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Loof, Rupert Harry Colin (1900–2003)

by John Farquharson

When he retired in July 1965 after 10 years as Clerk of the Senate and nearly 40 years as a parliamentary officer, Rupert Loof was described as a ‘truly remarkable man of extraordinary versatility, with many talents and interests’.

Those words of the then Labor Opposition Leader in the Senate, Nick McKenna, aptly sum up a man who not only made a significant and creative contribution to parliamentary practice, but was also an inventor in such disparate fields as golf and pottery. But the list of his accomplishments does not end there. He was also a fine pianist and organist who, in his retirement years, delighted in painting (mostly in oils) and writing verse. He could speak the universal language, Esperanto, while in sport he was an A-grade golfer and tennis player.

Another notable accomplishment of Rupert Loof, who has died in Canberra aged 102, was to live to over 100 – through the whole of the 20th century and into the 21st. And, appropriately, his 100th birthday, was celebrated in the Senate President’s offices in Old Parliament House where he spent almost his entire parliamentary career.

Born at Katamatite, Victoria, on August 15, 1900, son of a farmer, he was educated at primary schools in Katamatite and Melbourne, Melbourne High School and a Melbourne business academy, where he learnt shorthand and typing. He was one of the few parliamentary officers of his generation to hold a tertiary qualification – a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Melbourne University.

His long parliamentary career began in October 1926 as a clerk and shorthand writer with the Federal Parliament, then located in Melbourne. However, he first entered the Commonwealth Public Service in February 1919 as a clerk in the Department of Defence and in the nine months before his transfer to the parliamentary service, was personal clerk and confidential secretary to the First Naval Member of the Commonwealth Naval Board.

Loof arrived in Canberra in January 1927, among a party of some 40 parliamentary officers, to assist with the transfer of parliamentary records from Melbourne, in preparation for the official opening of the then new, but provisional, Parliament House by the Duke of York on May 9. Later that year, he moved to live in Canberra, firstly at the Hotel Kurrajong, but he and other parliamentary officers had to give up their rooms to the official guests while they slept in their offices at Parliament House.

The night before the opening, when he thought everyone was asleep, Loof could not resist going into King’s Hall and trying out the grand piano that had been installed to accompany Dame Nellie Melba when she sang the National Anthem. He once recalled, ‘I didn’t think anyone was around, but when I looked up I could see all these eyes peering at me around the columns. An official came along and ordered me to stop playing – much to everyone’s disappointment’.

That incident, together with the opening of the first session of the 10th Parliament by the Duke on the Senate chamber on the same day, was to remain Loof’s most vivid memory as an officer of the Parliament. During those years, from 1927 to 1965, he served variously as correspondence and reading clerk, clerk of records and papers until his appointment as Usher of the Black Rod and clerk of committees in January 1939. From 1942 until July 1955, he served as clerk-assistant (or deputy clerk) of the Senate and from 1945 until the end of 1954, he also held the post of Secretary of the Joint House Department, then Clerk of the Senate from 1955 to 1965. He was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1962.

Among Loof’s most rewarding tasks as head of the Joint House Department was responsibility for organising all formal functions in Parliament House for the Royal visit of 1954 – the first by a reigning British monarch. Apart from having an input, before his retirement, into a revision of standing orders, which came into effect in January 1966, Loof’s term as Clerk of the Senate was a distinguished one – marked by three major parliamentary reforms whose effects still reverberate today. These were: the formation of an Australian national group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in 1956, as a precursor to Australia being admitted to full IPU membership; in conjunction with the Government Senate Leader, Senator Spooner, a major change to Budget and estimates procedures in 1961; and the administrative re-organisation of the Department of the Senate in 1964.

The long-term benefits flowing from these initiatives included greater opportunities for Australian participation in international parliamentary affairs; more thorough and expeditious consideration of the estimates; and improved servicing by parliamentary officers of the Senate Chamber, procedural and committee needs. These were landmark reforms that led to other changes, eventually greatly empowering the Senate, in contrast to the previous static 60 years. Sir Alister McMullin, Senate President during Loof’s years as Clerk, said of Loof that he had an ‘inbuilt understanding of the parliamentary machine and its workings’, while ‘the functioning of our parliamentary institution has been paramount in his mind at all times’.

However, his parliamentary pre-occupations receded in retirement when he was able to devote more time to his wider interests – music, painting, pottery and poetry. Of course, music had been far from neglected during his parliamentary years, as he used to play the organ firstly, at Reid Methodist church, then at St Andrew’s Presbyterian church, Forrest, where he was choirmaster and assistant organist for 15 years. He also helped out as organist at St John’s Anglican Church, Reid, where he was called upon to play for the national memorial service for King George V in February 1936.

His retirement activities led to him being named ‘inventor of the week’ by the ABC’s Inventor’s program in 1978 for the automatic golf-teeing machine he designed and made. As a potter, he invented a special device to centre the clay on the pottery wheel. He continued to play tennis until well into middle age and golf until he was nearly 90. Though in his parliamentary days, he often seemed stern-faced in demeanour and abrupt in manner, he had a warm, quirky and whimsical side. In conversation with a fellow painter, he once said that he was eminently suited to be a painter of still life because he had been a public servant for so long!

In 1929, Rupert Loof married Margaret White, sister of Harold White, who went on to become Sir Harold and a long-serving Parliamentary and National Librarian. When they first came to Canberra, Loof and White shared a house, with several others, in Ainslie. Loof met his future wife during a weekend visit to the White family home in Canterbury, Victoria. Margaret Loof died in 1995, aged 92.

He is survived by a son (Peter), two daughters (Helen and Alison) and their families.

Rupert Harry Colin Loof, born 15 August 1900; died 21 March 2003.

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 27 March 2003
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 March 2003
  • Canberra Times, 28 March 2003

Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Loof, Rupert Harry Colin (1900–2003)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/loof-rupert-harry-colin-612/text613, accessed 16 June 2019.

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