DRAKE-BROCKMAN, Sir Thomas Charles (1919–1992)
Senator for Western Australia, 1958–78 (Australian Country Party; National Country Party)

Thomas Charles Drake-Brockman, farmer, airman and grazier, was a member of a pioneering Western Australian family. His great-grandfather, Robert James Brockman, arrived at Fremantle from England in 1831. One of Robert’s grandchildren, Robert James Hastie Brockman, became a farmer at Toodyay, near Northam. In 1918 Robert married Rose Ita (Nora) Marrinan, who came from Kilkee, Ireland. Rose had arrived in Perth in 1911, aged fourteen, as a novice nun, but left the convent, trained as a teacher, and went to teach at Nunyle, near Toodyay. Thomas Charles, the eldest of their six children, was born at Toodyay on 15 May 1919. All the children were brought up as Catholics. Like other family members, Robert would add ‘Drake’ to his surname in adulthood after discovering that their English forebears were Drake-Brockmans.[1]

Tom passed his childhood mainly on Mill Farm, north of Toodyay, but also further north at Calingiri, on a property his father relinquished during the Depression. From 1934 until 1946 the family occupied a small property, Yandee, at Toodyay. His mother was active in the Country Women’s Association at local and state levels. Tom and his sister rode ponies to the Convent of Mercy School in Toodyay, later attending Toodyay State School by bus. Funded by a family legacy, Drake-Brockman received his secondary education in Perth at Hale School in 1932, and from 1933 to 1937 at Guildford Grammar School; both were Church of England boarding schools. At Guildford he excelled at sport, winning full colours for swimming, football and athletics. In 1937 he became cross-country champion. During these years he continued to attend Catholic mass, as well as attending chapel at school. This dual religious upbringing gave Drake-Brockman entrée to both parts of a society which tended to divide along Catholic–Protestant lines.[2]

An enthusiastic army cadet for three years, on leaving school Drake-Brockman joined the 10th Light Horse Regiment in 1938. In February 1941 he enlisted in the RAAF. Qualifying as a wireless operator/air gunner, he left Sydney in October 1941 for further training in Britain, where he began service with the RAF. In July 1942 he was stationed in the Middle East with 40 Squadron, RAF. He saw service operating out of Egypt and Malta, as a rear gunner in Wellington bombers. He then trained aircrew in England before being sent in December 1943 to 466 Squadron, RAAF, with which he flew numerous missions in Halifax bombers over Germany and France. Drake-Brockman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944. He was promoted to flight lieutenant in 1945, having survived sixty-four bombing missions. On 23 May 1942 he had married Edith Mary (Mollie) Sykes, a private in the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, in the Catholic church at Chipping Campden, England.[3]

Drake-Brockman returned to Australia in October 1945. In the following year, he joined his parents and two brothers in purchasing Boodadong at Yerecoin, 80 kilometres north of Toodyay. He became successful in mixed farming, producing cereals, wool, fat lambs, beef and pigs. Drake-Brockman served as president of the local RSL sub-branch, patron of the Wanneroo Agricultural Society, captain and coach of the Victoria Plains Football Association, and was active in community ventures, including the establishment of a school bus service. Debate about wool marketing policies led him to become active in the Farmers’ Union. Initially a zone council delegate from Calingiri, he served as senior vice-president of the wool section in 1954 and 1955 and president from 1956 to 1958. He strove to achieve orderly marketing of wool through a national scheme that would ensure the livelihood of the small grower. From 1956 to 1958 he was vice-president of the Australian Wool and Meat Producers’ Federation.[4]

