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Banks, Norman Stewart (1958–2011)

Norman Banks, n.d.

Norman Banks, n.d.

Captain Norman Stewart Banks, a career and most respected naval officer, passed away on 2 December 2011 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. 

Norman Banks was born in the Orkney Islands in Scotland on 31 May 1958. His childhood was that of a traditional islander of the period and this included often wearing a kilt to school. Norman was the son of Stewart and Nancy Banks who had a long tradition of farming and fishing. His family immigrated to Australia in the earlier 1970s and settled in Melbourne. Norman quickly embraced the Australian way of life and developed an Australian accent that belied his Scottish origins. 

In 1977 Norman Banks joined the Royal Australian Navy as a Supplementary List officer at HMAS Cerberus, south of Melbourne. With his long standing family maritime roots it was unsurprising that Norman had a strong affinity for the sea and the Navy. 

Norman's early career followed the established pattern of training in the Fleet to obtain his bridge watching keeping certificate and then service in small ships to consolidate his watchkeeping skills. In Norman's case he served in the patrol boats Adroit and Assail based out of Darwin. During that period these small vessels mainly conducted fisheries protection and were a navy unto themselves. 

Following his patrol boat years, Norman undertook the Assistant Principal Warfare Officers Course at HMAS Watson in 1983. He then served in the destroyer escort HMAS Parramatta both watchkeeping in the bridge and the operations room. During this period the ship conducted deployments to South East Asia. In 1984 he undertook the one-year Principal Warfare Officer training with the Royal Navy in UK. He and three other RAN officers were on the last course before this training was repatriated to Australia.  Norman specialised in Gunnery and remained in UK after the course to undertake an exchange posting as the gunnery officer of the frigate HMS Avenger. The ship had operational service in the Persian Gulf as part of the Armilla Patrol. Essentially the task of the frigate was to ensure safe passage of merchant shipping in the face of the Iranian-Iraqi conflict. This period of his service broadened Norman's professional horizons and firmly established his specialist credentials. 

On return to Australia Norman spent some time in the PWO Faculty at HMAS Watson prior to joining the frigate HMAS Darwin. The ship attended Exercise RIMPAC 1990. The event was notable for two things; the first was Darwin running aground off Hawaii and requiring some weeks in Pearl Harbor effecting repairs. The second was that Norman met his future wife Maureen O’Malley at a cocktail party. Maureen and some girl friends were on a holiday from Clinton, Massachusetts and by chance received an invitation to attend the reception. Norman and Maureen married at HMAS Watson in 1992. Their union brought immense happiness to them both. 

Norman’s sea service included a posting as Executive Officer of the frigate Melbourne and then culminated in his command of the Adelaide. The controversy of the 2001, 'Children Overboard' incident, was a much unwanted distraction for Norman. He was immensely proud of the efforts and heroics displayed by Adelaide's sailors in successfully rescuing the men, women and children from the sinking vessel. His composure through this incident and subsequent inquiries became an inspiration for a generation of naval officers. His command of Adelaide subsequently included a successful operational deployment to the Gulf to enforce UN Security Council Resolutions against Iraq. 

In 1994 Captain Banks was posted for two years Exchange service with the US Navy. He was appointed to the staff of the Commander Third Fleet primarily for Exercise RIMPAC, and he did exceedingly well in a very complex job. 

In 2002 Norman was sent to the US Central Command Headquarters in Tampa, Florida to act at the Australian Defence Liaison Officer. This was a critical time as the Central Command was immersed in developing contingency plans for the possible invasion of Iraq. By virtue of his experience with operating with the US Navy over his career as well as his understanding of the US military culture, Norman was extremely successful in that role. 

On leaving Adelaide Norman travelled to Darwin undertaking the role of the Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander Northern Command.  He was promoted to Captain from this role and attended staff training at the Australian Defence College before serving as the Chief of Staff to the Commander of Australian Naval Systems Command. The Command had diverse responsibilities from naval training, engineering, naval bases and personnel. Norman was a brilliant chief of staff who possessed a sure sense of judgement, a willingness to address difficult personnel matters and an exceptional clarity of thought on paper. 

In 2009 Norman contracted stomach cancer and the battle for his life began. The early outlook was positive but his strain of cancer was virulent. His fight against the disease was quite inspirational as was the devotion and courage shown by Maureen. Norman was touched by the support the Navy and the broader Naval Family gave him during his struggle. He was equally grateful to the wonderful support provided by the medical staff at Canberra Hospital and the Duntroon Medical Centre. 

Norman Banks had qualities that attracted great loyalty and affection among his friends. They appreciated his native Scottish stubbornness, his deep integrity and good humour. He came to unintentionally symbolise the Navy's abiding desire to adhere to its values and that of preserving life at sea in the face of the uncertain pressures of border protection. 

Norman’s abiding passions were his family, the Navy, and his native sport of golf.  His beloved Collingwood Magpies can also not go without mention.  He doggedly supported the Magpies from his early years in Melbourne and was known to spend late nights’ overseas ear glued to radios or the internet to follow games and hear results.

Norman Banks is survived by his loving wife Maureen, his parents, Nancy and Stewart, and his younger sister, Grace.

Original publication

Citation details

'Banks, Norman Stewart (1958–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/banks-norman-stewart-15308/text26512, accessed 7 July 2022.

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Norman Banks, n.d.

Norman Banks, n.d.