.'s preparedness.

In April 1942 Packer was appointed senior air intelligence officer at Allied Naval Forces Headquarters. On the formation of R.A.A.F. Command within the Allied Air Forces in September, he was promoted acting group captain and dispatched to Brisbane to command Forward Echelon of R.A.A.F. Headquarters. He represented the chief of the Air Staff at A.A.F. Headquarters and was a liaison officer to the headquarters of the allied naval and land forces.

Leaving Brisbane in July 1943, Packer helped to found and taught at the R.A.A.F. Staff School, Mount Martha, Victoria. In October 1944 he was sent to Noemfoor, Netherlands East Indies, as officer-in-charge of administration, No.10 Operational Group (renamed First Tactical Air Force), which soon moved to Morotai. He transferred to R.A.A.F. Headquarters in February 1945 as assistant-inspector of administration. After his R.A.A.F. appointment terminated on 21 June, he was a member (1945-47) of the war establishments investigation committee.

Packer was made a vice-president of the A.I.I.A. in 1946 and associate-editor of the institute's new journal, Australian Outlook, in 1947. He joined (1946) Round Table and contributed unsigned articles to its quarterly. The Federal government nominated him as an observer at the Asian Relations Conference, held in New Delhi in March-April 1947. In that year Dr H. V. Evatt invited him to serve on a committee which advised the government on terms for a peace settlement with Japan. Packer was disappointed when he failed to gain pre-selection as Liberal Party candidate for Deakin at the 1949 Federal elections.

A member (1950-55 and 1959-62) and vice-chairman (1953-56) of the Australian National Airlines Commission, Packer played a part in formulating the Federal coalition government's two-airline policy. In 1950 he was appointed to the defence services establishments committee. In the following year he visited England as a delegate to a conference of British Commonwealth countries on closer links with Europe; further discussions, organized by the European League for Economic Co-operation, followed in Brussels. The Menzies government placed him on the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council in 1954. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1959. Later that year he joined a committee which examined Post Office accounts.

Packer was a member of the Australian Institute of Management (councillor, Melbourne division, 1953-55), the Operational Research Society of Victoria, the Australian Industries Development Association, and the Australian Committee (Association) for Cultural Freedom (from 1954). He helped to organize appeals for charities, and promoted civil liberties and Aboriginal welfare. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on 23 May 1962 in Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Coulthard-Clark, Edge of Centre (Point Cook, Vic, 1992), and for bibliography.

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Packer, Gerald (1900–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/packer-gerald-11327/text20223, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 November 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019