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.

Samuel (Sam) Landau (1915–1983)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published:

Samuel Landau (1915-1983), public servant, was born on 19 January 1915 at North Carlton, Melbourne, son of Collingwood-born Morris Landau, cutter and later clothing manufacturer, and his wife Hanchen Sarah, née Chodowski, who was born in New Zealand.  At Melbourne High School Sam excelled as a scholar and sportsman, and as school captain (1932).  He studied history and political science at the University of Melbourne (BA Hons, 1936; MA, 1938).  In 1936 he was appointed a clerk in the Department of Defence, and the following year was made personal assistant to the permanent head, (Sir) Frederick Shedden.

On 29 November 1938 at the Synagogue, Toorak Road, Melbourne, Landau married Lyla Cora Reynolds, a clerk.  In World War II he was a key member of the efficient secretariat that supported the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council.  He ensured that agenda papers were properly prepared, took charge of Shedden’s meeting notes, co-ordinated the production and distribution of minutes, and supervised the stenographic, registry and research staffs.  His duties also entailed extensive interstate and overseas travel with Shedden.

In 1946 Landau was promoted to chief clerk and in 1950 to assistant-secretary.  A member from 1953 of the interdepartmental joint planning committee that formulated strategic policy proposals and contingency plans, he took part in the conference in Manila in 1954 that established the South East Asia Treaty Organisation.  In 1957 he was promoted to first assistant secretary.  The following year he attended the Imperial Defence College, London, and, on return, moved with his department to Canberra.

On 15 November 1963 Landau was appointed secretary to the Department of the Navy.  He co-ordinated the business of the Naval Board, controlled departmental expenditure and administered the civilian personnel.  The navy was going through a difficult period as a result of a series of accidents at sea.  Tom Frame has concluded that Landau could be criticised for his part in the Naval Board’s handling of evidence pertinent to the Voyager disaster.  Perhaps he erred, but he was a man of integrity and it is unthinkable that he would have acted in other than good faith.  Robert Hyslop and fellow civilian officers in the department regarded him as an effective head, who assessed situations quickly, made prompt, clear decisions, and coped adroitly with 'ministerial, political and personal niceties'.  The ministers he served and the senior naval officers with whom he worked valued his loyalty and professionalism.  He had been appointed OBE in 1960 and was elevated to CBE in 1966.

When the Department of the Navy was abolished in 1973, Landau was sent to Washington as head of the defence staff and minister for politico-military affairs.  Some uniformed officers deplored the selection of a civilian for the post, but they retained their good opinion of Landau himself.  He retired to Canberra in 1976.  Whimsical and gentlemanly in his dealings with others, he lived quietly.  Lyla claimed that work was his hobby, fishing his relaxation and gardening his duty.  He died of ischaemic heart disease on 4 January 1983 in his home at Hackett and was cremated.  His wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Frame, Where Fate Calls, 1992
  • D. Horner, Inside the War Cabinet, 1996
  • D. Horner, Defence Supremo, 2000
  • E. Andrews, The Department of Defence, 2001
  • Canberra Times, 7 January 1983, p 7
  • Hamerkaz, no 179, 5 February 1983, p Q
  • Old Unicornian, February 1983, p 8
  • F. McNicoll and S. Lunney, interview with Sir Alan McNicoll (typescript, 1977, National Library Australia)
  • private information
  • personal knowledge

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Landau, Samuel (Sam) (1915–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 January, 1915
Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


4 January, 1983 (aged 67)
Hackett, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.