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David Norman Brookman (1917–2000)

by Brendan Moran

This article was published online in 2023

David Norman Brookman (1917–2000), farmer and politician, was born on 24 March 1917 at Armadale, Melbourne, second child of Norman Brookman, soldier and farmer, and his wife, Ada Mary Dorothy, née Burden, both South Australian born. Baptised an Anglican, David was educated in Adelaide at St Peter’s College (1927–32) and Roseworthy Agricultural College (1935–38), where he graduated with a diploma of agriculture, before returning to his family’s farm, Burbook, near Meadows, South Australia. In 1939 he went to England and worked for a time on a sheep farm in Bedfordshire.

In May 1940 Brookman and his cousin Michael Brookman enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and were attached to the 2/7th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. As a gunner, David fought in the first battle of El Alamein, Egypt, in which Michael was killed in July 1942. David was promoted to lieutenant in January 1943 before returning to Australia, then served in Borneo, Netherlands East Indies, where he participated in the battle for Tarakan in 1945.

On his transfer to the Reserve of Officers in November 1945, Brookman resumed farming at Burbook and on 1 October 1946 married Alison Harvey, an anthropologist with the South Australian Museum, at St Peter's College Chapel. At a by-election on 19 June 1948, he was elected to the House of Assembly to represent the seat of Alexandra, encompassing the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. In becoming a member of parliament, he was following his grandfather, Sir George Brookman, who had served in the Legislative Council (1901–10), and his father who had been a member of the Upper House since 1941. As a Liberal and Country League (LCL) member, David supported (Sir) Thomas Playford’s government and its policies to expand and industrialise the South Australian economy.

Elevated to the cabinet in 1958, Brookman held the portfolios of agriculture and forests until 1965. He supported research and education, improvements to regional infrastructure and soldier settlement schemes, and was an innovator in the control of fruit fly outbreaks and bushfire management. As a passionate conservationist—a ‘country greenie’ (SA HOA 2000, 1123) according to one fellow parliamentarian—he oversaw the expansion of reserves and national parks. His relationship with the premier developed slowly. In 1946 Playford had compulsorily acquired the Adelaide Electric and Supply Company’s assets and assigned them to a state electricity utility. The Brookman family, who had interests in the company, opposed the move. There were also differences in age, class, and religion. Brookman was a member of the Adelaide Club, Playford was not. Playford was a Methodist, and with some of his cabinet ministers held strong conservative views on social issues, while Brookman supported several liberal initiatives, including lowering the legal drinking age and legalising abortion. Playford's government was buttressed by electoral boundaries starkly favouring rural voters—the colloquially termed ‘Playmander’—but still was defeated in March 1965 because of urbanisation and other demographic changes arising from Playford’s own policies, and an energised Labor opposition.

When the LCL regained power by one seat in 1968 under the progressive leader Steele Hall, Brookman was one of only two former Playford government ministers to be appointed to the new cabinet, taking on responsibility for lands, repatriation, irrigation, immigration, and tourism. The Hall government enacted electoral reform to end the rural electoral bias and lost the 1970 election. After decades of stability, the LCL began to splinter over the new Labor government’s plans for electoral reform. From opposition Hall supported the initiative to abolish the restricted property franchise for the Legislative Council. But the LCL was divided between mainly urban progressives on the one hand, and rural conservatives on the other. Brookman opposed the measure. On 15 March 1972 he brought divisions within the party to a head by promoting a motion in the party room to prevent future leaders from selecting cabinet ministers, knowing that if it was carried, Hall would resign as leader. The motion succeeded, and Hall and his followers formed the breakaway Liberal Movement; the split in the LCL reverberated into the twenty-first century. Brookman did not contest the 1973 general election.

A member of the generation of Australians who served in World War II and parliament, Brookman was both conscientious and effective. He was a popular local member and an intelligent and capable minister. Though his demeanour was understated, he was a man of immense energy and, according to a colleague, ‘so quiet, yet so forceful, in what he wanted and what he achieved’ (SA HOA 2000, 1123). He was also known for his friendliness and good humour; he wore a Beatles wig into parliament when the band visited in 1964. Something of a paradox politically, he had a liberal outlook on social and environmental issues but was also an establishment figure deeply attached to the virtues and values of rural life. In retirement he immersed himself in farming, camping, and golf. As a reader he enjoyed political biographies and the poetry of C. J. Dennis, a fellow South Australian. He died in Adelaide on 24 May 2000, and was survived by his wife and their children Henry and Katherine. His funeral was held at All Souls’ Anglican Church, St Peters, and he was buried in the North Road cemetery, Collinswood.

Research edited by Peter Woodley

Select Bibliography

  • Blewett, Neal, and Dean Jaensch. Playford to Dunstan: The Politics of Transition. Melbourne: Cheshire, 1971
  • Bulletin (Sydney). ‘Down for the Third Time.’ 25 March 1972, 9
  • Jaensch, Dean. ‘Conservatism’s Last Gasp: The Legislative Council of South Australia.’ Politics 7, no. 1 (1972): 82–86
  • Jaensch, Dean. ‘The Playford Era.’ In The Flinders History of South Australia: Political History, edited by Dean Jaensch, 243–69. Netley, SA: Wakefield Press, 1986
  • Love, Tony. ‘A “Great Gentlemen.”’ Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 May 2000, 70
  • South Australia. House of Assembly. Parliamentary Debates, 23 May 2000, 1121–1124

Citation details

Brendan Moran, 'Brookman, David Norman (1917–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 29 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 March, 1917
Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


22 May, 2000 (aged 83)
Adelaide, South 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.

Military Service
Political Activism