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Robert Arthur Broinowski (1877–1959)

by John R. Thompson

This article was published:

Robert Arthur Broinowski (1877-1959), by unknown photographer

Robert Arthur Broinowski (1877-1959), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23199449

Robert Arthur Broinowski (1877-1959), public servant and poet, was born on 1 December 1877 at Balwyn, Victoria, one of eight children of Gracius Joseph Broinowski, artist and ornithologist, and his wife Jane, née Smith. Educated at St Aloysius' College, Sydney, Broinowski also acknowledged a considerable debt to his father, 'a man of culture and wide knowledge … who encouraged me to pursue the things that really matter'. On 21 February 1906 he married Grace Creed Evans, violinist, at Kew, Victoria.

Entering the Commonwealth Public Service in 1902, Broinowski served an apprenticeship as a clerk before securing appointment in 1907 as private secretary to (Sir) Thomas Ewing, minister for defence, a position he retained under Ewing's successors, (Sir) George Pearce and (Sir) Joseph Cook. In March 1911 Broinowski joined the staff of the Senate on which he served as clerk of the papers in 1915-20, then usher of the Black Rod until 1930, clerk-assistant and secretary of the joint-house department 1930-38, and finally clerk of the Senate in 1939-42.

Throughout his long life Broinowski maintained an interest in the arts, especially literature. While the Commonwealth government operated from Melbourne, he was able to develop this interest as secretary of the Repertory Theatre Club and as a member of various literary societies, notably the Melbourne Literary Club. With friends such as R. H. Croll, Broinowski also developed his interest in the bush through membership of the Melbourne Walking Club. He began to contribute poetry to Birth and became editor of the poetry page in Stead's Review. In 1924, supported by the financial contributions of a few friends, he launched The Spinner which, published in Melbourne by E. A. Vidler, provided a regular forum for the work of such poets as Mary Gilmore, John Shaw Neilson and Marie Pitt. It ceased publication in 1927 following Broinowski's transfer to Canberra which deprived him of close contact with his Melbourne literary friends. In 1926 he was divorced and next year, on 20 April, he married Kathleen Elizabeth Knell in Melbourne.

A convivial man, Broinowski belonged to various community organizations in Canberra, being active in the Alliance Française and a member of Rotary and of the local Society of Arts and Literature. He established the rose-garden behind the Senate chamber, and founded a Canberra Tennis Association award, the Broinowski Cup.

After his retirement from the Senate in 1942, Broinowski settled in Sydney where he maintained his interests in the arts, both as a reviewer in the Sydney Morning Herald and as an occasional broadcaster for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He made recordings of his poems, some of which were also bound in typescript as 'Themes and Songs' (Canberra, 1962), with a preface by his close friend L. H. Allen. After a long illness he died at his Lindfield home on 16 August 1959. He was survived by two sons from his first marriage; and by his second wife and their daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 Jan 1931, 16 Jan 1936
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 18 Aug 1959
  • R. A. Broinowski papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Kate Baker collection (National Library of Australia)
  • R. H. Croll papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • Mackaness papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

John R. Thompson, 'Broinowski, Robert Arthur (1877–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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