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Norman James Parkes (1912–1991)

by A. Browning

Mr Norman James Parkes, CBE, Clerk of the House of Representatives from 1971 until his retirement on December 31, 1976, died in Canberra on January 29, 1991, aged 78 years.

Mr Parkes was appointed to the Parliamentary Reporting Staff in 1934 and, after the retirement of his father, Ernest William Parkes, CMG, who was Clerk of the House of Representatives from 1927 to 1937, joined the staff of the House of Representatives. He became a Chamber Officer in 1949 on his appointment as Serjeant-at-Arms and it was in this role, with the Usher of the Black Rod, that he escorted Her Majesty The Queen to open the Third Session of the Twentieth Parliament on February 15, 1954 — the first time that a Sovereign had opened the Australian Parliament and the first time a Sovereign had visited Australia.

Mr Parkes progressed through a number of other senior positions before being appointed as the 9th Clerk of the House of Representatives on December 11, 1971. This was a unique occurrence in the history of the Commonwealth Parliament — where a son followed his father in reaching the position of head of the House of Representatives Department and becoming the most senior procedural adviser to the House.

During his service Norman Parkes contributed greatly to the activities of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and to Australasian Parliamentary Seminars, which were a Commonwealth of Australia Branch initiative in the South Pacific region. He attended Parliamentary Conferences in Australia and overseas.

Mr Parkes was an ACT cricket representative, became an active ACT cricket official and was awarded Life Membership of the ACT Cricket Association. He was a table-tennis player of considerable talent and once played an exhibition match in the Albert Hall against the then world champion, Szabados. He became a champion lawn bowler at club, district and State level and, was skip of the first ACT team ever to win a NSW State title (State Triples, 1966). He continued to enjoy the game of bowls long after his retirement from the House of Representatives.

He was admitted to the Order of the British Empire in 1961 and made a Commander of the Order in 1976 in recognition of his significant contribution to the Commonwealth Parliament for 42 years.

Born in North Carlton in 1912, he married Maida Silk in 1937. He is survived by his widow, and sons Graham and Russell. Norman Parkes will be remembered for his outstanding knowledge of parliamentary law, practice and procedure, for his warm and friendly personality and above all, for his humanity and humility.

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A. Browning, 'Parkes, Norman James (1912–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 June 2024.

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