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Francis Armand Bland (1882–1967)

by Ross Curnow

This article was published:

Francis Armand Bland (1882-1967), public servant, academic and politician, was born on 24 August 1882 at Macdonaldtown, Sydney, eldest of six children of Charles Edward Bland, a native-born shunter, and his wife Eva Emily, née Strehz, a New Zealander. Armand attended Greigs Flat Public School while his father was farming at Pambula. On the family's return to Sydney, he completed his schooling at Peakhurst and at Kogarah Superior public schools. Having passed the junior public examination in 1897, he began work as a clerk with Bosch, Barthel & Co. Two years later he joined N. F. Giblin, an official assignee, and in 1901 passed the public service examination. On 1 February he was appointed to the taxation department in the State Treasury. Moving to the Public Service Board in 1903, he was assistant to R. F. Irvine who fostered his lifelong interest in education and in an emerging field of study—public administration. Bland was clerk to the Local Government Clerks' and Auditors' Examining Committee and from 1914 secretary to the Board of Examiners.

At All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt, on 19 December 1908 Bland married Elizabeth Bates Jacobs; they were to have one son before she died in 1910. On 7 September 1912 he married Lillian Victoria Orr (d.1951) at St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney. The family grew by three sons and two daughters, although Lillian's eldest son lived only one day. To rectify his lack of formal education, Bland studied at night. After matriculating, he embarked upon arts, law and economics at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1909; LL.B., 1912; M.A., 1914) where in 1910 he shared Professor Pitt Cobbett's prize for political science. The law was now open to the bright young man: he was admitted to the Bar on 31 July 1913 and had the opportunity to read with an Equity barrister (Sir) Frederick Jordan, later chief justice. (Sir) George Beeby, minister for justice, sought Bland's services as a legal officer in his department, but the board refused to release him because Irvine had claimed Bland as his 'private secretary'.

Irvine's appointment in 1914 as professor of economics at the university did not sever the link between patron and protégé. Bland accepted with alacrity an invitation from Meredith Atkinson to become a part-time tutorial-class lecturer at Helensburgh and Wollongong; from 1915 Bland also lectured part time on public administration, under Irvine. In 1916, 'with confident recklessness', he took leave to study at the London School of Economics under Professor Graham Wallas. To support his family, Bland relied on savings and fees from the tutorials he gave at Oxford, Liverpool and Leeds which brought him into contact with the leaders of the Workers' Educational Association in England.

Back in Sydney, in 1918 Bland was appointed assistant-director of tutorial classes at the university under G. V. Portus who relied on his administrative, financial and political skills to consolidate the status of the department of tutorial classes and its close relationships with the W.E.A. Although Bland's activities in adult education were soon overshadowed by his contributions to public administration, he continued to take tutorial classes for thirty years. Editing Australian Highway from 1919 to 1935, chairing the joint committee for tutorial classes, and, according to Portus, being 'the life and soul of the party—at sing-songs, games, swimming and dressing-up' at summer schools, indicated his diverse contributions to the cause of adult education.

Bland continued to teach two half-courses at the university, public administration (lecturer from 1930) and municipal administration. Lacking textbooks in the field of Australian government, let alone public administration, he filled the gap himself. A set of notes for students allowed free rein to his inimitable lecturing style—a 250 words a minute 'outpouring of frankly biased comment on current affairs', 'delivered with clarity, fire and passion and conviction'. From course handouts, he produced his books: Shadows and Realities of Government (1923), Budget Control (1931), Planning the Modern State (1934) and Government in Australia (1939).

A much-needed fillip came when he was visiting professor of government (1929-30) at Washington Square College of Arts and Science, New York University: in 1930 a three-year diploma course in public administration, designed for unmatriculated public servants, was introduced in Sydney. The content of the course—economics, public administration, modern political institutions and prescribed arts subjects—reflected Bland's belief that universities 'should aim to provide well-educated candidates rather than technically trained officials'. His view set him apart from his main protagonist Professor (Sir) Douglas Copland at the University of Melbourne who advocated a heavy concentration of financial and economic subjects. Former diploma students recalled how a seemingly innocent question about that day's editorial in the Daily Telegraph would set Bland fulminating for at least thirty minutes. The 'Prof' was friendly and generous to students—too generous, his colleagues felt, when he bent the by-laws outrageously in their favour.

Rarely drawing a clear line between scholarship and partisanship, in 1932 he launched an 'S.O.S.' campaign to highlight the sacking of senior public servants by J. T. Lang and what he saw as the introduction of 'a spoils system', whereupon Lang used financial threats to pressure the university senate to silence Bland. Unrepentant, Bland informed the vice-chancellor Sir Mungo MacCallum that he had no intention of writing or speaking as F. A. Bland of Strathfield—people only listened to him because of his position at the university. His polemics paid off: in 1935 Premier (Sir) Bertram Stevens secured an increased parliamentary vote for the university to establish a chair in public administration, to which Bland was appointed. He was later to claim, with some justification, that the story of his long association with Stevens was 'mainly written in the countless [unofficial] memoranda that I wrote for him on almost every subject'.

Most of Bland's more scholarly works had been completed before he accepted the chair. An executive-member of the Sydney University Settlement, he sat on the Board of Social Studies and the Bursary Endowment Board, and in 1944-64 served as a fellow of the senate, elected by the graduates. Beyond the university, in 1935 he helped to 'professionalize' the public service by establishing the State regional group of the Institute of Public Administration, with the support of Geoffrey Remington. From 1937 Bland (helped by Thomas Kewley) was foundation editor of Public Administration until 1947.

