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Warren, Sir Edward Emerton (1895–1983)

by Christopher Jay

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Edward Emerton Warren (1895-1983), businessman, was born on 26 August 1895 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, son of English-born John Thomas Warren, contractor, and his wife Eliza Matilda, née Painter, born in New South Wales. Ted was educated at several bush schools before attending North Sydney Superior Public School (known as Greenwood’s). As a teenager, he joined the coal company Abermain Seaham Collieries Ltd, working first as a messenger. On 19 April 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Allocated to the Australian Army Service Corps, he served on Gallipoli (1915) with the 2nd Divisional Train and on the Western Front (1916-18) with the 24th Depot Unit of Supply. He was promoted to sergeant in May 1917 and discharged from the AIF in Australia on 14 November 1919.

Rejoining Abermain Seaham, Warren became its accountant in 1921, retaining that position when the firm merged with J. & A. Brown in 1931 to become J. & A. Brown & Abermain Seaham Collieries Ltd. He had married Doris Schultz on 17 November 1921 at St Thomas’s Church of England, North Sydney. From 1927 until 1941 he travelled annually on long trips, visiting Singapore, Manila, Hong Kong and Shanghai, selling up to 100 000 tons of Maitland coal to gas and rail companies. Discussing sales contacts with Americans in the Philippines, he recalled: ‘on one occasion playing a game of golf after which the loser was expected to buy a dinner. It doesn’t sound very adventurous until you remember that the dinner was for 600 people. I am happy to say that I did not lose’. Assistant-manager of JABAS from 1939, Warren was appointed general manager in 1944. In 1960 he became managing director of Coal & Allied Industries Ltd when JABAS merged with Caledonian Collieries Ltd, another long-standing group on the Newcastle and Maitland coalfields.

As chairman first of the Northern Colliery Proprietors’ Association, then of the New South Wales Combined Colliery Proprietors’ Association (for twenty-three years, to October 1972), Warren helped to end the bitter industrial relations in the coal industry immediately after World War II (a time of recurrent power blackouts and steel shortages). In 1952 Warren joined Sam Cochran, chairman of the Joint Coal Board, and Jack Barrett, a veteran miners’ check inspector from Cessnock, to assess mechanisation, methods and union-management relations in overseas coalmines. This fact-finding delegation, named the ‘Menzies Mission’ after the Australian prime minister (Sir) Robert Menzies, interviewed John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers of America. On mechanisation Lewis told them: ‘Gentlemen, if you still want miners to use pick and shovels you’re going back to the Dark Ages. It’s better to have one-third less men in your industry than to have all your men working as slaves’. This mission and a 1951 Coal Conservation Committee, set up by the New South Wales government at Warren’s urging, helped lessen workforce antagonism to mechanisation and mechanical extraction of pillars (the support coal left after parallel tunnels and secondary right-angled drives had been driven through coal seams). Improved productivity cleared the way for a gradual expansion of coal exports to Japan.

Warren was the logical founding chairman when the Australian Coal Association was formed in 1955, holding the position until October 1972. An appreciative ACA commissioned a portrait by Bill Pidgeon. As a journalist, W. Crouch, described it in 1961: ‘The oil painting shows a man in a floppy but well-cut suit, with horn-rimmed glasses, brown hair greying, watchful eyes, and with more chin than he really has—the latter, possibly, a reflection of Sir Edward’s strong, sometimes aggressive resourcefulness and determination’.

From 1955 Warren served as chairman of Australian Coal Association (Research) Ltd (which became Australian Coal Industry Research Laboratories Ltd a decade later), resigning in 1976. He was a member of the National Coal Research Advisory Committee from 1964 to 1969.

From 1956 Warren worked tirelessly to develop the coal export business to Japan, constantly pushing governments for more loading facilities and related coal export infrastructure. In 1967 he was appointed to the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun for his work as president (from 1964) of the Australia-Japan Business Co-operation Committee. In 1972, his last year as president, he was appointed to the Order of the Sacred Treasure. In 1965 he had helped to launch the Malaysia-Australia Business Co-operation Committee and in 1970 served as president of the Australia-Korea Business Co-operation Committee. Between 1959 and 1968 he was prominent in the World Power Conference, including as first vice-chairman (1962-68) of its international council.

Warren was a member of the Commonwealth Advisory Committee for Expo ’70 and he represented Australian employers at meetings of the International Labour Organization. In February 1968 he led an Australian delegation to talks in Hawaii that resulted in the formation of the Pacific Basin Economic Co-operation Council with the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as members. This group assisted economic and cultural relationships with less developed Pacific countries. He was president in 1970-72.

Also a great contributor outside the business community, from 1955 to 1978 Warren, supporting the Liberal Party of Australia, sat in the New South Wales Legislative Council. He was a council member (1965-77) of the University of New South Wales. In acknowledgement of his many services to the coal industry he was appointed CMG (1956), KBE (1959) and KCMG (1969).

In 1961, concerned about ageing company directorates, the New South Wales government, in section 121 of the Companies Act, required directors of 72 years of age or more to stand separately for re-election each year. Anticipating the approach of this hurdle (1967 for him), Warren began shedding years in publicity material, omitting his birth date and dropping misleading hints in interviews (such as suggesting that when he enlisted in 1915 he was under age).

Newspaper reports increasingly referred to Sir Edward as Old King Coal. By the time he retired as managing director of Coal & Allied, to his home at Clifton Gardens, Sydney, in October 1975, he was aged 80. It was a measure of the intensity of his commitment to the industry. Predeceased by his wife (d.1981) and survived by their two sons, he died on 8 September 1983 at Kirribilli and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Jay, The Coal Masters (1994)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 19 Jan 1952, p 13
  • Australian Financial Times, 30 Oct 1961, p 43
  • Australian, 5 July 1965, p 10
  • Shipping, Coal, Metals, The Harbour, Mar 1969, p 45
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Mar 1971, p 7, 11 Oct 1975, p 64
  • A1838, Decorations and Awards – Japan - Warren and B2455, item Warren Edward Emerton (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Christopher Jay, 'Warren, Sir Edward Emerton (1895–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/warren-sir-edward-emerton-15848/text27047, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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