Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Ernest Lindsey (Lin) Browne (1916–2003)

from Sydney Morning Herald

For most of his long life, Lindsey Browne was denied many of the normal pleasures of reading. This unsatisfactory state of affairs came most peculiarly to a man whose business – and great love – was words.

Setting out to read War and Peace, he spent three hours getting no further than page five. He had compiled in that time, however, a vast sheaf of notes about Tolstoy's words.

Browne put his problem this way: "It has been maddeningly impossible for me to read in print any word, phrase, or idiom without questing for the amusingly irrelevant anagrams or double meanings built in."

In short, Browne was addicted to crosswords and other word games. He once walked with his wife to Machu Picchu in Peru. From the moment he observed that "picchu" was an anagram of "hiccup", the long-lost Inca city lost some of its magic.

He was a fine writer and critic but crosswords took over his working, though not his family, life. He began compiling them soon after joining the Herald at 19 years of age, in 1935, and was working on the paper's big holiday crossword for this Queen's Birthday weekend when he died last week. Mourners at the funeral service yesterday wondered how many crosswords he had compiled for this and other publications. Sheila Browne, one of his seven children, estimated 40,000. In any case, Lindsey had claimed to have filled more editorial space in the Herald than any other journalist.

Browne's paternal forebear had come to Sydney from the East India Company in Calcutta, in 1812, and helped found the Bank of NSW. Born in Melbourne, Lindsey had five sisters, all of whom survive him. Ernest Lindsey – Lin, as the family knew him – was an unusual child. He toddled miles away from home at 17 months and was found near the Yarra River, "looking for a number one train". Discovering an early love for movies, he secured free entry to cinemas by walking in backwards while people were leaving the previous session.

His father, Clarence, an accountant, was fascinated by word games. He once explained with a straight face that bronchitis was the complaint requiring a rodeo rider to take his meals off the mantelpiece. Aunt Muriel – known as Auntie Mu but whom Browne knew as Aunt Emu – was a greater influence because she was addicted to the Herald cryptic crosswords compiled by Elliot Napier. Browne was delighted when Aunt Emu pointed out a clue: Napoleon seems to think he is able (8). Answer: Corsican.

Clarence wanted his son to study accountancy. Max Cornwell said in his eulogy that Browne responded by teaching himself to play the piano and by entering essay contests. Every time he won an essay prize he would ask for a job at the Herald. He finally became a journalist, submitting cryptic crosswords to supplement his cadet's wage.

Browne's journalism included reporting from state and federal parliaments and as New York correspondent. He reported King George VI's speech declaring that Britain was at war with Germany, interviewed Marlene Dietrich, covered the 1954-55 England cricket tour of Australia and wrote engagingly of the young Queen's arrival in Sydney on the royal yacht in 1954, prompting from harbour shipping all manner of "whoops, toots, bells and cockadoodle-doos". Browne said the wakes of small craft "spread out into huge Vs that criss-crossed first to become Ws and then XXXXXX, almost as if to say, 'With love to our Queen Elizabeth'."

Browne was chief music, drama and film critic from 1947 to 1960, succeeding Neville Cardus as music writer and sharing the Englishman's passions for music and cricket. Evan Williams, the former Herald journalist, clearly remembers a Browne piece about Claudio Arrau playing a Brahms piano concerto, "like Michelangelo striding into Carrara to hue his own marble".

For many years, Browne was responsible for every Herald crossword, as well as reviews. He saw Ray Lawler's play, The Summer of the 17th Doll, as the start of an exciting new era in Australian playwriting.

He met his first wife, Nancy Moore, at the Herald, proposing to her in a crossword. The first letter of all the across words spelled out, "I love Nancy Moore". A few weeks later, he spelled out, "Will she marry me?" An editor told him not to cryptically conceal further messages. A little later he ran the message "The answer is Yes", through the last letter in every across answer.

When Nancy developed a brain tumour, Browne discovered that the world's best brain surgeon operated in Sweden. He took her for the operation but she died in 1959, soon after their return. Having promised her not to send their four children away to school, he left the Herald to look after them, working freelance from their Greenwich home. He supplemented his income by appearing on radio and TV quiz shows.

In 1966 he married Elspeth Knox, a social worker and lecturer with whom he had also communicated by crossword. She continued her professional and academic career and the couple had three children. He played cricket for the Lane Cove XI in the city and suburban competition, as a batsman and off-break bowler, into his 50s. He had played Australian football for North Shore into his 40s.

His family did not always share his sometimes older values, having to be alert for outbreaks of recidivism, when the language went to his head and undermined his judgement. They shared the concern of readers who complained about a clue which had the answer "battered women". The clue was "panfried delicacies for criminals". Religious readers complained when he described "the heavenly host" as "a dreamboat who throws good parties".

Other clues and answers will be long remembered. Readers complained about what they thought was a typesetter's error in one crossword. The clue was a blank space followed by the figure 8 in brackets. There was no error. Answer: clueless.

What is Sherlock playing tennis (6,6)? Answer - Holmes a Court. Toothless emaciated Menzies is a whatchamacallit (9,3)? Answer: Thingummy-bob.

Browne fans were disappointed when the Herald moved the LB crossword recently from Saturdays to Tuesdays. However, many readers of The Age complained some years ago when LB replaced The Times crossword in the Melbourne paper. They preferred the generally harder puzzle and disliked Browne's idiosyncrasies. Cornwell said: "He could be disconcerting, bordering on the eccentric or even seeming rude, to people who didn't understand his passion and facility with words. His verbal preoccupation was awe-inspiring, entertaining and sometimes maddening. It was as if words lived in a world of their own, and one should revel in the exhilaration of taking them apart."

Browne taught many Australians how to do crosswords. "He was a familiar who gave continuity," Cornwell said. "When all was chaos, there was still LB – and moments of tranquillity, erudition, wit, playful irreverence, a civilised and civilising discourse, unique to each reader. LB was always there, for some during their entire adult lives. He became an institution, a Sydney treasure. They wove him intricately into their lives."

Browne left some clues to crossword solving which, he believed, is a skill that can be learned. He suggested doing the across clues first because they come more readily to the eye. He thought it a good idea to fill in the bottom right-hand corner "because that's going to go to the end letters". As a general principle, it's most helpful to get the initials of words first. And go for the short words if you're having trouble.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Ernest Lindsey (Lin) Browne

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Browne, Ernest Lindsey (Lin) (1916–2003)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024