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Frank Lawrence Wellington Hutchens (1918–1966)

by Beverley Firth

This article was published:

Frank Lawrence Wellington Hutchens (1918-1966), steelworks engineer, was born on 28 June 1918 at Cobar, New South Wales, second son of native-born parents John Wellington Hutchens, mining clerk, and his wife Josephine, née Farrelly. In the early 1920s the Cobar mine closed and John moved his family to Waratah, Newcastle. He found a job at the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd's new steelworks and was later storekeeper and purchasing officer at the nearby works of what became the Commonwealth Steel Co. Ltd (Comsteel). Frank excelled in sport and academic studies, and was dux of the Marist Bros' school, Hamilton. In November 1935 he joined Comsteel as a trainee-engineer. Having gained an engineering diploma (1940) from Sydney Technical College, in 1942 he was appointed assistant to the superintendent of the mills. At Corpus Christi Catholic Church, Waratah, on 27 February 1943 he married Patricia Mary Rooney, a cook.

Able and industrious, Hutchens was promoted assistant works superintendent in March 1954 and an executive-officer in the following year. Within months he was in charge of planning the introduction to Australia of the cold-rolling process for stainless steel. He made three trips abroad to study the process, assemble data and subsequently check on the progress of plant being manufactured at engineering centres in the United States of America and Europe. The site chosen for the £4 million strip-mill was farmland at Unanderra, close to the section of the Australian Iron and Steel Ltd's steelworks at Port Kembla from where the hot-rolled feed-strip would be obtained.

Hutchens was promoted assistant-manager in 1957 and moved to Unanderra to supervise the construction of the works. A rambling creek was redirected from the property, huge quantities of fill were spread to raise the ground above flood-level, rail and road bridges were erected to give access to the site, and power lines were diverted. His management skills were such that building proceeded according to plan and the plant was commissioned in September 1959, three months ahead of schedule. It was the first large contract undertaken by the new construction company, Transfield Pty Ltd. The Comsteel works was well served by rail and road, and Hutchens ensured that the grounds were beautified with gardens.

In 1961 Hutchens returned to Newcastle. Next year he was appointed general manager of Comsteel. A council-member of the Association of Australian Forging Industries, he joined the Federal government's Export Development Council in 1965 and was invited to chair the Newcastle study-tours committee of the Duke of Edinburgh's third Commonwealth Study Conference. Hutchens was a keen golfer and president of the Steel Works Golf Club. Popular, charming and a gifted speaker, he believed in playing as hard as he worked. He died suddenly of a coronary occlusion on 21 October 1966 while holidaying at Gosford and was buried in Sandgate cemetery, Newcastle. His wife, daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • BHP Review, 35, no 5, Aug 1958, p 10, 40, no 1, Christmas 1962, p 28, 44, no 1, Christmas 1966, p 31
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 6 Apr 1960
  • South Coast Times, 7 Apr 1960
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Apr 1960
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 22 Oct 1966
  • B. M. Firth, The Industrialization of Wollongong with Special Reference to AIS, 1926-1976 (Ph.D. thesis, Macquarie University, 1986)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Beverley Firth, 'Hutchens, Frank Lawrence Wellington (1918–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 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

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