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Edmond Rowlands (Roly) Behne (1906–1994)

by Peter D. Griggs

This article was published:

Edmond Rowlands Behne (1906–1994), sugar technologist and company director, was born on 20 November 1906 at Shepparton, Victoria, younger son of locally born parents Edmond Franklin Behne, soap factory manager, and his wife Ethel May, née Rowlands. The family moved to Queensland, and Roly completed his secondary schooling at Brisbane Boys’ College (1920–24); he played rugby league, was a member of the second rowing crew, and was college captain in his final year. Having won a scholarship, he studied at the University of Queensland (BSc, 1929; BAppSc, 1930; MAppSc, 1932), where he rowed (1928–29) in the university eight. On 28 December 1932, at the Albert Street Methodist Church, Brisbane, he married Grace Elizabeth Ricketts, a stenographer.

After graduating Behne joined the Queensland Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (BSES) where he worked in the division of mill technology, often as the division’s only staff member. His most significant experimental work, into cane preparatory devices, resulted in the adoption of high-powered knives and Searby shredders which increased mill capacity and brought higher rates of sugar extraction. In addition, he provided advice to mill engineers on improving crushing rates. He authored papers on improving production, many of which were published in the Proceedings of the Queensland Society of Sugar Cane Technologists. The Laboratory Manual for Queensland Sugar Mills (1934 and 1939), to which he contributed, became the standard reference work on analytical procedures in the State’s mills. In 1941 he received the Royal Australian Chemical Institute’s H. G. Smith Memorial medal in recognition of his ‘outstanding work in the past ten years in connection with sugar research’ (Courier-Mail 1941, 4).

In World War II Behne joined the part-time Volunteer Defence Corps, serving in Brisbane with its 1st Battalion (1942–43) and 56th Searchlight Battery (1944). During late 1945 and early 1946, he was one of a trio—with Ronald Muir and Stan Toft—of Queensland sugar industry representatives who investigated overseas developments in the mechanisation of the cultivation and harvesting of sugar cane, a pressing issue confronting an industry plagued by labour shortages. He was promoted to director of the BSES in May 1947. Six months later he resigned to become assistant manager of Pioneer Sugar Mills Ltd’s Inkerman Mill and technical advisor to the company’s Pioneer Mill. He was appointed manager of the Inkerman Mill in 1949, and managing director of the company in July 1952, serving in this role until the end of 1976. During his tenure, he managed extensive upgrades of the mills, and the profits of the company increased from $316,000 to $13.6 million. He remained a company director until 1980.

In 1949 Behne had been involved in the formation of the Sugar Research Institute, an organisation dedicated to improving sugar manufacture in Queensland. He was an inaugural member of the institute’s board of directors, serving as deputy director (1964–73), before assuming the chairmanship (1973–75). Between 1955 and 1974 he was vice-president of the Australian Sugar Producers’ Association (representing the Lower Burdekin Division), and was president (1952), and later a life member (1974) of the Queensland Society of Sugar Cane Technologists. He was also chairman (1965–75) of the Proprietary Sugar Millers’ Association Pty Ltd, and a councillor (1966–76) of the Institute of Directors in Australia–Queensland Branch (chairman, 1972). In 1974 he was appointed CMG.

Described as ‘gentlemanly,’ and ‘polite and retiring’ (Rowan pers. comm.), Behne is remembered as a very effective administrator. He was praised for his ‘thorough understanding’ of the industry and his ability to ‘express ideas succinctly in mathematical terms’ (Reid 1999, 66). For recreation he played golf and became proficient in the sport. He died in a nursing home at Corinda, Brisbane, on 29 December 1994 and was cremated. His wife, and their daughter and two sons survived him. A laboratory at the Mackay Sugar Research Institute was named after him.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Behne, Maxwell Frederick. Personal communication, 2 July 2015
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Brisbane Chemist Wins Smith Medal.’ 13 August 1941, 4
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Sugar Pioneer Dies.’ 5 January 1995, 4
  • Griggs, Peter. Global Industry, Local Innovation: The History of Cane Sugar Production in Australia, 1820–1995. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2011
  • Reid, Jane. The Long View: History of the Sugar Research Institute 1949–1999.  Mackay, Qld: Sugar Research Institute, 1999
  • Rowan, John. Personal communication
  • Queensland State Archives. 935066, Personnel file:  Behne, Edmond Rowlands

Citation details

Peter D. Griggs, 'Behne, Edmond Rowlands (Roly) (1906–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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