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Remington, Geoffrey Cochrane (1897–1968)

by Carmel Maguire

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Geoffrey Cochrane Remington (1897-1968), lawyer and public benefactor, was born on 27 November 1897 at Summer Hill, Sydney, third child of John Cochrane Remington, a life-insurance manager from Ireland, and his native-born wife Constance Mabel, née Dickinson. Geoffrey was educated at Tudor House, Moss Vale, The Armidale School and Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). He passed the Solicitors' Admission Board examinations and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 16 March 1923. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 7 May 1930 he married Joan Daly; they were to have a son and a daughter.

By 1933 he had founded the firm, Remington & Co., and was well established as a solicitor in the city. A council-member and president (1937-39) of the New South Wales Constitutional Association, he wrote letters, articles and book reviews on a range of topics, including reform of the Legislative Council, and was a founder (1935) and chairman (1947-68) of the New South Wales group of the (Royal) Institute of Public Administration. His newspaper articles advocated the creation of 'an economic general staff' at Federal government level. He was also interested in the Australian Institute of Political Science. In 1935 he sought help from Frank Tate to gain support for the A.I.P.S. from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Tate suggested that he should study the report by Ralph Munn and Ernest Pitt on the libraries of Australia. Remington was 'shocked at what it had to say and fascinated by the way it said it'.

With expert advice and help from John Metcalfe, deputy principal librarian of the Public Library of New South Wales, Remington headed the Free Library Movement. As a result of their energetic campaign, which included visits and speeches to local councils and shires throughout the State, he was appointed (1937) to the Libraries Advisory Committee, which drafted a bill. The Library Act, passed in 1939, provided for State government subsidies to local councils to set up free public library services; it also instituted the Library Board of New South Wales, on which Remington served as deputy-chairman from its establishment in 1944 until 1968. He was a trustee (president 1967) of the Public Library and a member of its Mitchell Library committee, a member of the Australian Advisory Council on Bibliographical Services and of the Industrial Fund for the Advancement of Scientific Education in Schools, and sometime treasurer of the Library Association of Australia.

During World War II Remington had been based in Melbourne as assistant-director (1941-42), labour resources division, Department of War Organization of Industry, and in Brisbane and Melbourne as assistant-director (1942-43), personnel, of the Allied Works Council. In carrying out his responsibility to obtain manpower for essential works he was not intimidated by threats from employers, trade-union officials, workers, politicians or the military. Having served as liaison officer between the department and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, he was chief administrative officer and acting-director in the South-West Pacific for U.N.R.R.A. in 1945-46.

After helping to reactivate the F.L.M. in 1944 to persuade local councils to implement the Library Act, Remington addressed meetings designed to set up similar movements in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. He chaired (from 1945) the executive of the New South Wales Film Council, which acquired and circulated documentary and educational films; and he presided (1948-49) over the Rotary Club of Sydney.

From 1953 Remington worked through Rotary for the establishment of an administrative staff college. The Australian Administrative Staff College was incorporated in 1955, with memorandum and articles prepared by him: Essington Lewis chaired the company and Remington the college's executive-committee. He canvassed large firms to raise funds, and was delighted when Sir Douglas Copland was appointed principal of the college. The A.A.S.C. opened at Mount Eliza, Victoria, in 1957. Remington's relationship with Copland degenerated almost from their meeting, and certainly from the point at which he told Copland that academic freedom was not part of the job. Their correspondence revealed the gulf between their views and the anger engendered in both of them.

Except for his wartime absences, Remington managed his busy and successful law practice. In 1955 he referred to his 'law work' as 'often tedious but a necessity'. His business skills led to his appointment to the boards of a number of leading firms, especially in the 1950s and 1960s: he was chairman of Rolls Royce of Australia Pty Ltd and Crane Australia Pty Ltd, and a director of W. R. Carpenter Holdings Ltd, Standard Telephones & Cables Pty Ltd and the Scottish Australian Co. Ltd.

In reminiscing, Remington described himself as 'a busy man' and—exaggeratedly—as 'a relatively uneducated man'. Widely read, he wrote for journals and newspapers, spoke effectively in public and corresponded widely with influential people, including Beatrice and Sidney Webb whose books he had read and reviewed. He had access to prime ministers and premiers. The people he admired encompassed (Sir) William McKell, Labor premier of New South Wales and governor-general, Paddy O'Neill, head of the Barrier Industrial Council, (Sir) Robert Menzies and Lewis. He made extensive use of telephones and cables as he developed and cultivated an impressive network of allies. A friend and confidant to men as diverse as Hartley Grattan and Bert Evatt, he was indefatigable in congratulating those who achieved public recognition, and both astute and generous in his praise of those who were not in a position to do so, such as his office staff.

When Remington was appointed C.M.G. in 1960, Sir Norman Nock acknowledged his 'remarkable capacity to get things done'. Notably well dressed and something of a bon viveur, Remington entertained friends and contacts at his clubs—the Union Club, the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, and the Commonwealth Club, Canberra. He died of a coronary occlusion on 20 January 1968 at his Woollahra home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. and H. Carey, Educating the Guardians (Syd, 1985)
  • Australian Library Journal, 17, no 2, 1968, p 57
  • Public Administration (Sydney), 27, Sept 1968, p 195
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 June 1936, 19 Feb 1943, 2 Feb, 11 June 1960, 23 Jan 1968
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 24 Jan 1942, 23 June 1945
  • Bulletin, 23 Dec 1959, p 11
  • D. J. Jones, William Herbert Ifould and the Development of Library Services in New South Wales, 1912-1942 (Ph.D. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1993)
  • Remington papers and Doc 1724 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Carmel Maguire, 'Remington, Geoffrey Cochrane (1897–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/remington-geoffrey-cochrane-11507/text20527, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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