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Kenneth David (Ken) Green (1917–1987)

by F. J. Kendall

This article was published:

Kenneth David (Ken) Green (1917-1987), engineer, public servant and soldier, was born on 20 November 1917 at Footscray, Melbourne, only child of Victorian-born parents, David William Green, timber merchant, and his wife Helena Harriet Segler, née Bruce. Ken attended Williamstown and Melbourne High schools and graduated from the University of Melbourne (BCE, 1937) with honours and the Argus research scholarship. After a year as a demonstrator in civil engineering at the university, he joined the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission (SRWSC) in 1939 as assistant-engineer.

Mobilised in the Citizen Military Forces on 31 October 1941 as a lieutenant, Royal Australian Engineers, Green transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in August 1942 and served in mainland New Guinea (1943-44) and on Bougainville (1945) as a captain with the 15th Field Company. He rose to second-in-command of the unit and was mentioned in despatches. On 23 June 1945 at St John’s Church of England, Milsons Point, Sydney, he married Phyllis May Roohan, who was then serving in the Australian Women’s Army Service. In 1946 he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Returning to the SRWSC, as hydrographic then senior designing engineer, Green was involved in planning Eildon Dam, overseeing large-scale irrigation and town-water services and, as senior executive engineer, designing drainage schemes for irrigation areas. `Our ultimate aim’, he declared in 1951, was `the production of food for a hungry world’. He also became active in the affairs of professional associations, as a member (later fellow) of the Institution of Engineers (Australia), the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. As divisional engineer for Loddon (1958-65), he managed a staff of 400 and a budget of £900,000, and as a commissioner (1965-71), he represented Victoria on the River Murray Commission and the Snowy Mountains Council. He continued to publish technical papers and travelled to conferences in, and on missions to, India, Europe, the United States of America, Taiwan, Thailand and Malaysia.

Alongside his service to the SRWSC, in 1948 Green rejoined the CMF and, as deputy chief engineer, Southern Command, was appointed OBE (1959). He commanded the 4th Task Group (1966-69) and Southern Command Training Group (1969-70) as a brigadier and the 3rd Division (1970-73) as a major general. Welcoming the end of national military service in 1973, Green was a member of the committee of inquiry into the CMF that in 1974 recommended the formation of the Australian Army Reserve. In 1976-82 he was representative colonel commandant of the RAE.

In December 1971 Sir Henry Bolte had appointed Green secretary to the Department of the Premier, making him the last incumbent to be chosen by the premier’s fiat. As the State’s senior public servant he was principal adviser, and a conduit for information from across the service to the premier. His job, as he later confided, was `to assist the boss to be the boss’. He served Bolte’s successors (Sir) Rupert Hamer and Lindsay Thompson as an astute administrator and, in Hamer’s words, `a faithful servant’. He was also a commissioner (1973-76) on the Whitlam Federal government’s Cities Commission. Appointed CB in 1981, Green expected the defeat of the Victorian Liberal government in April 1982, and knew of John Cain’s plans to reduce the influence of permanent and statutory heads. When Labor assumed office, he advised the new premier that he wished to retire early, despite Cain’s encouragement to stay; leaving in July, he commented that bureaucracy needed a regular change of government to operate efficiently, and regretted the media’s increasing influence on policy.

An impression of severity, intensified by a heavy moustache, was quickly dispelled by Green’s ready smile, natural charm and generosity. Always proud of his trim, six-foot (183 cm) frame and military bearing, from 1971 to 1981 he chaired both the National Fitness Council of Victoria and the Victorian State committee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award in Australia. Having joined Melbourne Legacy in 1959, he served on the federal co-ordinating council and board of management and as president (1981); he was also a long-standing member of the Rotary Club of Melbourne. His long involvement with the Scout Association of Australia, Victoria branch, culminated in his vice-presidency (1984-87). In 1982 he became foundation president of the council of Chisholm Institute of Technology; he remained a member until 1987. He enjoyed golf, swimming and watching cricket, and was a member of the Athenaeum, Melbourne, Naval and Military, Melbourne Cricket and Huntingdale Golf clubs. Survived by his wife and their son, Green died of cerebral thrombosis on 2 October 1987 at Fitzroy and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 20 Dec 1969, p 24
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 28 Mar 1973, p 7
  • Age (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1981, p 3, 10 July 1982, p 13
  • Melbourne Legacy Bulletin, 15 Oct 1987, pp 16, 18
  • private information.

Citation details

F. J. Kendall, 'Green, Kenneth David (Ken) (1917–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 May 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

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