Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sakzewski, Sir Albert (Bert) (1905–1991)

by Kay Cohen

This article was published online in 2014

Sir Albert (Bert) Sakzewski (1905-1991), accountant, sportsman, off-course betting administrator, and philanthropist, was born on 12 November 1905 at Minden, Queensland, son of Queensland-born parents Otto Theodor Sakrzewski, storekeeper, and his wife Anna Emilie Mathilda, née Neuendorf. Of Prussian origin, Otto was in partnership in a general store and produce agency, and a founding board member, later chairman, of the then Lowood Shire Council. It is said that Bert, aged sixteen, was introduced to billiards while waiting for a haircut at the local barbershop and billiards hall. He was easily defeated in that first game but, without hesitation, took up the challenge and was soon beating all comers. He went on to become Queensland amateur billiards champion five times, Australian amateur billiards champion in 1932 with a record break of 206 points, and eight-times winner of the Queensland snooker championships between 1931 and 1940. Placing his accountancy career first, he reluctantly declined an offer to turn professional but served as president of the Queensland and Australian billiards associations.

Educated at Lowood Primary and Ipswich High schools, Bert moved with his family to Brisbane in 1923 to complete accountancy studies, dropping the ‘r’ from his name to simplify its spelling and pronunciation. He commenced work as a public accountant in 1929. Admitted to the Institute of Accountants the same year, he was later elected a fellow of the Australian Society of Accountants. He established A. Sakzewski & Co. in 1931, piloting the firm through the turbulent years of the Depression and World War II and remaining senior partner until his retirement in 1976. During these years, his reputation for integrity and business acumen saw him appointed as either a director or chairman of nineteen leading companies. He married an English-born typist Winifred May Reade on 7 February 1935 at the Anglican Church of All Saints, Brisbane. Winifred died in 1972.

In 1927 Sakzewski had joined Tattersall’s Club (Tatts), then the home of Queensland racing interests. His financial astuteness and careful attention to administrative detail were clearly demonstrated during his years as the club's honorary treasurer (1936-52). Awarded life membership in 1951, he was elected president (1953-56) and remained a life-long trustee. Personable and always stylishly dressed, he helped promote an expansion of the club’s social activities, while crediting his frequent success at billiards, tennis, golf, and cricket to a natural aptitude for sport. Sakzewski belonged to numerous sporting clubs, was a committed supporter of cultural organisations, and was an inaugural benefactor of the Queensland Art Gallery.

Horse racing became a passion. His colours of green jacket and purple cap were registered under the name Anthony Dare, a choice Sakzewski never explained.  From 1941 onwards, his horses lodged more than one hundred wins, including the Queensland Turf Club Sires Produce Stakes and Queensland Guineas, both in 1951 with Friar’s Frolic. Breeding also took his interest. With such a background, he was seen as the logical candidate for government nominee on the proposed Totalisator Administration Board. The TAB was to administer a system of off-course licensed betting facilities and to determine the distribution of around 85 percent of betting revenue to race clubs throughout Queensland. Despite concerted opposition from the principal clubs and other industry interests, the minister for racing, (Sir) Thomas Hiley, wanted Sakzewski as the first TAB chairman. In 1962 he finally agreed, but not before securing a guarantee of an independent authority free from government or other interference. Although highly regarded by successive ministers for racing, he was constantly battling them to retain the board’s independence. As he reflected: ‘What began as an interesting challenge became a cause, a way of life’ (Cohen 1992, 99). It ended when his appointment was terminated in controversial circumstances on 29 June 1981.

In 1972 Sakzewski had been knighted for his distinguished contribution to commerce, sport, and charity, and his generous philanthropic activities; in 1977 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee medal. Acknowledging his own good fortune, Sir Albert had begun his philanthropy with Tatts fund-raising events. He later made substantial contributions to many charities, acted as either honorary accountant or treasurer for other organisations and served as a director (1959-74) of the National Heart Foundation (Queensland). In 1971 he established the Sir Albert Sakzewski Foundation that during the next decade distributed more than $1 million to charities, the focus changed in 1982 to financing specific projects. A further change came in 1986 when it was decided to fund one major project—establishment of the Sir Albert Sakzewski Virus Research Laboratory (Centre from 1987). Acknowledged as the largest private medical research endowment in Queensland hospitals, the SASF’s commitment of more than $1.3 million over five years supported the development of the centre as a pre-eminent research facility in medical virology, particularly paediatric virology.

Survived by his two sons, Sir Albert died from heart failure at Holy Spirit Private Hospital, Brisbane, on 6 July 1991 and, after a funeral at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, was cremated. Portraits of him are held by the Totalisator Administration Board and Tattersall’s Club. Although luck may have played a part in his success, he said ‘Luck comes, I think, with hard work’ (Rowbotham 1984, 5).

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Cohen, K. T. Character and Circumstance: Thirty Years of the Totalisator Administration Board in Queensland: 1962-1992. Brisbane: Boolarong, 1992
  • Guerassimoff, Judithann. ‘Knight Shares His Bounty.’ Daily Sun (Brisbane), 27 September 1986, 5
  • Kavannagh, Laurie. ‘A Misspent Youth That Paid Dividends.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 9 August 1985, 36
  • Kerr, Ruth S. Confidence and Tradition: A History of the Esk Shire. Esk, Qld: Esk Shire Council, 1988
  • Killen, Sir James. ‘Achiever Gives a Helping Hand.’ Sunday Sun (Brisbane), 6 March 1988, 40
  • Longhurst, Robert. Friendship is Life: A History of Tattersall’s Club. Brisbane: Tattersall’s Club, 1993
  • Lowood–the First 100 Years: A Salute to the Pioneers. Lowood, Queensland: Lowood State School Centenary Committee, 1981
  • Rowbotham, Jill. ’A Success Story Born in the ‘30s Depression.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 18 October 1984, 5
  • Sakzewski, Brian. Personal communication with author
  • Sakzewski, Sir Albert. Interview by Ralph Reader, 18 May 1989. Transcript. National Heart Foundation of Australia collection. National Library of Australia
  • Sir Albert Sakzewski Virus Research Centre. Annual Report. Herston, Qld: The Centre, 2010-11.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kay Cohen, 'Sakzewski, Sir Albert (Bert) (1905–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sakzewski-sir-albert-bert-14902/text26093, published online 2014, accessed online 7 December 2019.

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