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Maurice (Bunny) Austin (1916–1985)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published:

Maurice (Bunny) Austin (1916-1985), soldier, was born on 15 December 1916 at Geelong, Victoria, son of Eugene John Austin, grocer, and his wife Helena Margaret, née Collins, both Victorian born. Educated at Christian Brothers’ College, Geelong, he entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal (Australian) Capital Territory, in March 1935. He graduated as a lieutenant in December 1938 and was posted to the Darwin Mobile Force. On 1 May 1940 he was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force and appointed adjutant of the 2/27th Battalion. At St Roch’s Catholic Church, Glen Iris, Melbourne, on 26 September that year, before sailing to the Middle East, he married Enid Veronica, daughter of Joseph Lyons and his wife Dame Enid.

In February 1941 Austin was made brigade major of the 21st Brigade, but two months later he was sent to the Middle East Staff School, Haifa, Palestine, thus missing the Syrian campaign, and in August he was posted to the AIF (Middle East) Junior Staff School as an instructor. He was one of the officers despatched by air in February 1942 to General Sir Archibald (Earl) Wavell’s headquarters in Java. It was closed on 25 February and he reached Broome, Western Australia, on the 27th. He became an instructor at the Staff School (Australia), Duntroon, in April. In March 1943, now a major, he moved to Advanced Land Headquarters, Brisbane, before going to the operations branch of headquarters, New Guinea Force, in August. Appointed brigade major of the 29th Brigade in December, he joined it at Lae. The brigade arrived on Bougainville in November 1944 and was involved in limited operations against the Japanese. In May 1945 Austin was transferred to the calm of RMC, Duntroon, as an instructor. He was mentioned in despatches, but in five years of war service had not been given a command.

Promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel in October 1946, Austin was posted to the Australian Military Mission, Washington. Four years in the United States of America on Australian pay was a trying experience for the Austins with four children. Returning to Australia in May 1950, he became general staff officer, 1st grade, of the 3rd Division. In June 1952 he was appointed commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, but on 20 October he was suddenly transferred to command 1RAR, fighting in Korea. A stranger to the battalion, he faced an aggressive enemy in mountainous country and bitter winter. For his successful conduct of operations, particularly in defending Hill 355, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. 1RAR left for home in March 1953 and in November Austin was sent to Western Command as chief administrative staff officer. Somehow in 1949-55 he qualified as an accountant.

As director of infantry (1954-57) at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, Austin rewrote the manual of infantry minor tactics and was promoted to colonel (June 1955). He commanded the Jungle Training Centre, Canungra, Queensland, in 1957-58. While colonel, general staff, Eastern Command (from July 1958), he was also commander (1960-61) of the 1st Logistic Support Force. This double task, in a period of reorganisation, `required superhuman effort’ which affected his health. He was appointed OBE in 1962.

Austin went to Army Headquarters, Canberra, in January 1962 as director of personnel services and devoted himself `to the complex and often infuriating problems’ of this appointment. He became deputy adjutant-general in November 1964 and rose to brigadier in February 1965. Travelling often to military stations at home and abroad, he worked to explain the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme to the soldier; as he put it: `At all times we must watch his interests’. This concern for others, like the warmth and humour that endeared him to his family and his friends, illuminated Austin’s service in the army. Always and to all he was a good companion.

Retiring from the army on 3 February 1971, Austin was appointed army historian. His passion for Australian military history was well known; now he could devote himself to it. In 1979 his research culminated in the publication of The Army in Australia 1840-50. A member of the armed services working party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, author of articles for the ADB and service journals, editor (1981-83) of the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute of Australia, member (1982-83) of the Australian War Memorial’s military historical atlas committee, and consultant (1981-84) to the Australian Heritage Commission, `Bunny’ Austin enjoyed `retirement’, but this was clouded by his failing health. He died of myocardial infarction on 13 October 1985 in Royal Canberra Hospital and was buried in Gungahlin cemetery; his wife and their two daughters and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. O’Neill, Australia in the Korean War 1950-53, vol 2 (1985)
  • Sabretache, vol 26, no 4, 1985, p 45
  • Australian Army, 11 Feb 1971, p 8
  • Austin papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Austin, Maurice (Bunny) (1916–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 December, 1916
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


13 October, 1985 (aged 68)
Acton, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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