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.

Lawrence Bede Fanning (1885–1970)

by A. N. Preston

This article was published:

Lawrence Bede Fanning (1885-1970), public servant, was born on 18 August 1885 at Casino, New South Wales, sixth son of James Fanning, a contractor from New Zealand, and his English-born wife Harriett, née Van der Warden. Educated at Lismore, in December 1904 Bede joined the Postmaster-General's Department and worked as a telephone attendant in Sydney. On 5 June 1910 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Darlinghurst, he married a barmaid Amy Edwards (d.1951) also known as Green; they were to have a daughter and a son.

Rising to managerial positions in the department's New South Wales and Queensland divisions, in 1918 Fanning was promoted to traffic officer (telephones) in the chief electrical engineer's office, central staff, Melbourne. By 1924, as head of the new telephone branch, he was directly responsible to the secretary (Sir) Harry Brown. In the next fifteen years he and Fanning achieved substantial progress in developing telephone services, despite reductions in government expenditure during the Depression. The 1930s saw most manual exchanges in major cities and towns replaced by automatic apparatus. Fanning was appointed I.S.O. (1941).

After Brown's successor (Sir) Daniel McVey was detached from the department in 1941, Fanning became acting director-general of posts and telegraphs: his first priority was to meet wartime defence requirements. He replaced McVey as director-general on 11 June 1946 and faced the immediate challenge of meeting the accumulated demand for services at a time when equipment and materials were scarce. In 1947 Fanning visited England where he obtained supplies and encouraged British manufacturers to open factories in Australia. While abroad he also studied developments in television, and attended telecommunication and postal conferences in Europe and the United States of America. He was a member (1946-49) of the Australian National Airlines and Overseas Telecommunications commissions.

In 1949 the government established the Australian Broadcasting Control Board to supervise the provision of radio and television services, and the maintenance of technical and programming standards. Fanning retired from the public service on 14 March and next day began a three-year term as the board's chairman. On 3 June the board recommended that television should be introduced in the six State capitals, but transmission did not commence until 1956. With the Federal general elections approaching, on 8 September 1949 the board issued an order requiring political matter to be broadcast 'on an equitable basis'. The order 'received a hostile reception' in parliament and the press, and most of its conditions were withdrawn.

A short, spare, elegant figure, Fanning had an air of authority; although some people regarded him as aloof, he was unfailingly courteous and considerate. He was respected for his administrative capability and for being 'an articulate communicator'. His career was typical of those of his generation who surmounted limited education by their natural abilities. Fanning retired in 1952, joined the board of Edward H. O'Brien Pty Ltd, advertising contractors, and played golf for recreation. Survived by his son, he died on 14 August 1970 at Hawthorn and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Moyal, Clear Across Australia (Melb, 1984)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1945-46, 3, p 979, 1950-51, 2, p 999, 1951-53, 2, p 1095, 1954-55, 3, p 679
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1941
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Apr 1947, 3 Jan 1948, 29 Jan 1949, 28 Feb 1952
  • private information.

Citation details

A. N. Preston, 'Fanning, Lawrence Bede (1885–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 June 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 August, 1885
Casino, New South Wales, Australia


14 August, 1970 (aged 84)
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.