Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Babington (Tom) Macaulay (1914–1997)

by Barbara Webster

This article was published online in 2023

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1914−1997), business executive, company chairman, and community leader, was born on 12 November 1914 at Rockhampton, Queensland, eldest of three children of (Northern) Irish-born John James Macaulay, merchant, and his Queensland-born wife Cora Ella Doris, née Hegarty. Macaulay senior was managing director of Denham Bros (Rockhampton) Pty Ltd, a branch of the produce firm co-founded in 1892 by Digby Denham, the Queensland premier (1911–15). Bestowing on their son the name of the illustrious British politician and historian, Tom’s parents seemingly had lofty aspirations for him, and, throughout life, he endeavoured to fulfil their expectations. Young Macaulay experienced a privileged upbringing but one inculcating values of diligence; devotion to God, family, and country; and service to the disadvantaged.

Having been a student from 1923 at the Rockhampton Grammar School, Macaulay attended The Southport School between 1926 and 1931. He excelled academically and in athletics, and played most sports, as well as exhibiting leadership and literary and theatrical talents. Despite qualifying for matriculation, he commenced as a clerk at Denhams in 1932 and studied accountancy part time at the Rockhampton Technical College. In 1938 he embarked on a world tour, during which he gained experience with an advertising agency in London and an oil company in New York.

A part-time soldier from April 1939 in the 42nd Battalion, Citizen Military Forces, and a sergeant when World War II erupted in Europe in September, Macaulay was commissioned in April 1940. On 1 July he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and that month joined the 2/25th Battalion, which sailed for the Middle East in April 1941. During the Syrian campaign that year, he led his platoon in three successful attacks between 27 June and 8 July, the last near Charife (Gharifeh), Lebanon, where he was shot in the chest during a bayonet charge; in all three actions, he ‘showed great dash and able leadership’, for which he was awarded the Military Cross (NAA B883). He was also mentioned in dispatches for his service in 1941. Back in Australia in March 1942, he was promoted to captain on 1 October. Two days later, at St Mark’s Church of England, Casino, New South Wales, he married Margot Waddell, a nurse. From July 1943 to February 1944 he served in Papua and New Guinea with the battalion, as adjutant. His AIF appointment terminated in Australia on 5 April 1945.

In 1954 Macaulay was appointed as managing director of Denhams Rockhampton (public company from 1959) and in 1962 was made chairman, continuing concurrently as managing director until 1979. Under him, the firm became one of Central Queensland’s foremost commercial enterprises, chiefly manufacturing and distributing Redleaf-brand processed foods. Denhams set up wholesale self-service to a group of retail clients identified as Red and White stores, by arrangement with the American owners of the trademark; established Savemore Supermarkets and Denhams Foodbarns throughout the region; and introduced the iconic concrete brick, Rockblock, through a masonry subsidiary. Macaulay, or ‘T.B.M.’ as he was also known, wrote a history of the firm, The Denham Story (1986), before retiring in 1988, when it was sold to Queensland Independent Wholesalers Ltd. He was a founding director (1959) of Rockhampton Television Ltd (RTQ7) and was president of the local chapter of the Australian Institute of Management and various manufacturers’, employers’, and regional-promotion organisations.

A lifelong committed Anglican, Macaulay dedicated himself to religious, administrative, and charitable activities at St Paul’s Cathedral. He had helped establish the Rockhampton Legacy Club in 1947 and took a prominent part in that organisation and in the Returned Services League of Australia for many years. From 1954 he was a member (president 1969–70) of the Rotary Club of Rockhampton, which awarded him a Paul Harris fellowship (1979). In 1981 he was appointed MBE, acknowledgment of his ‘unflagging zeal for good causes’ (Macaulay 1977, 47) in the community, including within the Church.

Macaulay was five feet nine inches (175 cm) tall; his resonant voice and air of authority created the impression of greater height and gave him a commanding presence. Self-assured, articulate, and persuasive, he was a respected public figure whose business success and community standing no doubt partly benefited from his eschewing overt party-political affiliations. It is said he had ‘a few detractors’ (Macaulay 1977, 48), however, some of whose actions failed to meet his expectations and who interpreted his confidence as hubris and his assertiveness as coercion. He was prominent in the affairs of both his schools’ old boys’ associations. The head of a devoted family, in retirement he spent more time with his wife, often at their Emu Park beach house; played golf; and continued his service to the Anglican Church. He died on 6 June 1997 at Rockhampton and was cremated. His wife and their daughter, Megan, and two sons, John and Rowan, survived him.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Cowan, Joan. Interview by the author, 15 July 2016. Digital recording
  • Macaulay, Margot. ‘T.M.B.’ Unpublished manuscript held by the family, 1977. Copied extracts held on ADB file
  • Macaulay, Thomas B. The Denham Story: A History of a Central Queensland Enterprise, 1896–1985. Rockhampton, Qld: Denham Bros Ltd, 1986
  • Matthews, Tony. Bearing the Palm: A Century of Education at The Southport School. Southport, Qld: The Southport School, 2000
  • McDonald, Lorna. Rockhampton: A History of City and District. Rockhampton, Qld: Rockhampton City Council, 1995
  • Morris, Megan. Interview by the author, 12 April 2016. Digital recording
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX6341
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Philp, Rob. Personal communication, 23 July 2016
  • Rockhampton & District Historical Society. Pamphlets, C 381.45

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Barbara Webster, 'Macaulay, Thomas Babington (Tom) (1914–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2023, accessed online 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 November, 1914
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia


6 June, 1997 (aged 82)
Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


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.

Religious Influence

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Military Service
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