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Sir Arnold Hughes Ennor (1912–1977)

by John P. Lonergan

This article was published:

Sir Arnold Hughes Ennor (1912-1977), biochemist and administrator, was born on 10 October 1912 at Gardenvale, Melbourne, son of Arnold Martin Ennor, joiner, and his wife Charlotte Vandeluer, née Hughes, both Victorian born. Choosing to be called Hugh, young Ennor was educated at O'Neill College (Elsternwick), Melbourne Technical College and the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1938; M.Sc., 1939; D.Sc., 1943). In 1929 he began work as a laboratory-assistant at the Baker Medical Research Institute and from 1938 continued there as a junior fellow of the National Health and Medical Research Council; his specialty was biochemistry. On 18 March 1939 at Wesley Church, Melbourne, he married a dress designer Violet Phyllis Isobel Argall.

Engaged in defence work in World War II, Ennor conducted research into chemical warfare and from 1944 had charge of scientific services at the Australian Field Experimental Station, Proserpine, Queensland. In 1946 he entered the University of Oxford, England, on a two-year Wellcome Trust fellowship. Back in Melbourne in 1948, he was appointed senior biochemist, Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. On 15 August he accepted the foundation chair of biochemistry in the John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, and was initially based at the C.S.L. Ennor undertook research into carbohydrate metabolism and the distribution and turnover of phosphorous compounds in muscle and liver. He was to publish ninety papers—mostly co-authored—and he and his collaborators produced highly original work, both in their findings and experimental techniques.

Ability in research had brought Ennor to the A.N.U., but the course of his later career was to be shaped by his administrative skills. Although Sir Howard (Baron) Florey had planned the John Curtin school, it was Ennor who brought it into being as a thriving research centre. Moving to Canberra, he was dean of the school in 1953-67 and effectively its administrative head. His responsibilities increased after 1957 when Florey's involvement ceased. Ennor was also deputy vice-chancellor of the university in 1964-67. Appointed C.B.E. in 1963, he was knighted in 1965.

With the establishment of the Commonwealth Department of Education and Science, Sir Hugh became its permanent head on 1 February 1967. One of his early initiatives led to the formation of the educational research and development committee. Responding to calls for increased Federal funding of schools, he emphasized the need for qualitative rather that quantitative improvements, and wanted teachers to become more professional. He had been a member of (Sir) Leslie Martin's committee on the future of tertiary education in Australia whose report (1964) led to sweeping reforms.

In 1972 the Whitlam government separated the portfolios of science and education, and Ennor opted to head the Department of Science (Science and Consumer Affairs in 1975). Despite limited resources, he endeavoured to increase efficiency and promote sound policies. The department was unfairly blamed for the government's decision in 1975 to reduce the Australian Research Grants Committee's funds. That year Ennor publicly resisted an attempt by the royal commission on Australian government administration to have his department abolished. He oversaw the gradual development of the agreement (1968) with the United States of America for scientific and technological co-operation, and successfully pressed the government to make a budget provision in 1977-78 for building a station in Australia to receive and process 'Landsat' satellite information.

Ennor's contributions to science, medicine and administration were recognized by fellowships of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (1951) and the Australian Academy of Science (1954), of which he was treasurer (1963-67); the University of New South Wales conferred an honorary doctorate of science on him in 1968 and Monash University an honorary doctorate of medicine in 1969. He had been prominent in establishing the Australian Biochemical Society in 1955 (president 1959-61) and the National Heart Foundation of Australia in 1959.

A tall, well-built man, with rugged features and wavy hair of fair to gingerish colour, Ennor had immense energy and drive, and did things promptly. He had the ability to assess people quickly, and had no time for stupidity, indolence, obfuscation or duplicity. Those he trusted appreciated his loyalty and kindliness; yet, in the mid-1960s a number of his colleagues at the J.C.S.M.R. thought that his style was arrogant and distant. Possessing great integrity, Ennor did what he believed to be right, irrespective of the consequences. Once he had made up his mind, he committed himself to whatever the end entailed, though he was always willing to reconsider the grounds for his actions. He expressed himself elegantly and forcefully in both the written and the spoken word. Equipped with a fund of stories which he told with gusto, he had an infectious, exuberant manner that projected confidence and optimism. He could comfortably mix with the mighty and the lowly.

After being gravely ill for several months, Ennor retired on 10 October 1977. Farewell functions planned by his friends in Australia, Japan, the U.S.A. and England were unable to be held: Ennor died of lymphoma on 14 October 1977 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated. Lady Ennor survived him, as did their daughter and son.

Select Bibliography

  • Records of the Australian Academy of Science, 4, no 1, Nov 1978 (issued Apr 1979), p 105, and for publications
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Citation details

John P. Lonergan, 'Ennor, Sir Arnold Hughes (1912–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 30 May 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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