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Paul Bruce Free (1923–2010)

by Tom Hayes and Jane Hyden

Paul Free, with his wife Marjorie

Paul Free, with his wife Marjorie

Paul Bruce Free: born August 9, 1923; died November 5 2010

Paul Free was an outstanding electrical engineer with expertise in developing radar and guided weapons systems, in both private industry and government service.

He joined the public service in 1963 and became the coordinator for the production of the Ikara anti-submarine missile system. Ikara was extensively deployed by the Royal Australian Navy and subsequently sold to the navies of Brazil, Chile, New Zealand and Britain.

In 1971 Free became the Commonwealth's representative on the Metric Conversion Board, together with the chairman, John Norgard, and its executive officer, Alan Harper.

The successful metrication of Australia took place between 1970 and 1988. (Attempts at conversion in Britain have only been partly successful and in the United States even less so.)

A key to Australia's success came in 1972 when this trio persuaded the racing authorities to change the Melbourne Cup from two miles to 3200m.

Free was born in Sparkhill, Birmingham, in Britain. His father died when he was only six.

He won a scholarship to the Royal Wolverhampton Orphanage School, graduating as dux of the school in 1941.

Owing to the war-time need for engineers, Free studied science, graduating from the University of Birmingham with first class honours in electrical engineering.

To fund these studies, Free won two scholarships.

On graduating, Free went straight to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

His first job was to design a bomb gear release mechanism so that midget submarines could be released into the sea from the undercarriage of a Lancaster bomber.

After about 18 months, Free was moved on to designing airborne radar systems.

After World War II, he worked for Standard Telephones and Cables in London on the development and production of a precision approach radar system, used to land aircraft safely during periods of poor visibility.

In 1952, Free migrated to STC's Sydney office, where he designed critical parts of a new instrument landing system for domestic aviation.

This and a number of related projects brought him into close contact with engineers in the Department of Civil Aviation and then to his distinguished career with the public service, which he joined in 1963. During his 15 years with STC, Free joined the Institution of Radio and Electronic Engineers.

He presented papers at institution conventions and later became a senior member. Then, in 1970, a fellow. Later in Canberra, he became chairman of the Canberra division.

In 1985, Free was awarded membership of the Order of Australia.

The citation read, "Awarded in recognition of public service in the field of science and technology."

After retiring from the Department of Education and Science in 1984, Free spent the next 20 or so years serving the Canberra community. From 1985 to 1989 he was secretary for the National Science Summer School.

In 1997 he became honorary vice-president and continued his active interest in this program for a further 10 years.

In 1987, he joined the University of the Third Age and immediately volunteered to teach French language classes.

He then became the editor for the U3A newsletter and did that for another six years. (Free was the first U3A editor to point out to readers the viability of the newsletter depended on readers' contributions.)

Free then served for six years as chairman on the ACT Home and Community Care Advisory Committee. The committee made submissions and appeared before parliamentary committees. Free undertook considerable research on housing issues for the Council on the Ageing.

At another time, Free agreed to be the president of the ACT branch of the Superannuated Commonwealth Officer Association (1999-2001).

He took over at a troubled time for the organisation, but within a short period had it running smoothly again.

Free was also a keen member of the ACT's Personal Computer User Group. He became a committee member in 2002 when the group had to move premises. During that period, Free was a rock of steady and practical sense. A lot of people in the ACT make use of the facilities of the group and would want to thank Free for his contribution.

In his retirement Free continued to play his piano and to be an active member of the Belconnen Bowling Club.

He was also a longstanding member of Probus Belconnen and served a term as president in 1986-7.

He continued to enjoy going to Probus meetings, until after the May meeting of this year, when he became ill and never recovered.

Marjorie, Free's beloved partner from the age of 11, died in 2009. Free is survived by his daughter Jane and son Jonathan and by Jane's four children and four great grandchildren.

Original publication

Citation details

Tom Hayes and Jane Hyden, 'Free, Paul Bruce (1923–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

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