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Parry-Okeden, William Nugent Fitzmaurice (1910–1982)

by Garth Pratten

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

William Nugent Fitzmaurice Parry-Okeden (1910-1982), army officer and jockey club and agricultural society executive, was born on 28 September 1910 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, eldest of four children of Queensland-born Charles Fitzmaurice Parry-Okeden, station-manager, and his wife Vera Louise, née Nugent-Doyle, who was born in New South Wales. Bill was a grandson of William Edward Parry-Okeden, progenitor of a well-established Queensland pastoral family. He spent his early days at his father’s property Kurrowah on the western Darling Downs and attended Toowoomba Grammar School. Remaining true to his rural heritage, he worked as a jackeroo, station-manager and stock and station agent, and in August 1937 took a commission in the Militia’s 11th Light Horse Regiment.

On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Parry-Okeden volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force and in December joined the 2/9th Battalion as a lieutenant. Before embarking for overseas service, on 3 February 1940 at St Mark’s Church of England, Darling Point, Sydney, he married Mary (‘Molly’) Ethel Moseley, a physiotherapist with a successful practice in Sydney. The 2/9th sailed to Britain where Parry-Okeden was promoted to captain and later seconded to the headquarters of the 18th Brigade. At the end of 1940 the brigade redeployed to the Middle East and formed part of the Tobruk, Libya, garrison in April-August 1941. Parry-Okeden rejoined his battalion just before its departure from Tobruk and was appointed to command ‘B’ Company.

Following the entry of Japan into the war, the 2/9th Battalion returned to Australia and between August 1942 and January 1943 took part in the desperate and costly fighting in Papua at Milne Bay, Buna and Sanananda. Six ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall, assertive and capable, Parry-Okeden was a steadying influence on the battlefield. Promoted to major and second-in-command by the time of Buna, he was required to take over a company when its commander was killed. On 24 December the battalion’s commanding officer was wounded. Parry-Okeden replaced him and then had to lead the ‘battered, bruised . . . and miserable’ survivors of Buna into action at Sanananda. He is remembered for moving continually among the forward troops under fire; he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his courage and tactical skill.

In June 1943 Parry-Okeden travelled to India to instruct British troops in the jungle-warfare methods of the Australian army. Back in Australia, in November he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and appointed to command the 30th Battalion in the 8th Brigade; after the early-1944 advance from Sio, New Guinea, to Saidor, and on to Madang, he was the brigade’s only battalion commander not to be sacked. Parry-Okeden was a highly aggressive commander and in subsequent operations in northern New Guinea chafed against the restrictions imposed on him by his superiors. Nevertheless, he was identified as an officer of much promise and was offered a command in the postwar occupation force for Japan. Frustrated at being denied leave after a long period in New Guinea, he noted in his diary, ‘They can stick the Army of Occupation right up their rears’; in December 1945 he relinquished command and was demobilised. He was mentioned in despatches in 1946.

Parry-Okeden joined the staff of the Australian Jockey Club, Sydney, in mid-1946 and six months later was appointed its secretary. In this role he was heavily involved in the restoration and reorganisation of the New South Wales racing industry after the war, but it was a difficult time. Racing crowds dropped through the 1950s, the government sought greater regulation of the industry and, although the club was the first in Australia to introduce drug testing (1947), it was plagued by a series of doping scandals.

In 1960 Parry-Okeden was selected from a field of 120 applicants for the directorship of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales. After understudying the previous incumbent, Sir Frank Berryman, he took control in May 1961. With the role of the bush in national life waning, attendance at the Royal Easter Show falling, and the society’s costs rising, it was another challenging appointment for Parry-Okeden. Although at the forefront of efforts to revitalise both the show and the society, he maintained the show’s essential agricultural character. He oversaw a range of redevelopment projects in the showgrounds, most notably the conversion of the Hordern Pavilion to a multi-purpose venue, but he also earned notoriety as the man who raised show admission fees. In 1974 he was appointed OBE for his services to the society.

Parry-Okeden retired in 1976 and he and Molly moved to a small property, Oke View, at Aberdeen in the Hunter Valley where he raised horses. He died on 6 August 1982 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, and was cremated. His wife and their three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. H. Fletcher, The Grand Parade (1988)
  • M. Painter and R. Waterhouse, The Principal Club (1992)
  • G. Pratten, Australian Battalion Commanders in the Second World War (2009)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1976, p 4, 7 Aug 1982, p 7, 29 Apr 2003, p 33
  • PR00321 (AWM)
  • B883, item QX6077 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Garth Pratten, 'Parry-Okeden, William Nugent Fitzmaurice (1910–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/parry-okeden-william-nugent-fitzmaurice-15834/text27033, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 March 2019.

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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