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Donald (Don) Cochrane (1917–1983)

by Ross Williams

This article was published:

Donald (Don) Cochrane (1917-1983), economist and university administrator, was born on 27 May 1917 at East Malvern, Melbourne, youngest of three sons of Victorian-born parents Arthur Cochrane, manager, and his wife Elsie May, née Turvey. Leaving Melbourne High School in 1933, Don worked as a clerk for Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd and studied accounting part time. In 1939-42 he was a student at the University of Melbourne (B.Com., 1945). Enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force on 14 August 1942, he qualified as a navigator, flew with No.36 Squadron and No.107 Squadron, and rose to flight lieutenant, before being demobilised in Melbourne on 23 September 1945. That year he was appointed to a lectureship in economics at the university.

On 28 November 1946 at Scots Church, Melbourne, Cochrane married with Presbyterian forms Margaret Jean Schofield, a well-known pianist and a divorcee. In 1947 he travelled to England and entered Clare College, Cambridge (Ph.D., 1949), where he completed his doctorate in minimum time under (Sir) Richard Stone. With Guy Orcutt, he wrote two path-breaking papers in econometrics, published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association (1949); the `Cochrane-Orcutt transformation’ remains a standard reference.

Although Cochrane returned to the University of Melbourne in 1949 as a senior lecturer in mathematical economics, he began to move away from the technical side of the discipline. An invitation from the United Nations department of economic affairs gave him an opportunity to spend twelve months (1951-52) in New York, working in the field of social accounting. In 1955 he was appointed to the Sidney Myer chair of commerce at the University of Melbourne. Interested in applied economics, he continued the practice of his predecessors, (Sir) Douglas Copland and Gordon Wood, of maintaining strong links with business and government. He established a summer school of business administration for senior executives, a venture other Australian universities later emulated. His was a commanding presence in the lecture theatre, especially in front of large classes of first-year undergraduates; wearing his gown, he would sweep in, position his notes at the rostrum, quickly brush back his forelock, and begin.

Cochrane found that the departmental structure at Melbourne limited his scope for integrated teaching and research. In 1961 he moved to Monash University as professor of economics and foundation dean of the faculty of economics and politics. His vision for the Monash faculty was that it should have a single department of economics that trained professional economists; accounting and the more commercial subjects were to play a relatively subservient role. Reflecting his Cambridge experience, he required students in economics to take subjects taught by the faculty’s department of politics.

The faculty’s structure gave way over time in response to student demands to study accounting and the full range of business subjects. In 1974 Cochrane reluctantly oversaw the splitting of economics into five smaller departments. The economics department had quickly become equal to the best in Australia and was well known internationally. As dean, according to Professor Joe Isaac, on the big issues he `knew what he wanted and he pursued it skilfully’, but he delegated much responsibility to the professors he had appointed. His public demeanour was `composed, matterof-fact’; his capacity for kindness and compassion was revealed only to his closest friends. The vice-chancellor Sir Louis Matheson described him as a `persuasive speaker on the Professorial Board, always well-informed and cogent in argument’.

In 1961 Cochrane had been appointed a commissioner of the State Savings (State) Bank of Victoria; he was to serve as its chairman in 1971 and 1974-83. He became deputy-chairman of the associated merchant bank Tricontinental Holdings Ltd in 1978. He was a member of the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads (1966-74), the Defence Business Board (1968-76) and the Defence Industry Committee (1977-79). Federal and State governments selected him to inquire into such diverse matters as wool sales at Portland, Victoria (1962), rural wages in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea (1970), and the cost of electricity supplied to smelters owned by Alcoa of Australia Ltd in Victoria (1981). In 1974 he chaired the committee of inquiry into labour market training which led to the establishment of the National Employment and Training Scheme. He headed the Australian Trade Union Training Authority from 1978.

Cochrane was appointed CBE in 1975. His professional honours included a fellowship (1974) of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the first honorary doctorate of economics (1982) awarded by Monash University. He was a golfer and a member of the Melbourne Club. The Cochranes lived at Kew and in 1973 bought a cattle farm at Tanjil South as a hobby and holiday retreat. Retiring in 1981 because of illness, he died of cancer on 31 March 1983 at Richmond and was cremated. His wife and their son and daughter survived him. Monash University holds a portrait of Cochrane by Clifton Pugh.

Select Bibliography

  • `Preface’, in M. L. King and D. E. A. Giles (eds), Specification Analysis in the Linear Model (1987)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 27 Dec 1973, p 9, 31 Mar 1983, p 9
  • R. L. Martin, citation for D. Cochrane’s honorary doctorate of economics, 1982, and L. Matheson, J. Isaac and J. A. Hancock, eulogies at Cochrane’s memorial service, 1983 (Monash University Archives)
  • University of Melbourne Archives
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ross Williams, 'Cochrane, Donald (Don) (1917–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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