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Desmond Theodore Du Rieu (1890–1969)

by James Smith

This article was published:

Desmond Theodore Du Rieu (1890-1969), winemaker, was born on 20 November 1890 at Broken Hill, New South Wales, second of three children of Adolph Theodore Du Rieu, an electrician who became a hotelkeeper, and his wife Lillie Mary, née Crabb, both South Australian born. Desmond was educated at Largs Bay College, Adelaide, and later represented South Australia in lacrosse. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 19 August 1914, he sailed with the 10th Battalion for the Middle East. He was shot in the neck at Gallipoli in April 1915. After transferring to the military police, in March 1916 he was sent to the Western Front. Du Rieu was commissioned in August 1917, rejoined his old battalion and was promoted lieutenant in January 1918. Within three months he was again wounded, this time in the thigh and groin. He was invalided to Australia where his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Adelaide on 6 December.

As a soldier settler, Du Rieu took up land at Renmark in the Murray Valley region of South Australia. He described himself as a horticulturist when he married Kathleen Robertson on 4 March 1924 in St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, North Adelaide. Her father Robert had founded Chowilla station, of which Du Rieu was subsequently appointed a director and chairman (1958-68). He became president of the Renmark branch of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia, and chaired the River Murray Districts Arbitration Committee, the Renmark Homes Trust and the local racing club.

'Skee', as he was known, was 5 ft 9¼ ins (176 cm) tall, with receding brown hair and heavy jowls. Although he seemed gruff on occasions, he was a talented raconteur with a genial wit. Chairman (1928-58) of the Renmark Grower's Distillery Ltd, he served for twenty-three years as its managing director and sales manager, developing the company into one of the largest of its kind in Australia. He was also a foundation member (1929-33) of the Australian Wine Board and was chairman for several years of the Co-operative Winemakers' Association. During the 1930s he twice visited Britain to promote Australian wines and brandies. To enhance the public image of the industry, in the late 1940s he appointed a federal public-relations agent who encouraged the national press to present news about wine in a favourable light.

A life member of the Wine and Brandy Producers' Association of South Australia, Du Rieu was chairman (1939-44 and 1949-50) of the Federal Viticultural Council (later the Federal Wine and Brandy Producers' Council of Australia). He was the council's longest serving delegate, and an effective negotiator with politicians and government agencies. In 1954 he was appointed O.B.E. His final appointment was to the State royal commission (1965-66) on the grape-growing industry. Du Rieu's administrative skills guided the internal and external politics of the wine and brandy industry, and its domestic and foreign marketing. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, he died on 8 June 1969 at Renmark and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Wine, Brewing and Spirit Review, 28 June 1969
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 10 June 1969
  • Murray Pioneer, 12 June 1969.

Citation details

James Smith, 'Du Rieu, Desmond Theodore (1890–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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