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Mariannus Adrian (Mac) Cuming (1901–1988)

by John Lack

This article was published:

Mariannus Adrian (Mac) Cuming (1901-1988), industrial chemist and company manager, was born on 26 November 1901 at Footscray, Melbourne, the last of five surviving children of American-born James Cuming, general manager of Cuming Smith & Co., chemical fertiliser manufacturers, and his Victorian-born wife Alice Louisa, née Fehon. `Mac’, as he was known from his initials, was educated at a small private school in Footscray, then at Camberwell Grammar and (from 1917) Melbourne Church of England Grammar schools. He graduated from the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1924) and, after investigating superphosphate production in the United States of America, completed a diploma in chemical engineering at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London. Joining Cuming Smith, Mac became an expert on acid plants and allied factory procedures. At the Chapel of St Peter at Melbourne Grammar, on 20 April 1926 he married Wilma Margaret Isles Guthrie.

In 1930 Cuming moved to Perth as works manager (general manager, 1933) of Cuming Smith & Mt Lyell Farmers Fertilisers Ltd (later CSBP & Farmers Ltd). He returned to Melbourne in 1936. A director since 1933 of Commonwealth Fertilisers & Chemicals Ltd (formed in 1929 from a merger of Cuming Smith & Co. Pty Ltd and three other companies) he was groomed to succeed his brother, William Fehon Cuming (d.1933). In 1945 he was appointed general manager (chairman, 1957-80) of Cuming Smith & Co. Ltd, and became managing director (1948) and chairman (1956) of CF&C.

As the central figure in Australia’s postwar chemical fertiliser industry, Cuming was chairman of CSBP & Farmers (1943-71), ACF & Shirleys Fertilizers Ltd (1964-65), and a director of almost every major fertiliser company in Australia. He was also a director of Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Ltd and the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. In 1949-76 he was deputy-chairman of the Victorian board of the Australian Mutual Provident Society. He took quiet pride in his family’s industrial origins as working proprietors, recalling with pleasure their reputation as `the manure Cumings’, and had a paternal affection for employees he had known since the 1920s. In 1978 he was disquieted by the take-over bid for Cuming Smith by a corporate raider, which led to its acquisition by Westralian Farmer’s Co-operative Ltd in 1979. Valuing history, Cuming secured the public deposit of the business and family records.

An active member of many societies and charities, Cuming served (1945-77) on the board (vice-president 1975-77) of the Alfred Hospital, as a trustee (1965-76) of the Baker Medical Research Institute and as a governor (1977-78) of the Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation. He was made a fellow of the Australian Institute of Management (1957) and appointed CMG (1962). His clubs were the Melbourne, Weld and Australian, and his hobbies were golf, fishing, and working in the gardens designed for him by Edna Walling. A dedicated composter, Mac Cuming was delighted to be taken for a jobbing gardener. He died on 26 February 1988 and was cremated; he was predeceased by his wife (d.1984) and survived by their three sons and daughter.

His nephew, WILLIAM JAMES CUMING (19121986), engineer and manager, was born on 3 February 1912 at Footscray, eldest son of William Fehon Cuming and his wife Annie, née Jordan. Bill was educated at MCEGS and the University of Melbourne (B.Min.Eng, 1935). While employed by North Broken Hill Ltd (1936-39), he obtained a mine manager’s certificate and published Mine Drainage System (1938). On 27 June 1940 at Broken Hill he married Grace Laurette Dunstan.

In 1939, encouraged by his uncle Sir Alexander Stewart, Cuming joined Commonwealth Fertilisers as technical assistant, and soon was engaged in vital war work, including the construction of three sulphuric acid plants. He was successively works engineer (1946), works manager (1952) and technical manager (1958). His executive advancement, however, was blocked. After ICIANZ acquired Chemical Fertilisers in 1961, he became technical (1962) and special assignments (1968) manager of the fertiliser division. Retiring in 1972, Cuming was appointed a consultant to Boral Ltd and a director (197480) of Cuming Smith and of CSBP & Farmers.

Through the 1950s Cuming became increasingly interested in technical and tertiary education. The industry’s face in Melbourne’s western suburbs, he was a member of the council from 1953 (vice-president 1959-65; president 1965-69) of Footscray Technical College (renamed Footscray Institute of Technology in 1968), which, in 1982, named a building after him. He served the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy as councillor (1957-86), vice-president (1963-66), president (1970), honorary treasurer (1975) and acting chief executive officer (1983-84), and as its representative on the University of Melbourne’s engineering faculty (1959-74).

Quiet and direct in manner, and possessed of a dry wit, he was made an honorary member (1982) of the AusIMM and declared its `elder statesman in residence’. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, Bill Cuming died on 15 January 1986 at Canterbury and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • K. P. Smith, A Bunch of Pirates (1984)
  • C. Rasmussen, Poor Man’s University (1989)
  • J. Lack and I. D. Rae, `Many Happy Returns’, in E. Richards and J. Templeton (eds), The Australian Immigrant (1998)
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceedings, no 284, 1982, p 4, vol 291, no 1, 1986, p 35
  • Cuming Smith & Co. Ltd papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Lack, 'Cuming, Mariannus Adrian (Mac) (1901–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 May 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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