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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stokes, John Bryant (1925–1979)

by Peter Elder

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

John Bryant Stokes (1925-1979), public servant, was born on 19 November 1925 at Marrickville, Sydney, eldest child of Reginald Bryant Stokes, surveyor, and his wife Edith, née Spiers, both of whom were born in New South Wales. John grew up at Cooma and attended the local public school until 1938 when he enrolled at Canberra High School. He gained the Leaving certificate in 1941 and in the following year took up a clerical position with the Commonwealth Treasury.

On 26 November 1943 Stokes enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. After he failed to qualify as a pilot at Narrandera, New South Wales, he undertook courses as a wireless operator and air gunner at Maryborough, Queensland, and as a telegraphist at Point Cook, Victoria. He was posted to a unit in Brisbane in March 1945, but injured himself while off duty and spent three months in hospital before being sent to Headquarters, Eastern Area, Sydney. Discharged from the R.A.A.F. on 5 October 1945, he returned to the Treasury. On 25 March 1950 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Canberra, he married Christina Farquhar Smith, a stenographer from Scotland. He resumed part-time studies, begun before his enlistment, at Canberra University College (B.Com., 1953).

As chief finance officer (from 1968) in the Territories section of the Treasury, Stokes oversaw the finances of Canberra and of the Commonwealth's works programme, which included the National Capital Development Commission. He also held responsibility for the finances of the Northern Territory during the period which saw the rebuilding of Darwin in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. In 1976 he transferred to the new Department of Finance as assistant-secretary in charge of the works and mainland territories branch of the defence and works division. His major achievement was in negotiating financial arrangements for self-government in the Northern Territory. In 1979 he was acting-head of division.

Described as one who would have regretted that a candle could be burnt at two ends only, 'Stoker' enjoyed widespread popularity in Canberra's Rugby Union circles as a player and as an administrator. In 1969 he helped to found, and became first president of, Western Districts Rugby Union Football Club. A prominent Freemason, he had been initiated in 1951 into Lodge Canberra, of which he was worshipful master in 1959-60. He was a founder (1962) and office-bearer (1965-69) of Lodge Perfect, and was raised to grand lodge rank by the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales in 1975. In his spare time he helped 'hundreds' of non-English speaking immigrants with their income-tax returns at his O'Connor home. He later moved to Weetangera.

Stokes was an unconventional bureaucrat who did not always follow the rules. Regarded by some as 'wild' because he enjoyed a drink and the company of women, he was nevertheless respected for having overcome departmental resistance to financial autonomy for the Northern Territory. He died of cancer on 13 April 1979 at Canberra Hospital and was cremated; his wife, and their two daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • List of Permanent Officers of the Commonwealth Public Service, 1948, 1951
  • Government Gazette (Commonwealth), 1968
  • Canberra Times, 17, 22 Apr 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Peter Elder, 'Stokes, John Bryant (1925–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 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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