Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Samuel Guy McLaren (Sam) Dimmick (1922–1984)

by Charles A. Coppel

This article was published:

Samuel Dimmick, c.1960

Samuel Dimmick, c.1960

photo provided by International House, University of Melbourne

Samuel Guy McLaren (Sam) Dimmick (1922-1984), public servant and college warden, was born on 15 January 1922 at Canterbury, Melbourne, eldest of three sons of Victorian-born William (Roy) Dimmick, estate agent, and his wife Myrtle Elvira, née Monie, who came from New South Wales. After attending Carey Baptist Grammar School, Sam worked as a clerk with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. He served part time (1940-41) in the Militia then, having enlisted in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve on 27 June 1941, saw active service (1943-45) in the Pacific as a leading supply assistant in HMAS Shropshire. After demobilisation in 1946, he enrolled at the University of Melbourne (Dip.Soc.Stud., 1951; BA, B.Com., 1953).

At university Dimmick was a towering figure on the Students’ Representative Council (secretary 1950-51; president 1951-52) and a forceful advocate for new welfare and commercial services. As SRC housing officer he became particularly aware of the needs of the increasing numbers of Asian students. With fellow students Abinash Jerath and Rajaratnam Sundarason, and the backing of the Rotary Club of Melbourne, he campaigned successfully to establish the first International House (IH) at an Australian university.

After graduation, Dimmick joined the Commonwealth Office of Education—in which he arranged the training of overseas students—before transferring to the Department of External Affairs in 1954. He was posted as cultural attaché (1956-59) to Jakarta, where his duties included liaison with universities and Colombo Plan matters. In March 1960 he was appointed second warden of IH. He proceeded to raise its academic standing, attract distinguished Australian and overseas visitors, and secure funds for new building. He also chaired (1961-66) the Australian committee of World University Service.

In July 1970 Dimmick resigned, protesting at a rise in student fees but also frustrated in his ambitions for further expansion. He never visited IH again. By December he had been appointed the foundation chairman of the Land Conservation Council (LCC), a small body charged with devising a system for the planning and use of all public land in Victoria. His appointment as an outsider, with no background in conservation, initially concerned others on the council. Yet his commitment soon won approval, as did his skills in harnessing external resources, managing an excellent research staff and gaining ministerial support to consolidate the council’s independence and circumvent vested interests. The establishment of Victoria’s extensive system of conservation reserves owed much to his efforts.

Socially well connected, Dimmick used his networks effectively. He enjoyed opera and ballet, and was a generous and entertaining host. Tall and heavily built, with a powerful voice, he was a hard taskmaster at the LCC and a stickler for hierarchy and discipline at IH. He never married but adopted Boniat Slamet in Jakarta, sponsoring his move to Australia in 1962. Boniat, with his wife and their two children, became his family.

Dimmick died of myocardial infarction on 9 July 1984 at home at Toorak and was cremated. His contribution to IH is commemorated by the Dimmick dining hall, in which hangs his portrait by June Mendoza, and the Dimmick flats, opened in 1998.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Robin, Defending the Little Desert (1998)
  • L. R. Humphreys, Wadham: Scientist for Land and People (2000)
  • L. R. Humphreys, Of Many Nations (2004)
  • Farrago, 29 July 1952, p 6, 28 July 1953, p 11
  • Satadal, 1959, p 25, and 1984, memorial issue
  • Sun (Melbourne), 11 Dec 1970, p 13
  • private information.

Citation details

Charles A. Coppel, 'Dimmick, Samuel Guy McLaren (Sam) (1922–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Samuel Dimmick, c.1960

Samuel Dimmick, c.1960

photo provided by International House, University of Melbourne

Life Summary [details]


15 January, 1922
Canterbury, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


9 July, 1984 (aged 62)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.