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Makin, Norman John (1889–1982)

Mr Norman John Oswald Makin was a poor working class boy who rose through the ranks of the Australian Labor Party to become a Cabinet minister and, for a year, first president of the United Nations Security Council. He died in Adelaide this week at 93, his achievements almost forgotten because of his great age.

Mr Makin was a member of the Curtin wartime Cabinet. As Minister for the Navy and Munitions and then as Minister for Aircraft Production he was responsible for administering a crucial part of Australia's war effort from 1941 to 1945.

He was later the first Australian Ambassador to the United States and Australia's chief delegate to the United Nations.

He served in the Federal Parliament for 36 years, two of them as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1929 to 1931 during the period of the Scullin Government. He was the first Speaker to refuse to wear the traditional wig and gown.

Born at Petersham, NSW, he became a patternmaker after schooling in Broken Hill.

He was a man of innate courtesy and naturally courtly manners. A life-long adherence to the Methodist Church, where he was a prominent lay preacher, blunted his appetite for the hurly-burly of politics.

"I was never the most confident of men in positions of political authority," he confessed after his retirement. "I am not belligerent by nature and I was therefore happier in the role of ambassador, where I was required to make friends, not alienate them."

His personality greatly helped Australia in his overseas roles, which included membership of the Far Eastern Commission and governorship of the International Bank in Washington. He had good personal relationships with the late President Truman, Dean Acheson, General Marshall, Governor Dewey, Lester Pearson, Andrei Gromyko, Nelson Rockefeller, Averell Harriman, Eleanor Roosevelt and many others.

It was not a bad achievement for a lad who at 14 was a member of the Shop Assistants Union in Broken Hill.

He liked to attribute some of this achievement to the fact that he had been a life-time teetotaller and non-smoker.

Strangely, it was not until 1980, when he was 90, that he featured in the Australia Day honours list with membership of the Order of Australia. Until then, his most treasured honours were a United Nations Peace Medal and a 1977 certificate from the Methodist Church commending him for 70 years of lay preaching. Until his death he was still pressing for Utopia on earth with everyone practising the code taught by Christ.

"The reason why politicians do not get on better with each other,", he said in 1931, "is because they will not try to understand one another. I am perhaps in a better position than most to realise that too many politicians are intolerant, impatient and ungenerous. Regrettably there is an absence of the spirit of God in Parliament."

In 1954 he announced a proposed "comeback" attempt on the seat of Sturt after his term as Australian Ambassador in Washington. The electorate responded by voting him into office ahead of the then sitting Member Mr (now Sir Keith) Wilson, father of the present Member for Sturt, Mr Ian Wilson. But in 1956 he transferred to the newly created seat of Bonython.

Mr Makin was one of the few surviving politicians who saw the transfer of the seat of Australian political power from Melbourne to Canberra in 1927. He said years later, "I was here in this place before they put one brick upon another. My first view of the Parliament was from the earthworks under the floor."

Mr Makin spent his last years in a Uniting Church home for the aged at the South Australian suburban seaside resort of Glenelg.

He is survived by two sons, Lloyd, who lives in Melbourne, and Harold, in New Zealand.

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'Makin, Norman John (1889–1982)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/makin-norman-john-14673/text37136, accessed 10 December 2019.

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