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Neal McCusker (1907–1987)

by Craig Mackey

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Neal McCusker, n.d.

Neal McCusker, n.d.

Neal(e) McCusker (1907-1987), commissioner for railways, was born on 20 October 1907 at Marrickville, Sydney, only child of John Robert McCusker, railway stationmaster, and his wife Emmie Helen Neale, née Bird, both born in New South Wales.  Neal was educated at Dubbo High School; he obtained the Intermediate certificate.  In 1923 he started work with the New South Wales Railways as a junior porter at Byrock (where his father was working).  By 1927 he had qualified as a stationmaster.  He married with Presbyterian forms Mary Irene Magick, a shop assistant, on 9 November 1932 at Binnaway.

Regarded as a capable and determined officer, in 1942 McCusker became a staff inspector in Sydney.  In 1950 he was seconded as executive officer to Reginald Winsor, chairman of the New South Wales Transport and Highways Commission.  On Winsor’s appointment in 1952 as commissioner for railways, McCusker also returned to the railways.  Next year he became assistant secretary (finance and operations) and was deputy commissioner from December 1954 to April 1955, while Winsor was ill.  In 1955 Winsor reluctantly appointed McCusker to the role of senior executive officer (created by ministerial direction); their once-cordial relationship had deteriorated.

Reacting to escalating railways deficits, the State government forced Winsor to resign in 1956 and McCusker was appointed commissioner for railways.  He continued the modernisation program begun in the 1940s, giving particular attention to replacing steam locomotives (and their infrastructure and work practices) with diesel and electric locomotives.  Goods business was a key element of his policy.  Keenly aware of the social cost of technological change, he was sympathetic to staff, seeking to minimise adverse impacts.  He was appointed CBE in 1959.

McCusker’s careful budgetary control and affordable modernisation led to net surpluses by the early 1960s. Improved road and air transport, which attracted goods and passenger traffic from the railways, together with spiralling wage costs, resulted in increasing deficits from the late 1960s.  One of his prescient predictions was that future railway revenue would depend mainly on freight traffic. Although a moderniser, he officially sanctioned community efforts to preserve a large number of rolling stock, other artefacts and documents.  He retired in 1972.

Appearing aloof, McCusker was firm but fair in disciplinary matters and had considerable personal contact with the general staff.  A quietly spoken, sandy-haired man, he pursued improvement in 'this great service' as he called it, but was more understanding of 'the mistake of a man trying to do something' than of the man 'who does not make a mistake because he does not do anything'.  Executing his role as commissioner with independence, he often discomfited the government (as, for instance, when he precipitated strike action by refusing to grant wage increases) but always acted in the interests of the railways’ financial probity.

In retirement McCusker became a director of Comeng Holdings Ltd and Mayne, Nickless Ltd, and continued to enjoy playing bowls.  He died on 27 July 1987 in his home at Mosman and was cremated.  His wife and their two daughters survived him; their son had died in infancy.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gunn, Along Parallel Lines, 1989
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1956, p 2
  • Bulletin, 18 May 1960, p 32
  • Sunday Mirror (Sydney), 7 January 1962, p 41
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 February 1969, p 2
  • Australian, 16 November 1970, p 5
  • Australian, 12 January 1971, p 2
  • Roundhouse (Burwood), November 1972, p 5
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 July 1987, p 12

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Citation details

Craig Mackey, 'McCusker, Neal (1907–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 13 June 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

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