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Roy Deicke (1929–1995)

by Murray Johnson

This article was published:

Roy Deicke (1929–1995), sugar technologist and sugar industry executive, was born on 3 January 1929 at Herberton, North Queensland, third child of Queensland-born parents Charles Alfred Deicke, mechanic, and his wife May, née Pawsey. Roy attended Herberton State School (1934–41) and, in Brisbane, the State Industrial High (1943–44) and State High (1945–46) schools. At the University of Queensland (BScApp, 1953; DipSugTech, 1956), he studied industrial chemistry and sugar technology and taught (1952–54), as a demonstrator and then a temporary lecturer, in the department of chemistry. In 1955 he was appointed to the mill technology division of the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations at Bundaberg, beginning an association with the city that would span almost four decades. On 11 February 1956 at St Agatha’s Catholic Church, Clayfield, Brisbane, he married Ellen Agnes (Nell) McKeone, a nurse.

In 1960 Deicke moved to the private sector, joining the Fairymead Sugar Co. Ltd at Bundaberg. His abilities were quickly recognised with the dual appointment of research officer and assistant general mill manager in 1961, and promotion to general manager in 1963. Under his guidance the company rapidly expanded, resulting in the acquisition of Gibson & Howes Ltd, sugar millers, and the formation of the Bundaberg Sugar Co. Ltd in 1972, with Deicke as group chief executive. Three years later he played a pivotal role in Bundaberg Sugar’s takeover of the Millaquin Sugar Co. Ltd. The merger saw Deicke elevated to managing director (1976–87), followed by his appointments as deputy chairman (1981) and chairman (1986) of the company’s board of directors.

Control of Millaquin Sugar also brought its subsidiary, Bundaberg Distilling Co. Ltd, into the Bundaberg Sugar fold. Deicke took an active role in overhauling the distillery’s operations and promoting a more sophisticated image of its products, particularly its premium brand, Bundaberg Rum. Among his numerous improvements was the installation of new bottling machinery. He forged a crucial partnership with the Distillers Co. Ltd, Edinburgh, then the world’s largest spirit company, to substantially increase marketing outlets for the Bundaberg distillery’s products. 

In 1974 Deicke had been appointed to the Bundaberg Bulk Sugar Terminal Organisation, and in 1978 he was elected chairman of directors of Bundeng Ltd, a major Bundaberg engineering firm. These connections reinforced his powerful advocacy for continuing technological advances within the sugar industry. He also served as a director (1971–88) and chairman (1975–88) of the Proprietary Sugar Millers’ Association; a member (1973–88) and chairman (1975–88) of the Sugar Research Institute; vice-president of the Australian Sugar Producers’ Association; and a member (1957–88), president (1971–72), and life member (1989) of the Queensland (Australian from 1979) Society of Sugar Cane Technologists. For his contribution to the Australian sugar industry, he was appointed CMG (1982).

A ‘big, shambling man,’ with a penchant for large American cars, Deicke had an affable personality that masked a steely resolve to successfully accomplish his aims (Fagan 1995, 15). A later Bundaberg Sugar chief executive, Geoff Mitchell, remarked: ‘If Roy wanted something, he got it’ (Fagan 1995, 15). In an industry subject to climatic and economic fluctuations, albeit closely regulated, Deicke’s strategy was designed to ensure a measure of security for sugar processors through large-scale operations. At the pinnacle of his career, however, a serious slump in the world price of the commodity and uncertainty about the industry’s future profitability convinced shareholders in Bundaberg Sugar to hand over control to the British-based conglomerate Tate & Lyle Ltd in 1991, a move which Deicke vigorously opposed. His disappointment at failing to convince a majority to hold firm was reflected in his decision to resign that year from the company to which he had dedicated three decades of his life.

Deicke maintained a close relationship with his former colleagues, despite being based in Brisbane from the late-1980s. His continuing interest in business affairs and technology culminated in the chairmanship of both the Queensland Industry Development Corporation (1990–95), largely targeting the rural sector; and the University of Queensland Foundation (1985–95), which channelled corporate funding into that institution’s research programs. The university awarded him an honorary doctorate of engineering (1990). He had been elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences (and Engineering) in 1984.

Although suffering from hypertension and arterial disease, Deicke cared for his wife at home, as her condition steadily deteriorated from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Only four months after her death in 1994, he died of a stroke on 16 January 1995 at the Wesley Private Hospital, Auchenflower, and was buried in the Pinnaroo lawn cemetery, Aspley. His son survived him.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Fagan, David. ‘The Man Who “Made” Bundy.’ Australian, 31 January 1995, 15
  • Kerr, John. Southern Sugar Saga: A History of the Sugar Industry in the Bundaberg District. Bundaberg: Bundaberg Sugar Co. Ltd, 1983
  • Rehbein, Rod. ‘Tributes Flow for Industry Giant.’ News-Mail (Bundaberg), 17 January 1995, 4

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Murray Johnson, 'Deicke, Roy (1929–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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