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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brophy, James (1889–1969)

by Hilary Kent

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

James Brophy (1889-1969), public servant and community leader, was born on 26 September 1889 in South Melbourne, eldest child of Richard Brophy, labourer, and his wife Catherine, née Mackey, both from Ireland. Having been educated at St Patrick's Jesuit College, Melbourne, in 1906-07 Jim attended Carmelite College, Terenure, near Dublin, but decided against the priestly vocation and returned to Victoria. He gained first place in the July 1908 Commonwealth Public Service clerical examination and on 5 October joined the Department of Home Affairs. In 1912 he was admitted as a licentiate of the Incorporate Institute of Accountants, Victoria. Promoted and transferred to Sydney that year, by 1919 he was accountant in the Sub-Treasury, Queensland. On 14 January 1922 at St Brigid's Catholic Church, Red Hill, Brisbane, he married 20-year-old Elizabeth Constance Ridley (d.1965). They moved to Melbourne in 1927 and to Canberra in 1930.

Allotted a government-owned house, the Brophys quickly settled into life in the 'bush capital'. Tradesmen found a welcome cup of tea in Connie's kitchen and Jim became a stalwart of the local Catholic community. He enrolled his children at St Christopher's School, Manuka, joined the Knights of the Southern Cross, served on all manner of committees and was a consummate fund-raiser: as 'Bingo Master', he was 'as thorough with the threepences' as with 'the millions of pounds in the Treasury'. A keen chorister and Australian Rules football supporter, he was drawn into Canberra's embryonic sporting and cultural organizations by his ten children. In 1938 he was a foundation member of the Canberra Eisteddfod Society (chairman of committees 1940-42). Next year he joined the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club (president 1946-67) and the Australian Capital Territory Hockey Association (president 1945-64). He simplified rules, rewrote constitutions, organized finances, coached and examined referees, and promoted country sport.

Meantime, Brophy's career flourished. He privately managed the household accounts of the Lodge for J. B. Chifley and by 1949 was a first assistant-secretary in the Treasury. Of middle height, almost blind in one eye, with a shock of white hair and a face that 'conveyed gravity and dignity', he was widely respected, but could be stubborn. On 22 May 1951 his 'earnest' prayers were answered when he was appointed auditor-general for the Commonwealth; leaving nothing to chance, he had also pressed his claims with the prime minister. Brophy insisted on the independence of the audit office and refused to certify the accounts of agencies which did not meet his exacting standards. He urged the government to expand and clarify his powers, and took pride in the early submission of his annual reports. His term was extended to 25 September 1955 by an Act of parliament.

Brophy had been appointed knight of the Papal Order of St Gregory the Great in 1950 and I.S.O. in 1954. In retirement he redoubled his community work. A member of the Canberra Community Hospital board, he was deputy-coroner in 1958-64. He was also president (1953-69) of the Australian National Eisteddfod Society, and vice-president of the New South Wales Amateur Swimming (1951-68) and Hockey (1960-68) associations. In 1960 he officiated at the Olympic Games. Survived by four sons and six daughters, he died on 24 May 1969 in Canberra Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. J. McGilvray, The Hallowed High Adventure (Syd, 1973)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Sept 1952, 12 Nov 1953, 16 Apr 1955, 31 Aug 1958
  • Canberra Times, 3 Oct 1968, 26 May 1969
  • Canberra and District Amateur Swimming Club papers (National Library of Australia)
  • family papers (privately held)
  • Treasury correspondence files, series A571/1-23/662, 23/32500, 24/6578 and Treasury personnel file, A1939/1, S.286 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Hilary Kent, 'Brophy, James (1889–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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