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Sir Ferdinand Caire (Fred) Drew (1895–1986)

by Kathryn Gargett

This article was published:

Sir Ferdinand Caire (Fred) Drew (1895-1986), public servant, was born on 1 May 1895 at Norwood, Adelaide, second of three sons of Charles Henry Drew (d.1911), an English-born harness-maker, and his wife Edith Eleanor, née Eaton, who was born in South Australia. Charles Drew ran a saddlery shop in Currie Street, Adelaide, and the family lived at Dulwich. Educated at Rose Park Public School and Muirden College for Business Training, as a lad `Fred’ learned to play the flute and earned good money accompanying entertainers such as `Stiffy’ and `Mo’ (Nat Phillips and Roy Rene. On 1 July 1911 he joined the South Australian Public Service as a junior clerk in the Survey Department, under the commissioner of crown lands and immigration; his salary helped to support his widowed mother and younger brother.

Over the next twenty years Drew worked in the departments of Irrigation and Reclamation Works, Highways and Local Government, and Industry. He studied accountancy, becoming an associate (1929) and a fellow (1947) of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants. He was also an associate of the Australian Institute of Cost Accountants. On 6 June 1934 at the Church of the Epiphany, Crafers, he married with Anglican rites Crissie Avis McGowan, a civil servant.

As an `efficiency officer’ in the audit section of the Chief Secretary’s Department, Drew came to the attention of the auditor-general, John Wainwright, and in 1936 was appointed assistant auditor-general. Next year he became a founding board-member of the South Australian Housing Trust. He approached the Treasury Department for the necessary £25,000 start-up funds, inspected land, collected rents, assessed future needs at Port Pirie and Leigh Creek, and used his public service contacts to have buses re-routed and water supplied to the new houses. Site inspections were a regular weekend outing for the Drew family. Although he left the board in January 1940 he maintained an interest in the trust; after Alexander Ramsay became general manager in 1949, he and Drew kept in close contact.

In 1939 Drew had transferred to the Treasury Department and begun working for the premier and treasurer (Sir) Thomas Playford. That year he was appointed assistant under-treasurer and in 1946 under-treasurer. He and Playford shared offices, meeting at 9.30 each morning to discuss the business of the day. Playford told him: `You manage the money, Fred. I’ll manage the politics’. Drew was not only Playford’s chief financial adviser but also his friend and confidant, having power of attorney and control of the premier’s cheque-book when he left the country. Chairman of the South Australian Grants Committee from 1939, he became an authority on Commonwealth-State financial relations. He was also a member of the Supply and Tender Board (chairman 1943-49), the Farmers Assistance Board (1939-43) and the Industries Development Committee (1942-50).

In 1948-73 he served on the State Bank of South Australia board; he was chairman in 1961-63. Implementing Playford’s industrialisation program, Drew arranged loans and Commonwealth grants to develop the Leigh Creek coalfields, build the Morgan-Whyalla water pipeline and fund the expansion of the housing trust. He managed the sale of the Adelaide Electric Supply Company to the government in 1946 and worked out the compensation system for shareholders. In 1949 he became chairman of the Electricity Trust of South Australia. His instructions from Playford were to extend electricity to as many houses as possible as quickly as possible and to maintain good industrial relations. He defused potential disputes in amicable discussions over his parents-in-law’s fence with the Australian Labor Party deputy-leader Francis Walsh and ran ETSA with such efficiency that the charges were not increased for twenty years.

Drew was renowned for his sound judgment and for his picturesque vocabulary—according to Stewart Cockburn he was `an artist in profane language’. Shrewd and irascible, he took a tough stance on demands on the public purse, tossing proposals that failed his feasibility test on top of a large cupboard in his office. At home he paid attention to his children’s development and insisted that they receive the university education he had missed. Appointed CMG in 1951, he was knighted in 1960 and retired as under-treasurer that year. Sir Fred sat on several boards, including those of Cellulose Ltd (195069), Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd (1961-70) and Chrysler Australia Ltd (1962-74), and remained chairman of ETSA until 1970. Survived by his wife and their son and two daughters, he died on 23 May 1986 at his Glenelg home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Cockburn, The Patriarchs (1983)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (1991)
  • Auditor-General’s Report, Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1946-60
  • S. Marsden, interview with F. Drew (transcript, 1981, State Library of South Australia)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 June 1951, p 3, 11 June 1960, p 3
  • personal information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kathryn Gargett, 'Drew, Sir Ferdinand Caire (Fred) (1895–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 June 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

Life Summary [details]


1 May, 1895
Norwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


23 May, 1986 (aged 91)
Glenelg, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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