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Sir Edwin William (Ted) Hicks (1910–1984)

by John Farquharson

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Sir Edwin William (Ted) Hicks (1910-1984), public servant and diplomat, was born on 9 June 1910 at Elsternwick, Melbourne, son of William Banks Hicks, draftsman, and his wife Elsie May, née Kitching, both Melbourne born. Educated at Haileybury College and Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Ted moved with his parents to Canberra in 1927. Next year he became a temporary officer with the Federal Capital Commission. Appointed a permanent officer in the Commonwealth Public Service in 1929, he had postings to the Public Service Board and the Bureau of Census and Statistics. At St Andrew’s Church of England, Brighton, Melbourne, on 22 December 1937 he married Jean MacPherson, who worked in her family’s business. Next year he joined the Department of Trade and Customs.

On 18 July 1942 Hicks enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Commissioned on 9 October 1943, he held various administrative positions and was promoted to flying officer in April 1944. His RAAF appointment terminated on 2 October 1945. Back in Trade and Customs, he became principal research officer in the commercial policies branch in 1947. Another stint at the Public Service Board followed, first as an inspector (from 1948) and then as senior inspector investigating the organisation and methods of government departments (from 1950). He had qualified as an accountant and studied at Canberra University College (B.Com., 1948), later becoming a fellow (1972) of the Australian Society of Accountants; he saw accountancy qualifications as a prerequisite for an administrative career.

Hicks was appointed secretary of the Department of Air on 22 December 1951. His effectiveness there led to his being selected to succeed the long-serving and formidable Sir Frederick Shedden as secretary of the Department of Defence on 29 October 1956. He made his strongest mark in higher administration and policy at Defence. An adviser and confidant to ministers and prime ministers, he was respected and valued by his peers. However, his last few years in office were clouded by a communication breakdown between himself and his minister, (Sir) Allen Fairhall, who had succeeded Sir Shane Paltridge in 1966. More thoughtful and intellectual in his approach to problems, Hicks could not find a meeting of minds with the technically inclined Fairhall.

Within the department, though, and in relation to the armed services, Hicks had a gift of communication and understanding. Soon after he took over, he gave the first staff Christmas party held at Defence, with a bar set up in his own office. Throughout his term he was chairman of the Defence Committee; he was also a member of the Morshead committee, which in 1957 reported to the government on future defence administration. Having organised the transfer (from 1959) of the Defence group of departments from Melbourne to Canberra, he presided over what until then was one of the greatest expansions in Australia’s defence program. He strongly defended the purchase of the controversial F-111 strike bomber from the United States of America.

After his wife died in 1959, Hicks married Lois Una Swindon, a trained nurse, on 14 January 1961 at the Church of St John the Baptist, Reid. He was appointed CBE in 1956 and knighted in 1965. In January 1968 he retired from Defence and became high commissioner to New Zealand. He returned to Canberra in 1971. His contribution to Canberra’s community life had begun in sporting circles, where he made his mark in cricket, Australian Rules football and tennis. Later he was an active golfer, serving as honorary treasurer (1971-73) and vice-president (1973-74) of the Royal Canberra Golf Club. He was a member (1972-73) of the board of Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar School; chairman (1974-82) of the council of Burgmann College, Australian National University; honorary treasurer (1972-75) of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust; and a member (1978-84) of the interim council of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. He supported St John’s, Reid, and the establishment (1972) of St David’s Church, Red Hill, and served on the advisory board of the Salvation Army.

Hicks played a part in Canberra’s commercial life through his appointment as chairman of the board of Capital City Broadcasters Pty Ltd, the licensee of radio station 2CC. He was also a consultant to the Boeing International Corporation. His genial, chubby-faced appearance belied the big, capable mind he brought to bear on all he undertook. Among colleagues he commanded respect as a `straight-down-the-centre man of innate honesty, never swayed by friendship or a useful argument that might not be valid’. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, and by the four sons and daughter of his first marriage, Sir Edwin died on 14 May 1984 in Canberra and was buried in Gungahlin cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Dennis et al, The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (1995)
  • P. Hasluck, The Chance of Politics (1997)
  • E. Andrews, The Department of Defence (2001)
  • Canberra Times, 7 Dec 1967, p 1, 17 Jan 1968, p 18, 19 May 1984, p 6
  • Australian, 5 Jan 1968, p 3
  • Australian Accountant, Dec 1972, p 443, June 1984, p 342
  • series A9300, item Hicks E W (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Hicks, Sir Edwin William (Ted) (1910–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 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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