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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stockdill, Donald Alexander (1923–1980)

by Ian W. Morison

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

Donald Alexander Stockdill (1923-1980), civil engineer, was born on 8 December 1923 at Claremont, Perth, only son and third of four children of Australian-born parents Herbert George Stockdill, schoolteacher, and his wife Evelyn Morrison, née McLennan. Don was educated at his father's school at Ravensthorpe and at Bunbury High School where he completed the Leaving certificate in 1940. After a year training to be a teacher, he entered the University of Western Australia (B.Sc., 1945; B.E., 1946); he studied civil engineering, rowed, and played hockey and jazz on the piano. Due to poor eyesight, he had been rejected for war service.

In 1946 Stockdill joined the new Commonwealth Department of Works and Housing (Department of Works from 1952) and tested materials for the construction of Essendon aerodrome, Melbourne. Next year he served as quality-control engineer for the aerodrome at Leigh Creek, South Australia. He went to the Northern Territory in 1948 as a design and construction engineer; in 1950 he was promoted district officer for civil works and housing. At St Luke's Church of England, Mosman Park, Perth, on 26 January 1951 he married Frona Cecile Carson, née Glaskin, a war widow with one child.

Posted to Adelaide in 1952, Stockdill became resident engineer for Adelaide airport in 1953. He worked at Woomera and at Edinburgh airfield before being appointed supervising engineer, roads and aerodromes, in 1957. That year he was employed on projects at the Weapons Research Establishment, Salisbury. Sent to London in 1959, he led a joint Australian-British team which was set up to design an underground launch complex for the Blue Streak ballistic missile.

Stockdill's appointment to Canberra in 1960 as principal engineer, major development section, with responsibility for the planning and design of major water- and sewerage-works, was indicative of the department's confidence in his abilities, but he had no experience in hydraulics and was regarded as an outsider. Moreover, he faced tense bureaucratic conflicts within the department and with the recently established National Capital Development Commission. He quickly proved his technical grasp, winning the respect of colleagues and clients alike for his quiet but insistent style in debating solutions to problems, and for his readiness to concede gracefully when the merits of the case warranted. An excellent manager, he defended his staff, gave them credit for their ideas, and made the section 'a good place to work'.

Visiting Paris in 1966 on a six-month scholarship awarded by the French government to study dams and allied structures with Coyne & Bellier, Stockdill returned to Australia a member of the Australian French Association of Professional and Technical Specialists, and a devotee of Peugeot motorcars and French cigarettes. He was also an active member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, and chairman (1969) of its Canberra division. In addition to his work on major hydraulics infrastructure, he played a key role in fostering an inter-agency approach to the management of water in the Canberra region. His last major project was the technologically advanced Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre, completed in August 1978. Survived by his wife, their son and two daughters, and his stepson, he died of cancer on 23 May 1980 at Woden Valley Hospital and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Fitzgerald (ed), Canberra's Engineering Heritage (Canb, 1983)
  • M. Higgins, Dams on the Cotter (Canb, 1998)
  • Canberra Times, 28 May 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

Ian W. Morison, 'Stockdill, Donald Alexander (1923–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 October 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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