Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Peter Leonard Till (1937–1976)

by Nicholas Brown

This article was published:

Peter Leonard Till (1937-1976), public servant, was born on 9 February 1937 at Portsmouth, England, only child of Leonard Alfred Till, chemist's assistant, and his wife Dorothy Mary, née Starling. Peter attended Hambledon County Primary and Portsmouth Grammar schools. In 1955 he entered Jesus College, Oxford (B.A., 1959), where he read classics, and philosophy, politics and economics. At the register office, Oxford, on 18 June 1959 he married Tjitske Dani Noppen, a nurse; they had no children and later divorced. After a year teaching at Trinity College, Dublin, he was recruited to the Commonwealth Treasury and arrived in Canberra in 1960. Characteristically untidy and energetic, he was prominent in debates among policy officers in the back bar of the Hotel Canberra—once challenging John Stone, then a rising Treasury officer, to a foot race of 20 miles (32 km) to Lake George. Stone won.

Leaving the Treasury for Paris in 1965, Till joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. He specialized in macro-economic policy. On 12 May 1967 at the consular section of the British Embassy, Paris, he married Carol Elizabeth Morris, a secretary. The ideal of social and economic reconstruction in Europe inspired him, but in the early 1970s he grew disillusioned and resigned his post. Encouraged by Australian contacts, Michael Keating and Patrick Troy, he returned to Canberra in 1973 to become one of the senior contract executives around whom the Department of Urban and Regional Development, created by the new Labor government, took shape. He was appointed first assistant secretary and headed successively the resource allocation, strategy, and land divisions.

Till and Troy advised the minister Tom Uren during intense negotiations with Treasury about priorities in public expenditure and new practices of functional budgeting. As an economist, Till was sharp in identifying inefficiencies and subsidies to privileged groups. As a reformer, he was keen to push an agenda of state intervention. Although sometimes combative and abrasive, he won respect for his basic compassion and moral sense, tempered by keen economic understanding. He was pivotal to efforts—often under the pressures of achieving consensus and managing controversy—to bring coherence to the department's activities.

The negotiations over the Albury-Wodonga growth centre were an important part of Till's work, as was the rehabilitation of Darwin after the 1974 cyclone. His travels fostered a strong attachment to the country and provided a ready store of anecdotes about the outback. An emotional restlessness was central to his nature, and possibly a reason for his professional mobility. His second marriage, also childless, ended in divorce, and he formed several close relationships that eventually became strained.

Following the dismissal and defeat of the Whitlam government, D.U.R.D. was incorporated in the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development in December 1975. Till retained his post, but the political mood had changed and he spoke of returning to Paris. He died of meningitis on 21 May 1976 in Canberra Hospital and was cremated. A memorial trust funded the restoration of huts in Kosciusko National Park, New South Wales, and in the French Alps, reflecting his passion for walking. In August 1980 the Peter Till Environmental Laboratory was opened at Albury.

Select Bibliography

  • P. N. Troy (ed), Federal Power in Australia's Cities (Syd, 1978)
  • C. J. Lloyd and P. N. Troy, Innovation and Reaction (Syd, 1981)
  • T. Uren, Straight Left (Syd, 1994)
  • Canberra Times, 22, 27 May 1976
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Nicholas Brown, 'Till, Peter Leonard (1937–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 February, 1937
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England


21 May, 1976 (aged 39)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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