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Edward Alexander Mann (1874–1951)

by E. M. Andrews

This article was published:

Edward Alexander Mann (1874-1951), chemist, politician and broadcaster, was born on 11 August 1874 at Mount Gambier, South Australia, son of Gilbert Hill Cheke Mann, telegraph stationmaster, and his wife Sophia Charlotte, daughter of Rev. John Ramsden Wollaston. (Sir) Frederick Mann was an elder brother. Edward was educated privately and at the University of Melbourne. In 1890 he was appointed assistant to the chief inspector of explosives, Melbourne, then in 1895 government analyst in Western Australia and, in 1902, agricultural chemist. He was a member of the advisory committee under the Health Act and responsible for setting up the government laboratory in Perth; as chief inspector of explosives he established the magazine depot at Fremantle. A member of royal commissions on the ventilation and sanitation of mines (1904-10) and miner's phthisis (1911), he produced many technical publications that had industrial or agricultural application. He became a fellow of the Institute of Chemistry of Britain and Ireland (1914). On 11 September 1901 he had married Estelle Frances Leonie Hicks at South Yarra, Melbourne.

In 1916 Mann enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force but while in training at an officers' instructional school was asked by the Western Australian government to withdraw in favour of membership of the Commonwealth Advisory Council for Science and Industry (1916-20). When he failed to get larger representation for Western Australia he took little part in the proceedings, partly because of distance. In 1921 he resigned his post as agricultural chemist, technically over its amalgamation with another, but probably because as president of the Civil Service Association he had been prominent in the public service strike of 1920.

In 1922 he was elected Federal member for Perth as a Nationalist. As an advocate of the duty of all members of a democracy to exercise their responsibility to vote, he steered through parliament the Electoral Act (1924) which established compulsory voting. He was temporary chairman of committees in 1925-28. Mann did not fit into the party system: he strongly supported State rights and was a highly efficient member for Perth. He argued for a reduction in tariffs, joining the Town and Country Union for that purpose, and publicly criticized his prime minister Stanley (Viscount) Bruce, even resigning from the party briefly in 1926. In 1929 he joined Billy Hughes in attacking the Bruce-Page government's failure to prosecute coal-owner John Brown. Excluded from party meetings as a consequence, they joined three others and brought down the government when it attempted to abolish the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. Although Mann failed to gain a seat as an Independent in the 1929 election, he had the satisfaction of seeing Bruce and the Nationalists rejected by the electorate.

After a brief experience in insurance Mann, under the pseudonym of 'The Watchman', became the 'nearest thing Australian radio had in the 1930's to an oracle'. As the Australian Broadcasting Commission's chief commentator, he had a daily news session, 'At home and abroad', and a weekly programme, 'The news behind the news'. His clarity and fluency created interest; some listeners were attracted because he seemed sincere and independent but others objected to his dogmatism and anonymity. A huge popular following helped to preserve his outspokenness. The government of Joe Lyons, offended by his criticism of its trade diversion policy, put pressure on the A.B.C. to muzzle him. His comments on the Spanish civil war and Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy, especially at Munich, also aroused opposition.

From September 1939 Mann was subject to censorship on the orders of the Menzies cabinet. His identity was exposed in parliament late in the year. His services were reduced, and he resigned in October 1940 while contesting Flinders, which he failed to win by a narrow margin, as an Independent. Although he returned to the A.B.C. he resigned bitterly when he was deprived of his regular session. His booming voice was then heard on commercial stations; he still held a following in 1943. In 1944 he published Arrows in the Air: A Selection from Broadcasts by 'The Watchman'.

Mann died on 15 November 1951, on a tram in Melbourne, from a heart attack and was cremated. On 2 August 1949 he had married Gladys Alice Kubale at Melbourne and was survived by her and a son and two daughters of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger (Syd, 1979)
  • G. Currie and J. Graham, The Origins of CSIRO (Melb, 1966)
  • K. S. Inglis, This is the ABC (Melb, 1983)
  • Politics, 13, no 2 (1978), p 286
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Aug, 11 Dec 1925, 29 July, 2 Aug, 11, 23 Sept 1926, 19 Sept, 2 Nov 1928, 23, 24, 28, 31 Aug, 3, 5, 11, 14, 17, 19, 21, 27 Sept 1929, 10 Nov 1938, 26 Aug, 4, 10, 12, 15, 16, 19 Oct 1940, 16 Nov 1951
  • CSIRO Archives (Canberra).

Citation details

E. M. Andrews, 'Mann, Edward Alexander (1874–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Watchman, The

11 August, 1874
Mount Gambier, South Australia, Australia


15 November, 1951 (aged 77)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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