Associated with local government since 1906, Bland had eventually become chairman of the Local Government Clerks' and Auditors' Examination Committee. 'In season and out of season' he addressed the annual conferences of various local government bodies, trying to infuse 'some life and strength' into the 'puny frame' of Australia's anaemic third tier of government. He was also the (unacknowledged) author of the Local Government Association's A Charter for Greater Local Government (1945), and one of his special interests during his visit to England in 1936-37 was developments in local government. An ardent States-righter, he fought the 1944 and 1946 referenda in his native-land.

Many voluntary organizations benefited from Bland's enthusiasm. He was vice-president of the Constitutional Association of New South Wales, foundation chairman of the Constitutional League of New South Wales (1947) and of the Taxation Institute of Australia, an active member of the Australian Institute of Political Science and the Institute of Pacific Relations, as well as a founder of the Sydney group of Round Table and the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House). His other London connexions centred on the Round Table and on the Royal Institute of Public Administration, of which he was the Australian council-member.

A devoted High-Churchman, Bland was for many years a lay reader and a member (secretary 1921-27) of the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney and of the Provincial Synod. Possibly to seek harmony after the discord of synod battles, he began to train choirs. He was a council-member of The King's School, Parramatta, and of Moore Theological College.

After retiring from his chair in 1947 and visiting Britain where he took an interest in Commonwealth affairs, Bland turned his considerable energies to partisan politics. Unsuccessful in a bid for pre-selection as a Liberal candidate for the Senate, in 1951 he was elected to the House of Representatives as the Liberal member for Warringah. Many expected that he would prove a mere back-bench ornament, but Bland put his polemics about the proper role of parliament into practice. In his maiden speech he criticized the Menzies government for allowing increasing power in the hands of the executive. By re-establishing the joint committee of public accounts, he mocked the traditional wisdom that parliamentary committees were rendered ineffectual by the strong party system. As the J.C.P.A.'s indefatigable chairman, he presided over the drafting of a number of 'memorable' reports that embarrassed ministers and senior public servants alike. One of Bland's academic successors claimed that it was among 'the most effective committees that has ever existed in an Australian parliament'. In 1958 Bland was appointed C.M.G. Three years later he failed to gain re-endorsement and retired from parliament.

Bland's influence on public life, particularly between the wars, was considerable. He averaged fifty addresses a year and wrote numerous newspaper articles. A generation of New South Wales senior public servants bore the stamp of his thinking, and non-Labor politicians, especially during the Stevens administration, were receptive to his advice. His prolific writings have been criticized for their contradictions, but, as a zealous reformer, he was more concerned with the practical issues of government than with elegant, theoretical frameworks. Essentially a nineteenth-century liberal who had flirted with Fabianism, Bland once described himself as 'an uncompromising opponent of the extension of centralized authority' and 'an incorrigible Federalist'. He argued vehemently for an educated, efficient and independent public service, devoted to the public interest.

Although references to his works are rare, Bland's preoccupations are still debated intensely—preoccupations such as accountability, politicization and the career service, open government, administrative tribunals, public enterprise and the statutory corporation, and problems of implementation. His insistence on the separation of politics from administration, long out of fashion, has recently been embraced enthusiastically by the managerial school. Unfortunately, Bland's proselytizing style often distracted from the substance of his argument.

'Even in his domestic life he broke records, outliving three wives and marrying a fourth', wrote one of his obituarists. On 3 July 1954 he married his widowed cousin Ida Mary Warby, née Bland, at St Luke's Anglican Church, Mosman; she died on 11 March 1960. On 12 December that year the resilient Bland, aged 78, married his secretary Gertrude Rollins at St Canice's Catholic Church, Elizabeth Bay. One wag among his academic colleagues observed, only half in jest, that 'Blandee was now probably looking for a new house near a school'.

Having defied for more than a quarter of a century the predictions of his doctors that his heart condition would not stand his gargantuan workload, Bland died of pneumonia on 9 April 1967 in St John of God Hospital, Burwood, after falling and breaking three ribs at his home. A memorial service was held at St Anne's Anglican Church, Strathfield, the suburb in which he had lived for most of his life. His body was bequeathed to the faculty of medicine, University of Sydney. He was survived by his wife, the son (Sir Henry) of his first marriage, and by a son and two daughters of his second. Portraits of Bland by Dora Toovey are held by the University of Sydney and Parliament House, Canberra; the former depicts a recently retired Bland in academic dress with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, as though about to begin a lecture with his characteristic, 'Well, peoples'.

Select Bibliography

  • B. and H. Carey, Educating the Guardians (Syd, 1985)
  • L. Foster, High Hopes (Melb, 1986)
  • Public Administration (Sydney), 7, 1948, 26, 1967
  • International Review of Administrative Sciences, 41, 1975
  • Australian Journal of Public Administration, 48, 1989
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Mar 1935, 9 May 1945, 22 Nov 1947, 25 Aug 1950, 1 Jan 1958, 9 June 1961, 10 Apr 1967
  • Bland papers (University of Sydney Archives).

Citation details

Ross Curnow, 'Bland, Francis Armand (1882–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 August, 1882
Macdonaldtown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


9 April, 1967 (aged 84)
Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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