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Sir David Brand (1912–1979)

by David Black

This article was published:

David Brand (1912-1979), by unknown photographer

David Brand (1912-1979), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L32290

Sir David Brand (1912-1979), storekeeper and premier, was born on 1 August 1912 at Dongara, Western Australia, eldest of four children of Albert John Brand, a native-born farmer, and his wife Hilda, whose father Samuel Mitchell had represented Geraldton (1884-85) in the Western Australian Legislative Council and Murchison (1897-1901) in the Legislative Assembly. Shortly after his birth, David's parents went farming at Northampton and then at Mullewa from 1924. Educated locally, David was obliged by his family's circumstances to leave school at 14 to help on the farm. At Mullewa he became secretary of the local branch of the Primary Producers' Association, the parent organization of the Country Party, of which his father was a member.

In 1935 Brand moved to the goldfields and worked at the Golden Horseshoe Mine, successively as a truck driver, treatment-hand, filter specialist and shift boss. During these years he was active in the Methodist church and as a scoutmaster. Five feet 10 ins (178 cm) tall, with grey eyes and dark hair, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 November 1939; posted to the 2nd/11th Battalion, he embarked for the Middle East on 20 April 1940. He fought in North Africa, was promoted corporal and was sent to Greece where he was wounded on 24 April 1941. After being hospitalized, he returned to Fremantle in August for further treatment and was discharged medically unfit from the A.I.F. in April 1942. Mobilized in September, he served as an instructor with the 7th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, in the Geraldton area and was promoted warrant officer in January 1943. He married Doris Elspeth McNeill on 20 March 1944 at the Mingenew Methodist Church. Following his discharge from the Australian Military Forces in January 1945, he took over the general store at Dongara.

When the Legislative Assembly seat of Greenough was declared vacant after the war—its Labor incumbent John Verdun Newton had been reported missing in action in a bombing raid over Germany in January 1944—Brand became the first candidate in Australia to be endorsed by the newly-formed Liberal Party. With the aid of Country Party preferences, he won the by-election in October 1945 from Newton's brother by 308 votes. The Liberal-Country Party coalition came to power in April 1947 under (Sir) Ross McLarty and Brand was appointed government whip. In October 1949 he entered the cabinet as honorary minister for housing, forests and local government. From April 1950 he was minister for works, water supply and housing. He worked closely with the director of works (Sir) Russell Dumas to secure the 1952 agreement with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. for the establishment of a refinery at the new Kwinana industrial area; in later life Brand described the achievement as the greatest of his career. His youthful enthusiasm and practical common sense assisted in this development and in attracting investment capital for other secondary industry projects, including a steel rolling mill and a cement factory.

After the coalition's defeat in 1953, Brand became deputy-leader of the Opposition and, on McLarty's retirement, its leader from 1 March 1957. The coalition regained office in 1959 and Brand was sworn in on 2 April as premier, treasurer and minister for tourists—posts he held until 3 March 1971. His eleven years, eleven months and one day as premier exceeded by more than a year Sir John Forrest's record.

Brand presided over one of the most exciting periods of development in Western Australia's history. In 1960 the Commonwealth government lifted its embargo on the export of iron ore, enabling exploitation of large deposits in the Pilbara and the development of a major export industry. Agreement was also reached with Western Aluminium and Alwest Pty Ltd for the mining of bauxite in the Darling Range and for its processing at Kwinana and Bunbury respectively, and with Western Mining Corporation Ltd for building a nickel refinery; furthermore, a titanium oxide plant was established at Bunbury. Funds were secured from the Commonwealth for the main Ord River dam in the Kimberley region, for the east-west, standard-gauge railway link and for beef roads in the north. Oil and gas deposits were discovered in commercial quantities. The State's population rose rapidly to over one million and, after 1968, Western Australia no longer sought assistance from the Commonwealth Grants Commission. In June 1969 the premier was appointed K.C.M.G.

Having experienced four successive election victories, in the early 1970s the government ran into problems with rising land prices, housing shortages and the impact of wheat quotas in the farming districts. Brand was deeply wounded when parliament refused to allow the demolition of the archway from the Pensioner Barracks which had been built during the colonial period. His government's insistence (in the Weebo stones episode) that quarrying should be allowed on what was regarded as an Aboriginal sacred site increased the resentment of environmental groups. Even then, Labor won the 1971 election by only one seat. Sir David had collapsed while speaking at a public function in his last year in office and stepped down as leader of the Opposition in June 1972. Suffering poor health, he retired as the member for Greenough on 21 August 1975. He died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease on 15 April 1979 at Carnamah and, after a state funeral, was cremated; his wife, daughter and two sons survived him.

Brand was a man of the people. While he was more a doer than a thinker, he had vision and believed in the virtues of individual effort. He showed concern for handicapped children as patron of the Spastic Welfare Association and was president (from 1973) of the State branch of the Boy Scouts' Association. A quiet but effective political leader, he was willing to learn from capable public servants like Dumas and had the capacity to manage the prima donnas in his cabinets. His partnership with his aggressive and dynamic deputy (Sir) Charles Court proved exceptionally successful: both of them saw economic development as fundamental to securing social ends. Brand also succeeded in maintaining cordial relations with his Country Party partners. Above all, he had the fortune to govern in what was generally a period of prosperity.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Hunt (ed), Westralian Portraits (Perth, 1979)
  • G. S. Reid and M. R. Oliver, The Premiers of Western Australia 1890-1982 (Perth, 1982)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 1 May 1979, p 1453
  • Elders Weekly, 19 Apr 1979
  • Spastic Welfare Association of Western Australia, Centreline, Winter 1979
  • West Australian, 1 Oct 1949, 23 Mar 1959, 19 Mar 1960, 15, 19 May, 14 June 1969, 8 Feb 1970, 12 May, 3, 6, 7 June 1972, 21, 22 Aug 1975, 22 June 1977, 16, 19 Apr 1979
  • Weekend News, 19 Feb 1966, 22 Feb 1969 supplement, 3 June 1972
  • Independent (Perth), 9 Nov 1969
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 6 Apr 1969, 8 Feb 1970
  • Daily News (Perth), 25 Feb 1980.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Black, 'Brand, Sir David (1912–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 July 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

David Brand (1912-1979), by unknown photographer

David Brand (1912-1979), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L32290

Life Summary [details]


1 August, 1912
Dongara, Western Australia, Australia


15 April, 1979 (aged 66)
Carnamah, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.