DRAKE-BROCKMAN, Edmund Alfred (1884–1949)
Senator for Western Australia, 1920–26 (Nationalist Party)

Edmund Alfred Drake-Brockman, whose military, parliamentary and judicial careers were linked one to the other, was born on 21 February 1884 at Busselton, Western Australia, son of Frederick Slade Drake-Brockman, surveyor, and his wife, Grace Vernon, daughter of prominent Western Australian, A. P. Bussell. In 1875, Grace had shown great heroism when she helped save survivors from the shipwrecked Georgette.

Edmund was educated at the Anglican Guildford Grammar School and at nineteen joined the militia, a partially paid volunteer force. He rapidly showed an aptitude for military affairs and in 1908 he was selected as a junior officer to attend the newly opened Imperial Staff College at Quetta, India. In 1911, he received his promotion to major. On 9 April 1912, at the Hawthorn Presbyterian Church, Melbourne, Constance Andrews of Sydney became his wife. Such matters coincided with his pursuit of a legal career. After serving his articles, he had been admitted to the Bar in Western Australia in 1909.[1]

Drake-Brockman had a distinguished military career, joining the AIF on 25 August 1914 and commanding the 11th Battalion at the Gallipoli landing. Wounded, he was evacuated to Australia and promoted to lieutenant colonel, later taking command of the 16th on the Western Front. The Battalion was heavily involved in the costly fighting at Pozières for the possession of the German strongpoint at Mouquet Farm, and at Bullecourt. After a four-month respite from active service during which time he commanded a training battalion in England, he returned to the 16th and led it during the battles at Hébuterne, Villers-Bretonneux and Hamel. In August 1918, he was given temporary command of the 4th Brigade, and by October was its commanding officer with the rank of temporary brigadier general and in time for the last great allied offensive, which resulted in the armistice of November 1918. Drake-Brockman was appointed CMG after Gallipoli, awarded the DSO in 1917, the CB in 1919, and the Montenegrin Order of Danilo (Fourth Class). Five times he had been mentioned in dispatches. Between the wars, he remained involved in the Citizen Forces. In 1937, he was promoted major general and commanded the 3rd Division, a militia formation, until 1942.

On his return to Perth in 1919, Drake-Brockman resumed his legal practice. In 1920, he was admitted to the Victorian Bar. A political career shortly opened. Distinguished AIF commanders made attractive election candidates and the 1919 elections saw the entry of several into the Senate; not only Drake-Brockman, but also Major-General Sir William Glasgow and C. F. Cox and H .E. Elliott, both brigadier generals. The election was a triumph for the Nationalist Party in Western Australia, which won all three Senate vacancies, despite opposition from the newly formed Country Party and the Australian Labor Party.[2]

Lucid in debate, well informed and of independent mind, Drake-Brockman spoke frequently on defence issues, as well as on a range of other matters, including the tariff. His fellow Western Australian, Senator Pearce was minister for defence and Drake-Brockman was a loyal government supporter. The Defence Bill introduced in April 1921 contained the controversial proposal that the whole of the British Army Act should apply to the Australian armed forces not only in war, but in peace. Drake-Brockman spoke in favour of the Bill, despite the fact that it raised the prospect of the death penalty being carried out on Australian personnel without reference to the Australian government. In Drake-Brockman’s view, the British court martial was the fairest form of trial. He argued that the British Army Act was ‘one of the most perfect specimens of draftsmanship in existence’, and the death penalty was included for good purpose. Indeed, he claimed, if the death penalty were imposed upon him he would prefer an appeal be made to the commander-in-chief who knew ‘the atmosphere’ rather than to a civilian in Australia who did not. Such a view was rejected entirely by Senator Elliott, whose own experience on the Western Front led him to a quite different conclusion.

Deeply suspicious of Japanese expansion and believing that Australia’s political independence was rooted in ‘the preservation of a White Australia’, Drake-Brockman sounded warnings on the activities of the Japanese in the Pacific. In debate on the New Guinea Bill of 1920, he verbally slapped his Nationalist colleagues, Senators Pratten and Senior, for their lack of understanding of the League of Nations Convention, which, he suggested, in ensuring the exclusion of Japanese migration to New Guinea, protected White Australia.[3]

During debate on the controversial Tariff Board Bill of 1921, Drake-Brockman (on the right of his party—at least on this issue) became the informal spokesman in the Senate for the business sector, declaring his opposition to the Board, and ‘indeed to the entire Bill’. He was particularly opposed to the fact that the Bill gave to the Board power to inquire into profiteering, an authority he claimed still belonged to the states: ‘We must not forget that this is a Federation of sovereign States’. The concerns of senators on the right and left of the political spectrum resulted in the Act being limited to two years in the first instance.

Drake-Brockman was a keen advocate of Western Australian interests (despite the fact that he lived many years in Victoria). He argued that the protective tariff disadvantaged the primary producing Western Australians and complained that in fighting the tariff he had had ‘no sympathy from honorable senators representing the eastern States’. He referred also to the cost of interstate shipping between the west and the east and suggested that the ‘iniquitous’ Navigation Act be wiped off the statute book.[4]

Drake-Brockman’s committee service included membership of the select committee which inquired into whether Senate officials should be under the control of the Public Service Commissioner, rather than the President of the Senate. Perhaps a simple enough inquiry, yet it led to a wide-ranging discussion of employment conditions for Senate staff, particularly as it was shown that a certain selectivity as to promotions had resulted in considerable discontent among some Senate officers who had occupied temporary appointments for twenty years. Although Drake-Brockman did not join in the criticism of Thomas Givens, the long-serving President of the Senate, he did approve the recommendation that while the Senate should retain control of its officers, the Public Service Commission should be responsible for the classification of positions.

