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Sir Ewen McIntyre Waterman (1901–1982)

by Roger André

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Sir Ewen McIntyre Waterman (1901-1982), company director and chairman, was born on 22 December 1901 at Semaphore, Adelaide, eldest of seven children of Hugh McIntyre Waterman, newsagent, and his wife Henrietta, née Spritch. Ewen attended Le Fevre Primary and Woodville High schools, lending a hand after hours in the picture-show business Ozone Amusements (Theatres) Ltd, which his father and colleagues had launched at Port Adelaide in 1911. In 1917 he went jackerooing for four years before enrolling in a three-year woolclassing certificate course at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries; Hugh Waterman believed that his sons should be qualified at a trade. Before Ewen’s certificate was conferred in 1926, he was engaged by the woolbroking firm of Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd, classing large clips in South Australia and New South Wales.

On 7 August 1928 at the Baptist Church, Alberton, Waterman married Vera Jessie Gibb; (Sir) Claude Gibb was her brother. That year Ozone Theatres Ltd acquired the National Pictures Ltd circuit, consisting of theatres at Prospect, Marryatville and Victor Harbor, together with leases at North Adelaide and Norwood. Waterman joined the family business and for the next twenty years, with his six brothers, he devoted himself to the development of the expanding cinema chain. On his father’s retirement in 1934, Ewen succeeded him as managing director; his brother Clyde became joint managing director in 1938. Later he and Clyde were joint managing directors of Waterman Bros Ltd, which had diverse interests. By 1949 Ozone Theatres Ltd controlled thirty-four picture houses in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales and was the main promoter of British films in Australia.

Active in community life, Waterman was secretary of the South Australian Theatrical Proprietors’ Association (1937), president of the South Australian Motion Picture Exhibitors’ Association (1944) and vice-president of the Federal Cinema Exhibitors’ Council of Australia (1947). He was vice-president of the South Australian Employers’ Federation (1945) and of the South Australian Taxpayers’ Association (1947), and in 1948 was president of both the Rotary Club and the Commonwealth Club of Adelaide. In 1942-44 he had served in the Volunteer Defence Corps as a lance corporal.

Waterman resigned as chairman of directors of Waterman Brothers Ltd and associated companies in 1948, following his appointment as Australia’s member of the London-based International Wool Secretariat; he was elected chairman in 1952. At the same time he was elected chairman of the IWS’s equivalent in the Unites States of America, the Wool Bureau Inc., and was also vice-president of the International Wool Textile Organisation. Waterman travelled extensively for the IWS which, by 1953, was represented in at least fourteen countries, including in Japan and Germany. Charged with promoting the use of wool throughout the world, Waterman had the satisfaction of seeing the wartime accumulation of ten and a half million bales of wool eliminated in half the time expected.

Short in stature, Waterman exuded bustling energy and unaffected sincerity. He had, his long-time secretary remarked, ‘a million friends’, and he cut a dapper figure emerging from the IWS’s Regent Street offices in favoured Savile Row suits. ‘Mr Wool’ never ceased to express optimism about the future of the wool industry despite scepticism from some quarters. Disdainful of synthetic fibres and even blends, he saw ‘as much chance of finding a substitute for wool as . . . of producing a synthetic herring’.

Realising a youthful ambition, in 1955 Waterman returned to Australia to take up practical sheep farming on Blackwood Park, a 1273-acre (515-ha) property near Strathalbyn in South Australia. He maintained his involvement in the wool industry as the Commonwealth member of the Australian Wool Bureau (later Board) from 1955 to 1963, advising the Australian government on developments affecting the strength of the wool industry and representing Australia at international conferences focusing on wool promotion and research. In 1966-71 he was chairman of the Australian Wool Industry Conference. For his services to the pastoral industry Waterman had been knighted in 1963.

In addition to work in the theatre business and wool industry, Waterman held directorships in media, textile fabrication and marketing organisations, and in the pastoral industry. In 1957 he was appointed chairman of the South Australian board of Elder Smith & Co. Ltd (subsequently Elder Smith Goldsbrough Mort. He was also chairman of the Onkaparinga Woollen Co. Ltd and Felt & Textiles of Australia Ltd, and served on the boards of BEA Motors Ltd, News Ltd, and Southern Television Corporation Ltd.

Intensely interested in and committed to the work of the Royal Flying Doctor service, Waterman was president of the South Australian section from 1960 to 1962. He was an original member of the board of governors of the Adelaide Festival of Arts and honorary governor of the postgraduate foundation in medicine at the University of Adelaide. He also represented the interests of the South Australian Adult Deaf Society, serving as its president from 1947 to 1975.

In 1974-75 Sir Ewen relinquished his business, community and charitable interests and turned his attention to developing his Aberdeen Angus stud and pure merino flock on Blackwood Park, delighting in classing the fine-merino fleeces himself. Survived by his wife and their daughter, Waterman died on 23 October 1982 at Blackwood Park and was cremated. He is commemorated through the Sir Ewen Waterman Foundation set up by his daughter at Flinders University’s school of medicine. A portrait of him by Reg Campbell hangs in the medical library there. Sir Ewen Waterman Avenue in North Haven, South Australia, was named in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  •   Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 Nov 1934, p 2, 18 Nov 1954, p 4, 8 June 1963, p 3, 24 June 1975, p 12, 26 Oct 1982, p 13
  • Smith’s Weekly, 15 Jan 1949, p 11
  • Deaf Notes, vol 1, no 12, 1963, p 1
  • B. Radford, taped interview with Sir Ewen Waterman (1978, State Library of South Australia)
  • Sir Ewen Waterman (State Library of South Australia)
  • B884, item S69628 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Roger André, 'Waterman, Sir Ewen McIntyre (1901–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 April 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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