In 1954 Drake-Brockman was a founding member of the Yerecoin branch of the Country and Democratic League (CDL), the forerunner of the Country Party, and he became a force for stability in the Western Australian Country Party for over twenty years. Early in 1958 his name went forward to the party executive as candidate for the state upper house seat of Midland Province. When the former president of the Liberal Party, C. H. Simpson, abruptly transferred his allegiances to the CDL and was keen to contest a state seat for his new party, Drake-Brockman withdrew his candidature in Simpson’s favour. Having made a strong impression with this act, he soon asked for, and received, first place on the Senate ticket to contest the federal election in November. It was envisaged that he would replace 74-year-old Harrie Seward, who was in poor health. Drake-Brockman began campaigning early in June 1958. His political astuteness may have derived from a long family involvement in politics. Five of his relatives had served in the Western Australian Parliament, while another, Edmund Alfred Drake-Brockman had been a senator from 1920 to 1926. Widely known through his public life and family connections, he commanded strong support across the state. While on the campaign trail he received news of Seward’s death, and on 12 August 1958, at a joint sitting of the Western Australian Parliament, Drake-Brockman was chosen to fill the resulting casual Senate vacancy until 21 November when Parliament rose for the federal election. He was elected on 22 November, entering the Senate on 1 July 1959. He sold the farm and moved to Perth.[5]

In the Senate Drake-Brockman raised issues affecting rural life in Western Australia, including availability of credit for farmers, shortages of steel and the need for a comprehensive country water supply scheme. He spoke frequently on the wool industry and on processed milk products, seamen’s pensions, repatriation, electoral reform, the encouragement of regional television stations with local programming and the Asian Development Bank. He made the development of a sound wool marketing process the theme of his first speech on 17 September 1958, with the advantage of a detailed knowledge of wool production from a grower’s standpoint. In 1972 he drew great satisfaction from piloting through the Senate the Wool Industry Bill, which established the Australian Wool Corporation and which aimed to stabilise wool prices by setting up a single marketing body.[6]

Drake-Brockman was known for plain speaking, although he was usually careful to confine controversial opinions to the party room and within Cabinet. When first asked to stand for the Senate, he had refused on principle to pay the expected £500 gift to party funds. An early advocate of siting the permanent Parliament House on Capital Hill, he spoke against Prime Minister Robert Menzies who wanted it beside Lake Burley Griffin. A supporter of the Vietnam War, he was attentive to the interests of national servicemen who served there. He made himself available to his constituents, and made regular releases to regional and Perth newspapers.

Drake-Brockman was initially disappointed when appointed Minister for Air by John Gorton in December 1969. He had been tipped to take the repatriation ministry, and with recent controversies over the use of VIP aircraft and the troubled purchase of the F111 fighter jet in mind, he exclaimed: ‘Oh no—VIP aircraft and F-111s!’ He retained the portfolio during the McMahon Government when, for some three years, he fielded 104 questions about the F-111. As the only West Australian in the ministry, he was consulted on a variety of matters relating to the state, whether or not they applied to his portfolio. Drake-Brockman reviewed the regulations governing the use of VIP aircraft, and closely monitored their use by politicians. It was remembered by certain of his colleagues, with something approaching glee, that he once refused the use of a plane to Malcolm Fraser.[7] Drake-Brockman had been sorely tried by Fraser who, as Minister for Defence from 1969 until 1971, was known for his close interest in the activities of the other service ministers. The Minister for the Navy, James Killen, recorded Drake-Brockman’s ‘strenuous’ complaint that ‘the big fellow [Fraser] is constantly reaching down into my Department’. Drake-Brockman was shadow minister for repatriation and compensation from June 1974, and was a member of Malcolm Fraser’s shadow cabinet from March 1975. Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and Minister for Administrative Services in Fraser’s caretaker ministry of November to December 1975, he might have continued as a member of the ministry after the 1975 election, had it not been for a poor Senate result for his party in Western Australia which placed his re-election in doubt. By the time his election was confirmed Fraser had chosen his new ministry.[8]

Leader of the Country Party in the Senate from 1969 until 1975, Drake-Brockman made a major contribution to the work of the Parliament. He was Chairman of Committees from 1965 until 1969 and from 1976 to 1978, and was twice Acting President. When re-elected as Chairman of Committees in 1968, Drake-Brockman said that he would ‘endeavour to see that every honourable senator, irrespective of where he sits in the chamber, receives fair and just consideration’ to which Labor’s Senator Lionel Murphy responded: ‘We members of the Opposition are satisfied from his past occupancy of the position that that is exactly what he will do’. Drake-Brockman believed he had helped the Senate become less of an ‘old men’s club’. He wanted it to be an effective force in the legislative process, not diminished by those with aspirations for a unicameral government. He was a delegate to the Australian Constitutional Convention of 1973.[9]

