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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Schneider, Franz Xavier (1895–1952)

by Peter Elder

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

Franz Xavier Schneider (1895-1952), public servant, was born on 4 December 1895 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, second child of Vincent Schneider (d.1920), a butcher from Württemberg (Germany), and his Victorian-born wife Annie, née O'Callaghan (d.1896). In 1903 Vincent married Annie's sister Minnie; they were to have two sons. Franz was educated at a private school run by Miss Kate O'Connor and at Xavier College, Kew. A small youth—even as an adult he was less than 5 ft (153 cm) tall—he coxed the college VIII, and played cricket and Australian Rules football.

In September 1914 Schneider obtained temporary employment in the deputy crown solicitor's office, Commonwealth Public Service, Melbourne. On 7 January 1915 he was appointed a clerk in the office of the public service commissioner (Public Service Board from 1922). He tried to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 March 1916, but was rejected on the grounds of his height. Despite being a naturalized British subject, Vincent Schneider was compelled by anti-German prejudice to move alone to Mount Gambier, South Australia, shortly after the outbreak of World War I; he was to return in 1920, broken in health and spirit. Meanwhile, Franz and his elder sister Theresa supported their stepmother and half-brothers, enabling the boys to attend Xavier College. At St Mary's Catholic Church, Hawthorn, on 5 February 1925 Franz married Eileen Martha Cummins, née Payne, a widow.

The Public Service Board was transferred to Canberra in 1928. In his spare time Schneider enjoyed sport. He played for the Ainslie Football and Northbourne Cricket clubs, and was honorary secretary (1932-40) of the (Royal) Canberra Golf Club. Through golf, he met the prime minister J. A. Lyons; their children often played together at The Lodge. In November 1938 Schneider was appointed Lyons' private secretary. He remained in that post until Lyons died in April 1939, but declined (Sir) Robert Menzies' invitation to stay on as his private secretary and returned to the Public Service Board.

In 1947 Schneider became secretary of the board. He proved to be a strong and influential figure: 'more than simply the voice of the board—he was the board in many respects'. The public service unions regarded him as sincere, fair and impartial in his dealings with them. He laid the foundations for a joint council, comprising representatives of the board, major departments and the unions, to assist staff relations. In 1951 the Menzies government reduced the Commonwealth public service payroll by a flat 10 per cent. Schneider had to oversee the ensuing retrenchments. One of his officers found his manner correct and strict, but bordering on the irascible. From 1947 Schneider suffered from a duodenal ulcer. Towards the end of his life he occasionally drank to excess.

Survived by his wife and their three daughters, and by his step-daughter, Schneider died of a subarachnoid haemorrhage on 16 May 1952 at Canberra Community Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery. The fact that he was the third in succession of the board's secretaries to die in office indicated the strains imposed on senior public servants.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Caiden, Career Service (Melb, 1965)
  • W. Dunk, They Also Serve (Canb, 1974)
  • Canberra Times, 6 Aug, 27 Sept 1929, 17 May 1952
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Nov 1938, 8 Apr 1939
  • A7581, item Schneider, F. X. (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Elder, 'Schneider, Franz Xavier (1895–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 30 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 16

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