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Dean, Roger Levinge (1913–1998)

by David Carment

This article was published online in 2022

Roger Levinge Dean (1913–1998), politician, administrator, and diplomat, was born on 10 December 1913 in Sydney, eldest son of Charles Dean, pottery manufacturer and company manager, and his wife Freda Mary, née Levinge, both New South Wales born. When Roger was about five the family moved to Newcastle, where he was educated at Broughton College and Newcastle Boys’ High School. After leaving school in 1931, he was a clerk at Rylands Brothers Pty Ltd, a local wire-manufacturing firm.

In World War II Dean enlisted on 30 April 1941 in the Citizen Military Forces. Beginning full-time duty on 11 June and appointed a lieutenant in January 1942, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in August. He served in Darwin with the 103rd Anti-Tank (Tank-Attack) Regiment (1942–44) and at Wewak, New Guinea, with the 8th Docks (Port) Operating Company (1945–46), transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 19 July 1946. Returning to Newcastle, he resumed at Ryland Brothers as an administrative officer and soon after joined the Mayfield branch of the Liberal Party, rapidly becoming branch secretary. In April 1949 he was preselected as a candidate for the Federal seat of Robertson, which included the New South Wales central coast and adjoining areas, and won it at the general election on 10 December. Shortly afterwards he moved to Gosford. On 27 September 1950 he married Ann Nedda Manning, formerly a Liberal Party stenographer, at St Augustine’s Church of England, Inverell.

Highly active in his marginal electorate, Dean spoke in parliament on a range of subjects, and had particular interest in Australian relations with South-East Asia, the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, and Indigenous issues. He chaired the House of Representatives standing committee on printing (1956–58), the joint statutory committee on public works (1962–64), and the House of Representatives select committee on grievances of Yirrkala Yolngu people, Arnhem Land Reserve (1963). The latter recommended greater Commonwealth consultation about developments on the Gove Peninsula and some compensation for loss of traditional lands. He was a member of the Anglican Synod of New South Wales (1960–62). His friend, the senior minister Richard (Baron) Casey, influenced his support for closer links between Australia and South-East Asian nations, many of which he visited. He studied the Malay language and regularly entertained South-East Asian students at his Gosford home. In 1964 the political journalist Don Whitington noted Dean’s hard work and enthusiasm, but added that he was ‘essentially a loyal follower’ (1964, 125). He described Dean as ‘a plain, undistinguished man of average height and build, with fair hair and blue eyes, no tricks of oratory, no great eloquence, no pretensions or illusions about himself’ (Whitington 1964, 125). Dean remained the member for Robertson until retiring from parliament on 30 September 1964.

At Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies’s instigation, Dean returned to the Northern Territory to serve as administrator in October 1964. He accepted the appointment partly because he knew and liked the Territory and felt a move there would be good for his family. Recognised as a capable communicator, he travelled extensively and established ‘wide and enduring contacts’ (Carrick 1998, 14) with Indigenous communities. Ann Dean became Territory president of the Red Cross Society, the Country Women’s Association, and the Girl Guides’ Association, and with their children, sometimes accompanied her husband on formal visits. He was responsible for major alterations to Darwin’s Government House, where he and his wife entertained prominent visitors such as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Despite the Federal Labor parliamentarian Rex Patterson’s comment that Dean had ‘as much drive and initiative as a stuffed dodo’ while administrator (Aust. HOR 1971, 1085), his achievements included the 1965 establishment of the Northern Territory Tourist and National Reserves Development Authority, the introduction of an incentive for cattlemen to improve their land via ‘rolling’ pastoral leases, and his response in 1967 to the problem of overstocking by granting greater regulatory powers to the Land Board. At a time of great change in the status of Aboriginal residents, Dean acted as a source of advice to Commonwealth ministers, including (Sir) Paul Hasluck. He attracted public attention for reputedly being the first administrator to appear in public wearing shorts. Although, following a constitutional change, he stepped down from his ex officio position as president of the Legislative Council in October 1965, he was criticised by later councillors for attempting to retain administrative control of the council’s operations, and failing to augment its influence or seek its advice. Without asking the council’s permission, he arranged for a direct line from the Hansard recording unit to his office to allow him to monitor proceedings. He became a Knight Hospitaller in the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1967 and was appointed CBE in June 1968.

Having retired as administrator in March 1970, Dean was appointed Australian consul-general in San Francisco (1970–74) with responsibilities for fourteen states in the western United States of America, including Alaska and Hawaii. He got to know California’s Governor Ronald Reagan and was active in the Australian-American Association. During 1974 he was dean of the San Francisco consular corps. After returning to Australia, he maintained homes in Canberra and Sydney. He held office in several organisations, including the Food for Babies Fund, the Order of the British Empire Association, and the Australian-American Association. His main recreations were debating and sailing. Slowed by diabetes in his final years, he died in Sydney on 7 January 1998, predeceased by his wife (d. 1982) and survived by their son and daughter. He was remembered in obituaries as a conscientious parliamentarian; for his role in the Northern Territory’s development; and as a ‘happy friendly man’ who ‘was hard to dislike’ (Carrick 1998, 14).

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Australia. House of Representatives. Parliamentary Debates, vol. 11, 1971, 1085
  • Canberra Times. ‘Mr. Dean Appears in Shorts.’ 23 October 1964, 11
  • Carrick, John. ‘MP Became Driving Force in the Territory.’ Australian, 19 January 1998, 14
  • Dean, Roger L. Interview by Pat Shaw and Michael Saward, 8 March 1984–10 February 1985. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Heatley, Alistair. The Government of the Northern Territory. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1979
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX107451
  • Rosenzweig, Paul. The House of Seven Gables: A History of Government House, Darwin. Darwin: Historical Society of the Northern Territory, 1996
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Roger Dean, CBE.’ 13 January 1998, 33
  • Whitington, Don. The Rulers: Fifteen Years of the Liberals. Melbourne: Lansdowne Press, 1964

Additional Resources

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Citation details

David Carment, 'Dean, Roger Levinge (1913–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dean-roger-levinge-31463/text38918, published online 2022, accessed online 5 July 2022.

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