Divorced from his first wife in February 1972, on 9 August that year he married Mary Frances McGinnity. Drake-Brockman left the Senate when his term expired on 30 June 1978, Western Australia’s longest serving senator at that time. Created Knight Bachelor in June 1979 for his services to Parliament, Drake-Brockman nominated as his private guest at the investiture, the Clerk of the Senate, Jim Odgers, with whom he had established a close working relationship. In retirement Drake-Brockman lived in the Perth suburb of Lesmurdie. From 1958 he served at various times as a member of the state and federal executive councils of the Country Party, known as the National Country Party (NCP) from 1975 to 1982. From 1978 until 1981 he was both state and federal president. Drake-Brockman took up the state post at a troubled time in its history, when there were difficulties with party officers regarding the influence of mining magnate, Lang Hancock, and with members of the state parliamentary party over the vexed question of relations with the Liberal Party (the parties having maintained separate Senate tickets since 1955). While highly critical of the Liberals, he was disturbed by the declining popularity of the NCP in Western Australia, and suggested that closer cooperation with the Liberal Party, including joint tickets, might allow the NCP to regain some influence in local and federal politics. He argued that an alliance with the Liberals would also offer the NCP the opportunity to take advantage of any Liberal weakness and ‘that’s the time you kick their teeth in’.[10]

Apart from his political interests, Drake-Brockman worked tirelessly for the RAAF Association in Western Australia, chairing its Aviation Museum Committee and serving as its senior vice-president from 1991 to 1992. As president of the Australia-Britain Society (WA), he gave that organisation ‘strength of purpose’. He was a board member of the Villa Maria aged care hostel, Lesmurdie, run by the Sisters of Mercy. Drake-Brockman died in Royal Perth Hospital on 28 August 1992. His second wife and the five children of his first marriage survived him. He was cremated at Karrakatta Crematorium, following a Requiem Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Lesmurdie.

Cheerful and gregarious, with a ‘dry, infectious sense of humour’, Drake-Brockman was a good listener as well as a good communicator, and well liked by his parliamentary colleagues. Senator Boswell described him as ‘great company, full of anecdotes, yarns and wartime stories’. In his valedictory speech, Drake-Brockman noted that when he first entered the Senate he was told by an ALP senator, ‘do not make all your friends on one side of the House’. He considered this ‘very good advice’.[11]

John Ferrell

[1] Alan Jackson, Brockman & Drake-Brockman Family Tree: The Australian Branch 1830–1993, Alan Jackson, Menora, WA, 1994, pp. 20, 22, 111, 128–9; Thomas Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of oral history interview with John Ferrell, 1985, POHP, tape 1, side 2.

[2] Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of interview, tape 1, sides 1–2; Jackson, Brockman & Drake-Brockman Family Tree, p. 128; The editor is indebted to Roger Gray, Secretary, Old Haleians’ Association, Hale School, Perth and Rosemary Waller, School Archivist, Guildford Grammar School, Perth.

[3] Drake-Brockman, Thomas Charles—Defence Service Record, A9300, NAA; Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of interview, tape 4, side 2, tape 5 , sides 1–2 , tape 7, side 2; Herald (Melb.), 8 Nov. 1969, p. 26.

[4] Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of interview, tape 7, side 2, tape 8, side 1–2, tape 9, side 2, tape 10, side 1; WA (Perth), 13 Aug. 1958, p. 2, 3 Sept. 1992, p. 67, 4 Sept. 1992, p. 60; Farmers’ Union of WA, Annual conference reports, 1952–57; Farmers’ Weekly (Perth), 23 Jan. 1958, p. 1, 24 July 1958, p, 1; Australian Wool and Meat Producers’ Federation, Minutes, 3–4 July 1956, N77/272, NBAC, ANU.

