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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sutcliffe, George Gribbon (1895–1964)

by Hilary Kent

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

George Gribbon Sutcliffe (1895-1964), public servant, was born on 2 February 1895 at Coburg, Melbourne, second son of John Sutcliffe, a Victorian-born prison warder, and his wife Mary, née Perryman, who came from England. Educated at state schools, George joined the Commonwealth Public Service in December 1909 and was employed as a telegraph messenger with the Postmaster-General's Department, Ballarat. On 3 August 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served (from 1916) with the Australian Army Postal Corps in England and France, and rose to company sergeant major. Discharged from the A.I.F. in Melbourne on 10 October 1919, he returned to the P.M.G. and worked in its accounts branch. At the Methodist Church, Elsternwick, on 20 November 1920 he married Beatrice Isobel Fricker; their only child, a daughter (b.1940), was to die in 1962.

A quietly ambitious man, Sutcliffe studied part time at the University of Melbourne (B.Com., 1931). He was general president (1938-43) and a life member (1943) of the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association. In 1946 he was promoted to assistant-secretary in the Department of Supply and Shipping. After World War II he represented the Commonwealth on the Stevedoring Industry Commission, and served on the Australian Shipping and the Australian Shipbuilding boards. He briefly held the position of permanent head of the Department of Shipping and Fuel before he was appointed commissioner of the Commonwealth Public Service Board on 23 November 1948. Moving with his family to Canberra, he became the 'human face' of the board in what was essentially a public-service town.

Sutcliffe settled easily into the role of community leader. A 'splendid public speaker with a delicate sense of humour', he was foundation president (1953) and first freeman (1957) of Canberra Rostrum Club No.1, and a life member (1959) of the Australian Capital Territory dais of Australian Rostrum. He was also a warden (1955-61) of the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist, Reid, a councillor (1961-64) of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, and president (1951-54) of the Royal Canberra Golf Club. In 1956 he was appointed C.B.E.

Representing the public service board, Sutcliffe had attended the inaugural meeting of the A.C.T. Good Neighbour Council in March 1950. The government-supported Good Neighbour movement co-ordinated the efforts of voluntary organizations and individuals in 'extending the hand of friendship' to postwar immigrants. It offered practical help to new settlers and encouraged their assimilation. Sutcliffe chaired the A.C.T. council in 1951-54. His contacts, organizational skill, and calm demeanour proved invaluable in establishing the council and reconciling the competing interests of its constituents. On his retirement from the public service in 1960, he was appointed Commonwealth co-ordinator of Good Neighbour councils. He secured government and community support for the movement at a time when the speed and scale of immigration stimulated debate over integration and the nature of Australian citizenship.

Above average height, with an open face and receding hair, Sutcliffe was a sincere, unassuming, conservative and widely respected man. He died of a coronary occlusion on 10 December 1964 at Goulburn, New South Wales, and was buried in Canberra cemetery. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. I. Fleming, A History of the Good Neighbour Council of the Australian Capital Territory Inc. (Canb, 1975)
  • Royal Canberra Golf Club Jubilee History, 1926-1976 (Canb, 1977)
  • R. Ayrton and T. Trebilco, History of A.C.T. Rostrum (Canb, 1978)
  • A. H. Body, Firm Still You Stand (Canb, 1986)
  • Canberra Viewpoint, Feb 1965
  • Canberra Times, 15 Dec 1964
  • ACT Good Neighbour Council, series AA1980/254 (National Archives of Australia)
  • J. T. Massey papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Hilary Kent, 'Sutcliffe, George Gribbon (1895–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 November 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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