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Clifford Donald (Cliff) Heard (1924–2012)

by David Dunstan

Cliff Heard, c1942

Cliff Heard, c1942

photo supplied by Annette Deal

Cliff Heard was looking for something different to do in 1946, along with a generation of other young men after the war. This was after nearly four years in the navy, two of them on active service at sea.

Heard spent time on board HMAS Cowra, named after the New South Wales town, patrolling the waters between Australia and New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands, New Britain and Borneo. He reckoned he did 90,000 nautical miles over 2½ years.

Heard is remembered mainly for more landlubberly pursuits, as a prominent Melbourne wine man and wholesale merchant. He was Melbourne manager of Leo Buring, chief wine steward for the Royal Agricultural Society at the annual Royal Melbourne Show for many years, and he was twice president and long-serving cellar master of the Viticultural Society of Victoria.

Clifford Donald Heard was born in Collingwood, although the family identified with Fitzroy, being on that side of Wellington Street. His was a tough slum childhood spent in the harsh years of the 1930s Depression.

His parents, Robert and Rachel, had four other children, all now deceased. His father was a World War I serviceman, a gambling man and not much help. The family lived in tiny rooms above a shop. Heard became a paperboy. Archbishop Daniel Mannix on his morning walk to St Patrick's Cathedral was one of his ''regulars''.

Then war gave his life a brutal direction. Heard enlisted on July 15, 1942, and after training at HMAS Cerberus and Lonsdale in Victoria was sent to HMAS Melville naval base at Darwin early in 1943. Darwin was a crucial defence and telecommunications facility. It had been bombed and would suffer further raids. Heard always thought of it as a second home, revisiting it for reunions.

The Cowra was a Bathurst-class corvette, one of 36 commissioned and manned by the Royal Australian Navy and constructed in Australia. These all-purpose vessels required a resourceful and capable crew. Here Able Seaman Heard acquired his all-round knowledge, industrious work habits and can-do approach.

The Cowra was assigned to New Guinea in March 1944 as an escort and anti-submarine patrol. From late August 1944 it escorted and patrolled near Morotai, one of the current Indonesia's Maluku Islands (Moluccas), after it was taken by US and Allied forces. When the war ended, the Cowra patrolled and swept the east Australian coastline for mines.

Back home Heard played football for his native Fitzroy and later umpired for the Mallee Football League. He took a job in a city wine business, Arnold Brothers in Little Collins Street, a family firm best known for its A.B. Tonic wine.

Most Australians still did not drink table wine. The wholesale liquor trade specialised in whisky, brandy and fortified wines. Table wines were an exotic high-end part of the trade. The firms were at the west end of the city in old stone, brick and timber buildings that matched their traditional ways of doing business.

James Bowen Pain was the Melbourne manager of Leo Buring. The company's founder, Leo Buring, was from a famous South Australian winemaking family, and had trained in Germany before becoming a winemaker and in the 1930s a merchant and entrepreneur in Sydney. Leo Buring Rhinegold was Australia's leading white table wine and Buring was one of Australia's leading wine men.

In 1948 Buring bought the established Melbourne firm of Matthew Lang & Co, renamed it and installed the flamboyant bow tie-wearing Pain as manager. Lang, at one time Melbourne's mayor, had died many years before but his company continued, with imported and local lines. Buring also bought a winery in South Australia's Barossa Valley, which he named Chateau Leonay.

In 1953, Pain offered Heard the position of assistant manager, which he accepted. After Pain's death in 1956, Heard became Buring's Melbourne manager.

Buring died, aged 84, in 1961 with his dreams of a national wine company not realised. The following year Leo Buring, by then a listed company, was taken over by Lindemans, together with Heard and the Melbourne wholesale business. Heard relocated and modernised the plant and storage facilities during the peak years of the wine booms of the 1960s and '70s before retiring in 1982.

The Buring name is associated today with the riesling wines made by the South Australian master winemaker John Vickery, who joined the company in 1955. Vickery's brilliant steely crisp rieslings (then called Rhine riesling) aged wonderfully. Heard championed them and the two men became firm friends.

For 22 years from 1960 Heard was wine steward to the Royal Agricultural Society's annual Melbourne Show, overseeing extensive growth in the table wine categories and the number of entries.

The steward's role is to set the wines up for the judges, to categorise them and place them in classes, and make sure everything goes to plan. Dealing with difficulties seemed to come easily to Heard.

The Viticultural Society of Victoria was the Victorian wine industry's peak body when it was founded in 1905. As other national and state-based liquor and wine associations came to the fore it became a connoisseurs' luncheon club, which it remains today. The society started its monthly luncheons in the 1930s to train younger industry members in wine understanding. Heard attended society meetings as Buring's representative from 1957. He was a committee member for 40 years, its cellar master for 16 years, and was twice president.

Heard lived at Ripponlea for many years and built a house in Duff Street, Sandringham, where he remained until his death. Sandringham Yacht Club offered an outlet for his continuing love of the sea.

He was a man of enthusiasms. Heard restored vintage cars, notably an early-model SCAT touring vehicle, which he entered into car club rallies, the Royal Melbourne Show and the Moomba parade, and a 1916 fire engine (for which he acquired an ancient fireman's hat). Both were rebuilt and restored at Heard's home at Ripponlea. He was nicknamed ''Captain Brasso'' for his eternal polishing.

Heard was married three times, first to June, then to Lucie (both of whom predeceased him) and finally to Lila Kelly in 2007. He had no children from his previous marriages. But, aged 84, when he married Lila, he became stepfather to six children. Heard lost a leg to diabetes in the last five years of his life. He died as a result of kidney failure. Lila and David, Mark, Jenny, Annie, Andrew and Carolyn survive him.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Heard, Clifford Donald (Cliff) (1924–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Cliff Heard, c1942

Cliff Heard, c1942

photo supplied by Annette Deal

Life Summary [details]


13 July, 1924
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


26 December, 2012 (aged 88)
Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

kidney disease

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
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