[5] Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of interview, tape 11, side 2 and tape 12, sides 1–2; Country and Democratic League of WA, State executive minutes, 5 Mar. 1958, National Party Records, ACC 3306A/369, MN 1070, SLWA; WAPD, 12 Aug. 1958, p. 14; WA (Perth), 4 Dec. 1958, p. 1.

[6] CPD, 9 May 1967, p. 1214, 8 Mar. 1960, p. 20, 12 May 1960, p. 915, 22 Nov. 1960, p. 1689, 6 Dec. 1962, pp. 1812–15, 15 May 1963, pp. 454–6, 30 July 1974, p. 600, 17 Sept. 1963, pp. 587–90, 10 May 1961, pp. 881–2, 28 Aug. 1962, pp. 483–4, 30 Oct. 1963, p. 1597, 17 Aug. 1972, pp. 185–8, 8 Sept. 1992, p. 505, 17 Sept. 1958, pp. 415–17, 17 Oct. 1972, pp. 1567–72.

[7] Peter Howson, The Howson Diaries: The Life of Politics, ed. Don Aitkin, Viking Press, Ringwood, Vic., 1984, p. 458; Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of interview, tape 12, side 1; CPD, 20 Aug. 1968, p. 138, 22 Aug. 1967, p. 79, 30 Apr. 1968, p. 621; Australian (Syd.), ‘Weekend Magazine’, 2–3 Dec. 1978, p. 2; CPD, 30 Sept. 1970, pp. 965–6, 8 Sept. 1992, p. 509.

[8] James Killen, Killen: Inside Australian Politics, Methuen Haynes, North Ryde, NSW, 1985, pp. 155–6; Australian (Syd.), ‘Weekend Magazine’, 2–3 Dec. 1978, p. 2.

[9] CPD, 13 Aug. 1968, p. 6, 10 June 1978, p. 2794.

[10] WA (Perth), 16 Feb. 1972, p. 11, 13 Sept. 1977, p. 13; Drake-Brockman, Sound recording of interview, tape 47, side 2; Country and Democratic League of WA, State executive minutes, 22 Sept. 1958, ACC 3306A/369, State council minutes, 16 Dec. 1978, ACC 3306A/388, Speech by T. Drake-Brockman, 12 Dec. 1977, ACC 3306A/188, National Party Records, MN1070, SLWA; Country Party of Western Australia, Annual conference agenda, 1961–1974; National Outlook (Melb.), Sept. 1979, p. 2; National Country Party News (Perth), Apr. 1981, p. 2.

[11] Frank Purser, Per Ardua: A History of the Western Australia Division of The Australian Flying Corps and Royal Australian Air Force Association, Royal Australian Air Force Association (WA division), Bull Creek, WA, 1988, p. 137; Jim Grant, Ad Astra: A History of the Royal Australian Air Force Association (Western Australian Division) Inc. from 1987 to 2003, Royal Australian Air Force Association (WA division), Bull Creek, WA, 2004, p. 37; WA (Perth), 1 Sept. 1992, p. 59, 31 Aug. 1992, p. 13, 1 Sept. 1992, p. 61; CPD, 9 and 10 June 1978, pp. 2785, 2793, 8 Sept. 1992, pp. 505, 508.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 3, 1962-1983, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, 2010, pp. 491-495.

DRAKE-BROCKMAN, Sir Thomas Charles (1919–1992)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Western Australia, 1958–78

Minister for Air, 1969–72

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, 1975

Minister for Administrative Services, 1975

Chairman of Committees, 1965–69, 1976–78

Senate Committee Service

Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, 1958–59

House Committee, 1959–65

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1962

Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television, 1962–63

Joint Committee of Public Accounts, 1962–65

Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, 1965–69

Standing Orders Committee, 1965–69, 1973–78

Committee of Privileges, 1967–69, 1970–73, 1974–75, 1976–78

Estimates Committee E, 1974–75

Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System, 1974–75

Estimates Committee D, 1975

Committee of Disputed Returns and Qualifications, 1976–78

Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House, 1976–78

Estimates Committee B, 1977–78