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Alfred Clement Borthwick Maiden (1922–1979)

by Robert S. Swift

This article was published:

Alfred Clement Borthwick Maiden (1922-1979), public servant, was born on 21 August 1922 at Taree, New South Wales, son of Australian-born parents Alfred William Borthwick Maiden, a salesman who became a public accountant, and his wife Florence Ethel, née Rudder. Young Alf attended Taree High School before studying history and economics at New England University College, Armidale (B.A. Hons, 1942). A full-time militiaman from December 1941, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 9 October 1942. At St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 20 March 1943 he married Norma Couper Sneesby, a 21-year-old schoolteacher. He served in Port Moresby in 1943-44 as a bombardier with the 555th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery and was demobilized in Australia on 4 December 1945.

In 1946 Maiden obtained a post as a research officer in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Department of Commerce and Agriculture, Canberra. He gained valuable experience as secretary to a committee which calculated the costs of production for wheat—the basis of the stabilization plan implemented in 1948. From 1951 he was commercial and agricultural attaché at the Australian Embassy, Washington. Returning home, he was appointed assistant-director of the B.A.E. in April 1954 and assistant-secretary (tariff division), Department of Trade, in July 1956. In the following year he again went to Washington, as commercial counsellor and Australian government trade commissioner. Back in Canberra, in 1959 he was made director of the B.A.E., which had been transferred (1956) to the Department of Primary Industry. On 27 October 1962 he was promoted secretary of the department.

By the 1960s subsidies and price-stabilization schemes for primary products, such as wheat and dairy goods, had led to over-production and were proving costly to the Commonwealth government. Plans to modify these measures called for inventiveness and fine judgement on the part of ministers and their chief advisers. Maiden was adept at handling these and other politically sensitive issues of agricultural policy. He also gained a reputation as a capable representative of his country at meetings of international economic bodies, particularly those of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

In 1968 Maiden resigned from the public service to become managing director of the International Wool Secretariat, a post he took up in London in 1969. The I.W.S. had been established to carry out international research and promotional activities for the wool industries of its member countries—Australia, New Zealand and South Africa—at a time of increasing competition from synthetic fibres. Australia initially contributed about two-thirds of the I.W.S. budget. Maiden's management and leadership provided effective and economical administration of the organization's programmes. On 30 July 1973 he was appointed (for a five-year term) full-time chairman of the new Australian Wool Corporation, Melbourne; he also accepted chairmanship of the I.W.S.

Maiden's responsibilities proved demanding. Market fluctuations in the price of wool were extreme. In an attempt to protect producers from the adverse effects of this volatility, the Wool Corporation introduced a minimum reserve-price scheme in September 1974. As a result, the corporation accumulated large quantities of wool (ranging from 1.9 million bales in late 1975 to 350,000 bales in June 1979) and engaged in extensive borrowing to pay for the stockpile. The Wool Corporation also allocated substantial funds for research and promotion, and studied production and marketing methods, such as innovative shearing techniques, sale by sample, the objective measurement of wool and the use of larger bales.

To succeed, Maiden needed the confidence of politicians, growers, buyers, brokers, trade unionists, financiers and other people in the industry. A tall, dark-haired man who enjoyed tennis, war history and operatic music, he gave 'the impression of solidarity, decency and honesty'. His calmness, confidence and openness inspired trust. Appointed C.B.E. in 1965, he was named 'Man of the Year in Australian Agriculture' in 1976. Twelve months into his second term as chairman of the Wool Corporation, he died of a coronary occlusion on 30 July 1979 at his Toorak home and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him. Michael Noakes painted two portraits of Maiden: one is held by the I.W.S. in London, the other by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Ives, The Australian Wool Corporation (Melb, 1994)
  • Australian Parliamentary and Legislative Review, 10 Oct 1968, p 21
  • Australian Wool Corporation, Annual Report, 1973-79
  • Canberra Times, 1 Jan 1969
  • Australian, 31 July 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert S. Swift, 'Maiden, Alfred Clement Borthwick (1922–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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