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Sir Richard John (Dick) Randall (1906–1982)

Richard Randall, c1966

Richard Randall, c1966

photo privately sourced

Sir Richard Randall, who died in Royal Canberra Hospital at the age of 76, was a great Australian public servant. His career culminated as Secretary of the Treasury, 1966-71.

He was also a rare kind of public servant, his character fashioned by and always true to the best traditions of the bush. He was loyal, straight, industrious and true. He had the shrewd, observant humour of Henry Lawson.

Taciturn, shy, laconic, he remained a simple man in the best sense, although he had a fine mind, which he worked hard and used honestly. He was much appreciated and enjoyed as a friend, by Sir Robert Menzies and his Treasurer, Sir Arthur Fadden.

He was born in Birkdale in south-east Queensland on October 13, 1906, and he went to Wynnum High School in Brisbane. He became a wool classer and travelled Queensland, before going to Sydney, where he worked for the Commonwealth Wool and Produce Co Ltd. In 1934 he was financial editor of Smith’s Weekly, while studying economics part-time at Sydney University. He graduated with first-class honours, and in 1937 he became a Carnegie Research Fellow. Then he joined the office of the NSW Premier, at that time Sir Bertram Stevens.

Once in the Savoy Hotel, London, where Sir Robert Menzies usually stayed, Dick Randall tested the deep pile of the carpet in his bedroom and remarked to a friend, “It wasn’t like this in the shearing sheds at Julia Creek”. But he was never impressed by the trappings of the power he acquired as a close adviser to the Prime Minister.

Physically, he was a small man, but strong. He would wear his hat in a casual way, tipping it back conveniently to have a beer in the back bar of the old Canberra Hotel, walking across from the Treasury offices. Or he would go to the bar of the old Royal Canberra golf club house. He was a good companion.

He joined the Commonwealth Treasury in 1940, but next year he was in the AIF, serving in the 2nd/6th Armoured Regiment and became a corporal. He went to Papua New Guinea. On one occasion, needing Randall at Headquarters in Melbourne, the Army wanted to make him an officer of some seniority. But he refused the commission, working temporarily in civilian clothes to avoid the embarrassment of others. (Before the war he had flown with the NSW Aero Club, but poor eyesight made it impossible for him to join the RAAF).

After the war, Dick Randall re-joined the Treasury in Canberra, as a temporary clerk. In 1946 he was appointed to the permanent position of principal research officer, and thereafter his promotion matched his ability. By 1957 he was Deputy Secretary to Sir Roland Wilson, whom he succeeded in 1964. He wrote many Budget speeches and had a pungent way with words. His talent was outstanding, his manner modest, and he was a strong, stable character, with a profound influence on the Australian economy for many years, when most Australians also prospered.

Dick Randall loved to get away from important people and the places where they met and worked and he would go to the hills and trout streams. Sometimes he would take a shotgun. He was also a fair golfer, who enjoyed playing with old friends, and he won the Royal Canberra B-grade championship off a handicap of 14. He was a good Australian.

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'Randall, Sir Richard John (Dick) (1906–1982)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 May 2024.

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