Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ryan, Edward John (Ted) (1916–1995)

by David Lee

This article was published online in 2019

Edward John Ryan (1916–1995), company executive, was born on 18 April 1916 in Sydney, son of New South Wales-born Edward Maurice Ryan, tram conductor, and his New Zealand-born wife Mary Moran, née Berwick. Raised in a Catholic family, Ted grew up in King’s Cross, and attended Christian Brothers’ College, Waverley, where he captained the school and cricket and football teams. In 1935 he joined the New South Wales Auditor-General’s Department as a junior clerk. Studying accountancy by correspondence while working, he was admitted in 1941 as an associate in the New South Wales division of the Australasian Institute of Cost Accountants (Australian Society of Accountants from 1966).

From December 1938 to March 1940 Ryan served part time in the 5th Heavy Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery, Citizen Military Forces. His record shows him to have been five feet seven inches (170 cm) tall and weighing 141 pounds (64 kg). On 7 October 1940 he married Sylvia Frances Linton, a saleswoman, at St Canice’s Church, Elizabeth Bay. He continued in the New South Wales public service until resigning as a clerk in the Auditor-General’s Department on 14 November 1945.

In the late 1940s and 1950s Ryan worked as a company secretary in Sydney. By 1961 he was the general manager at the Bellambi Coal Company Ltd. While a long-established company with its origins in the nineteenth century, its infrastructure was outdated, its industrial relations troubled, and its product uncompetitively priced. He started at the company at a time when Commonwealth–State intervention in favour of modernisation and mechanisation through the Joint Coal Board was revitalising the New South Wales black coal industry. Benefiting from such policies, including measures to upgrade the coal ports, his management made Bellambi into one of the largest coal-mining operations in the State.

Between 1960 and 1962, Ryan modernised the mine by introducing a 650-tons-per-hour coal preparation plant (washery) and a system of conveyor belts with surge bins. Following visits by Japanese steel survey missions in 1958 and 1961, South Bulli Colliery, which Bellambi operated, became one of the earliest New South Wales south coast mines to export coking coal to Japan. In 1962 the first shipment of coal went to that country’s steel mills as part of a two-year contract to supply 410,000 tons.

From 1964, after Consolidated Gold Fields (Australia) Pty Ltd took a controlling interest in Bellambi, Ryan managed both a team of executives in Sydney and local managers who were responsible for the daily operations of the mine in the Illawarra. To improve the mine’s efficiency, he introduced the technique of longwall mining. In 1969 he renegotiated contracts with the Japanese worth $150 million to provide 13.8 million tons of coal over ten years. Bellambi became increasingly profitable, with net profits up by 139 percent in the six months to December 1970, and increased production of coke—including from works at Corrimal, which the company had acquired in 1970 to supplement its works at Mount Pleasant.

Ryan participated in coal industry missions overseas from 1964, and in October 1972 he succeeded Sir Edward Warren as chairman of the Australian Coal Association and of the New South Wales Combined Colliery Proprietors’ Association. The ACA had been moribund, but the Whitlam government’s imposition of controls over mineral exports in January 1973 made it more important. Whitlam’s minister for minerals and energy, Rex Connor, persuaded the New South Wales CCPA and the Queensland Coal Owners Association to agree that the companies in the Australian black coal industry should be assisted by the ACA in their negotiations with the Japanese steel mills.

Negotiation by Australian coal companies, operating under Federal guidelines, produced initial success for the industry in 1973 and 1974. In 1975, however, Bellambi’s directors criticised Connor’s intervention in coal-price discussions for delaying a settlement and antagonising the Japanese steel mills. Industrial action by the coal-mining unions added to Ryan’s problems that year. The company threatened to dismiss employees, arguing that restrictions imposed by the unions would make the South Bulli Colliery uneconomical.

In 1976 an increase in coal production at Bellambi and improved industrial conditions saw net profits rise by more than 400 percent. Appointed to the board of the company in January 1977, Ryan retired as general manager in March with the appreciation of both management and the work force. Having come to the company with ‘the worst industrial record on the South Coast,’ he reflected, he had left it with ‘the best’ (Illawarra Mercury 1977, 49). As one union official commented: ‘He was the only general manager ever to come down to the pits to address the men at Christmas’ (Illawarra Mercury 1977, 49). Ryan thereafter advised and served as executive director (coal) to McIlwraith McEacharn Ltd, which operated Bellambi Coal in a joint venture with Shell Australia and the Australian Mutual Provident Society.

During the 1980s Ryan also became director of Oakbridge Ltd and deputy chairman of Coal Resources Queensland. In 1984 he helped forestall a possible national shutdown of the Australian black coal industry, by assisting the chairman of the Joint Coal Board, Jack Wilcox, to mediate an industrial dispute on the south coast. Bellambi under Ryan’s leadership had been one of the few coal companies that saw a future for the South Korean steel manufacturer Pohang Iron and Steel Company Ltd (POSCO). In 1993 South Korea conferred on him the Bronze Tower Order of Industrial Service Merit for his role in developing its steel industry. The Japanese steel industry presented him with membership of the Seven Seas Club.

Always a devoted member of the Catholic Church, Ryan had been a member of the superior (later national) council of the Society of St Vincent de Paul from 1962 to 1974 and vice-president of the metropolitan central council, as well as an organiser of the Eucharistic Adoration, a devotional practice in the Church. In retirement he found more time to devote to the society. He became president of the committee of Scholastica House, a refuge for homeless aged women, mothers, and children. He died on 14 October 1995 at Randwick, survived by his wife, two daughters, and three of his four sons, and was cremated.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • CPA Australia. Personal communication
  • Donovan, Noelene. ‘Coal Captain Stoked Up the Industry.’ Australian, 2 November 1995, 14
  • Fisher, Chris. Coal and the State. North Ryde, NSW: Methuen Australia, 1987
  • Flint, Lindsay. Personal communication
  • Illawarra Mercury. ‘Miners Chip in for Boss.’ 30 March 1977, 49 Lee, David. The Second Rush: Mining and the Transformation of Australia. Redland Bay, Qld: Connor Court Publishing, 2016
  • National Archives of Australia. B4747, RYAN/EDWARD JOHN
  • Pryor, Graham. Personal communication
  • Society of St Vincent de Paul. Personal communication
  • Wilcox, Jack. Coalman. Maleny, Qld: Jack Wilcox, 2014

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Lee, 'Ryan, Edward John (Ted) (1916–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ryan-edward-john-ted-27551/text34954, published online 2019, accessed online 20 September 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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