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Dedman, John Johnstone (1896–1973)

The Government is particularly anxious', the Minister for Post-War Reconstruction told the Parliament, on 19 June 1946, 'that the national university .... shall be established in such manner that it will bring credit to Australia, advance the cause of learning and research in general, and take its rightful place among the great universities of the world'.

The Minister was John Johnstone Dedman, who died in Canberra on 22 November. Later, in his retirement, he was to reflect that his then departmental head, and the University's present Chancellor, Dr Coombs, played a greater part in founding ANU than he. But he was the Minister responsible for its establishment, an action that was in keeping with the commitment to tertiary education of his earlier career.

Later Mr Dedman was to compile a unique record for association with any university, being awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by ANU in 1964 and then, two years later, graduating as a Bachelor of Arts at the age of 69.

Dr Dedman served as a Convocation representative on the University Council from 1967. He was present at Council's November meeting only a few days prior to his death.

Born in Scotland, in 1896, Mr Dedman had undertaken an engineering course at Edinburgh University when the outbreak of World War I interrupted his studies. Following service in the Gallipoli campaign, Mesopotamia and France, and as a captain in the Indian Army immediately following the war, he emigrated to Australia, where he took up land in Victoria. He was forced by the Depression to give up farming, and in 1930 resumed university studies, this time in economics at Melbourne. These were interrupted, in turn, by his election to Parliament in 1940, as Labor member for Corio.

On the accession of the Curtin Government in 1941, Mr Dedman was appointed Minister for War Organisation of Industry — a position in which he made a lasting impact on tertiary education in this country. His Financial Assistance Scheme for students in such essential disciplines as medicine and engineering was the forerunner of subsequent Commonwealth tertiary assistance programs.

In 1943 Mr Dedman suggested that the Production Executive of Cabinet should examine the desirable future role of the Commonwealth in education. ANU, which he first envisaged as an undergraduate university, was the ultimate result of that suggestion. In the course of time, and most particularly through discussions coordinated by the Department of Post-War Reconstruction, of which he became Minister in 1945, the postgraduate University envisaged in 1946 took shape.

Mr Dedman lost his seat in Parliament in the 1949 swing against his Government. During the 1950s he was active as Australian director for the resettlement of refugees, of the World Council of Churches.

His relationship with ANU resumed in 1963, when he commenced a full-time course for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, which was awarded in 1966. In the meantime he had been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

'When we look at the present flourishing condition of the University', the then Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leonard Huxley remarked on that occasion, 'it is impossible not to marvel at his foresight and faith .. .'.

Original publication

Citation details

'Dedman, John Johnstone (1896–1973)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/dedman-john-johnstone-303/text304, accessed 9 December 2019.

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