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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Parry Okeden, Richard Godfrey Christian (1900–1978)

by John Perkins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Richard Godfrey Christian Parry Okeden (1900-1978), businessman, was born on Christmas Day 1900 at Turnworth, Dorset, England, seventh child of Uvedale Edward Parry Parry-Okeden, landowner, and his second wife Carolina Susan, née Hambro. Dick was educated at Eton College. Due to family financial difficulties he was unable to proceed to university at Oxford or Cambridge. Through his friendship at Eton with Edward Connor Lysaght, great-nephew of the founder of John Lysaght Ltd, he joined that sheet-steel and galvanized-iron manufacturing firm at Bristol. He went to New South Wales in 1923 to join Lysaght's Newcastle Works Ltd under H. R. Lysaght. Although he lacked a background in metallurgy or engineering, he was appointed supervisor of the rolling plant in 1926. At St Philip's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 1 March 1930 he married Florence Brown (d.1975), grand-daughter of Harriette McCathie.

From 1940 Parry Okeden was chairman and managing director of Lysaght's Newcastle Works Ltd, and of Commonwealth Rolling Mills Pty Ltd which was established after the opening of the Port Kembla plant in 1937. The Lysaght companies were Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd's leading customer for steel. They made galvanized iron and, increasingly, sheet-steel, products for which there was a growing demand, in particular for housing (roofing and guttering), motor-vehicle bodies, white goods, agricultural equipment and water tanks. During World War II the firm manufactured the Owen gun and other matériel.

Parry Okeden took over as chairman and managing director of John Lysaght (Australia) Ltd in 1946. He was also a director of its parent company, John Lysaght Ltd. After the Australian works were amalgamated and converted into a public company (with the same name) in 1961, he continued as managing director and chairman. Relinquishing the former post in 1964 and the latter in 1967, he remained deputy-chairman until 1970.

His knowledge of economics, like that of metallurgy, had been acquired from study and observation, both involving the application of an acute mind. Parry Okeden strongly opposed the demand from organized labour for the 40-hour week, an issue that affected Lysaght's in 1947-48 through strikes and bans on overtime and weekend work, as well as through labour unrest on the waterfront at Newcastle and Port Kembla. President of the New South Wales Chamber of Manufactures (1951-53) and of the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia (1952-54), he blamed inflation on 'bottlenecks in production', or on supply factors, including 'the shortage of coal, the Communist disruptionists, inadequate transport facilities, and excessive absorption of man-power in Government employ'.

In 1949 Parry Okeden was appointed to the council of the New South Wales University of Technology (later University of New South Wales). In the mid-1950s he was also chairman of the Nuclear Research Foundation within the University of Sydney; that university conferred on him an honorary doctorate of science in 1957. Parry Okeden collected non-executive directorships in companies unrelated to metals manufacture, which he continued to hold after his retirement from Lysaght—they included E.M.I. (Australia) Ltd, the Australian Gas Light Co., Manufacturers' Mutual Insurance Ltd and the Perpetual Trustee Co. Ltd. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1961 and C.M.G. in 1964.

Before his marriage Parry Okeden had been an ardent motorcyclist; he brought with him perhaps the only Scott water-cooled motorcycle to reach Australia, and retained an interest in motorcars and motoring. He was honorary secretary of the Newcastle Golf Club, though his inclinations may have been less towards the fairways and greens than the 19th hole (the bar of the club became known as the 'Okeden Inn'). In Sydney, where he moved with his family in 1948, he belonged to the Elanora Country, Royal Sydney Golf and the Australian clubs. He was president (1957-59) of the Union Club and frequently lunched there. As pastimes, he enjoyed fly-fishing, quail-shooting, photography (some of his images of steam locomotives were published) and the history of the iron-and-steel industry in Australia. Parry Okeden's enduring passions were classical music and playing the piano; he had the capacity to play 'by ear' and never learned to read music. Survived by his son and two daughters, he died on 16 December 1978 at his Bayview home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • John Lysaght (Australia) Pty Ltd, Lysaght's Silver Jubilee 1921-1946 (priv print, Syd, 1946), Lysaght Venture (Syd, 1955), The Lysaght Century, 1857-1957 (Bristol, Eng, 1957)
  • P. N. Richards, Lysaght Enterprise (Port Kembla, NSW, 1992)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Mar, 16 June, 7-8 July, 14, 16, 18, 27, 30 Oct 1947, 20, 23-24 Feb, 27 Aug 1948, 12-13 Jan 1949, 5 Oct 1950, 14, 17 Mar, 5, 27, 29 Sept, 1 Dec 1951, 12, 21, 23 Jan, 27 Nov, 31 Dec 1952, 15-16 May, 21 Aug, 12 Oct, 12 Nov 1953, 29 Mar 1954
  • private information.

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Citation details

John Perkins, 'Parry Okeden, Richard Godfrey Christian (1900–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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