Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Randolph Edward (Randal) Dunbar (1909–1989)

by Rachel Grahame

This article was published:

Randolph Edward (Randal) Dunbar (1909-1989), technical educator, was born on 4 March 1909 at Wellington, New South Wales, eldest of five sons of Edward Auburn Dunbar, railway fireman, and his wife Dolby (Dolly), née Lees, who were both born in New South Wales. Randal was educated at Dubbo High School and, holding a Teachers’ College scholarship, enrolled at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1929; Dip.Ed., 1930). He played tennis and gained awards from the Royal Life Saving Society. Although he had been an active member of the Sydney University Regiment, during World War II he was declared to be in a reserved occupation and was unable to enlist.

His first appointment as a mathematics and science teacher with the Department of Education was to Hurlstone Agricultural High School in 1930. He later taught at Temora Intermediate High School, where he met Marjorie Ellen Griffin, a bank clerk, whom he married on 14 December 1935 at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Sydney. In 1938 he was seconded to the technical education branch and appointed teacher of pre-apprenticeship classes at Central Technical School, Ultimo. In 1939 he became head teacher of the preparatory trade classes at Sydney Technical College. His ability as an administrator was revealed in this new area of responsibility.

In February 1941 Dunbar was officially transferred to the technical education branch. He remained at STC until 1946, when he was appointed principal of the Canberra Technical College. Concurrently, he was deputy-director of industrial training in the Australian Capital Territory. After two years in Canberra, he moved, as principal, to Wollongong Technical College, where he remained until his appointment in 1951 as assistant-director of the Department of Technical Education.

With the support of the director, Arthur Denning, in 1954 Dunbar won a six-month Fulbright grant to participate in a foreign-teacher education program in the United States of America. His specialisation was vocational training with emphasis on the administration and supervision of technical education. For his Fulbright studies he was attached to Ohio State University. He then spent a month in England to observe technical education. On his return to Sydney he produced two reports: `Vocational Education in U.S.A.’ and `Technical Education in the U.K.’.

In November 1956 Dunbar was appointed senior assistant-director of the Department of Technical Education. He acted as deputy-director from 1958 with substantive appointment in July 1960. In March 1962 he was promoted to the post of director. During his nine years in the position he oversaw an expansion of certificate and diploma courses and an increase in the number of technical colleges throughout the State. In 1965-68 he was also the foundation director of the New South Wales Institute of Technology. With the registrar he spent three months touring the USA, Europe and Britain to study the organisation and administration of institutions of higher technological education. His wife had died in 1964; on 23 September 1966 he married Gertrude Annie Williams at the register office, Brent, London.

As the Institute of Technology gained increasing autonomy, Dunbar was a member of the new council from 1967. He also served on the council of the University of New South Wales from 1963 to 1971, and on the State’s Board of Secondary School Studies. In 1967-68 he helped to manage the transformation of the Bathurst Teachers’ College into the Mitchell College of Advanced Education, establishing its interim council in 1968.

An ambitious man, Dunbar was extremely diligent, prepared to work very long hours and to take holidays only rarely. Within the department he was regarded as a firm and uncompromising leader, insistent on high standards and attention to detail. He believed passionately in the importance of tertiary education. His main adult recreational interest was gardening. He retired in 1971 and next year settled in Dorset, England. Survived by his wife and by the two daughters and son of his first marriage, he died on 15 February 1989 at St Leonards, Dorset, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Department of Technical and Further Education (New South Wales), Information Services Division (compiler), Spanners, Easels & Microchips (1983)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Aug 1954, p 7, 25 Jan 1965, p 19, 8 Apr 1967, p 9, 16 July 1969, p 13, 1 Sept 1969, `Careers Supplement’, p 1
  • R. Dunbar personnel file, 13/9331 (State Records of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Rachel Grahame, 'Dunbar, Randolph Edward (Randal) (1909–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 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