In 1922, Drake-Brockman was appointed to the select committee investigating the claims of Captain J. Strasburg for a war gratuity. Strasburg had taken part in the New Guinea operation and particularly in the capture of Rabaul. Although awarded the 1914–15 Star, a ruling had been made that as he was not British-born (though anaturalised Australian), he was unable to be commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy, and that the war gratuity be withheld even though he had continued to command ships in Pacific waters. Drake-Brockman demonstrated his legal training with sharp questioning. He agreed with the committee’s finding that Strasburg was eligible for a war gratuity, though not for the first time he was at odds with Senator Glasgow.

From December 1921 to July 1922, Drake-Brockman was a member of a demanding joint parliamentary committee, chaired by S. M. Bruce, which held sixteen sittings and involved considerable travel. The committee inquired into a proposal that the Commonwealth Government enter into a £500 000 agreement with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd to establish an overseas radio communication service in Australia. As such a system of communication was in its infancy, committee members had to master complicated and conflicting scientific evidence in attempting to predict possible success. Proposed amendments were suggested although an ALP member, Frank Brennan, submitted a minority report, which rejected the proposal on the grounds that it amounted to subsidising capitalists.[5]

Drake-Brockman was Government Whip (1923–26) and in 1924 became president of the Employers’ Federation. Such possible conflict of interest appears to have passed without notice. At the time of his appointment as whip, Senator Duncan commented that whips should be supportive of Cabinet policy and that the Senate would ‘get more efficient whipping from Senator Drake-Brockman than we have had in the past’. This prompted Senator Pearce to add: ‘He should know something about strategy’.

In 1925, Drake-Brockman was an Australian representative at the sixth assembly of the League of Nations. He was forty-one, but a promising political career was cut short by the agreement between the Nationalists and the Country Party that a Country Party nominee should be included in each State electoral team. This meant that in Western Australia one of the Nationalist senators would need to withdraw. Senator Lynch and Senator Pearce were senior to Drake-Brockman and neither was inclined to retire. Thus Drake-Brockman did not contest the 1925 election.[6]

The Commonwealth Government had recently reconstituted the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and in April 1927, Drake-Brockman was appointed a judge of the Court. Given his perceived anti-Labor opinions and his involvement with the Employers’ Federation, it was predicable that his appointment would be bitterly resented by the trade union movement. However, his views on employer–employee relationships had already mellowed, as had his views on social services, and his judgements came to be welcomed by much of the trade union movement. As a senator, Drake-Brockman had shown considerable interest in conciliation and arbitration. In supporting the Constitution Alteration (Industry and Commerce) Bill of 1926, he discounted the widely held view that industrial unrest was higher in Australia than in other industrial societies. He referred to his own change of attitude when he discovered that ‘the working man’ had ‘played the game’. In 1947, the Chifley Government appointed Drake-Brockman Chief Justice of the Court.[7]

He was still Chief Justice when, after twenty-five years living in Victoria, he died on 1 June 1949 at Tarnook, Victoria, leaving one son, Edmund Ralph, and two daughters, Constance Mary and Althaea. The family lived in Baddaginnie in Victoria, his wife of forty years having predeceased him. A significant tribute came from the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, A. E. Monk, who said that Drake-Brockman had ‘understood the actions of the workers when others thought they were acting illogically’. And at the time of his departure from the Senate in 1926, Pearce had commented that ‘on many occasions [Drake-Brockman] has displayed a sounder knowledge of measures that have been before the Senate than could be claimed by ministers themselves’.[8]


John McCarthy

[1] Ian G. Sharp, ‘Drake-Brockman, Edmund Alfred’, ADB, vol. 8; Age (Melbourne), 2 June 1949, p. 1; Reveille (Sydney), 1 November 1935, pp. 8, 9, 15; Geoffrey Drake-Brockman, The Turning Wheel, Paterson and Brokensha, Perth, 1960.

[2] Official Historian’s Biographical Cards, no. 43, AWM; West Australian (Perth), 3 June 1949, p. 2; Chris Coulthard-Clark, Soldiers in Politics, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, NSW, 1996, p. 125.

[3] CPD, 7 April 1921, p. 7227, 13 April 1921, pp. 7367–7369, 21 April 1921, p. 7579, 11 May 1921, pp. 8250–8251, 24 October 1921, p. 13172,5 May 1921, pp. 8091–8093, 23 September 1920, pp. 4861–4864.

[4] Geoffrey Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law 1901–1929, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1956, p. 202; CPD, 20 July 1921, pp. 10286–10287, 26 July 1921, pp. 10563–10566, 12 July 1923, pp. 1009–1010.

[5] CPP, Report of the select committee on Senate officials, 1921; CPP, Report of the select committee on the claims of Captain J. Strasburg for a war gratuity, 1922; Report of the joint select committee into the proposed agreement with Amalgamated Wireless, 1922.

[6] CPD, 14 March 1923, pp. 368–370, 25 June 1925, p. 415, 12 March 1926, pp. 1574–1575.

[7] Sawer, Australian Federal Politics and Law, p. 278; Argus (Melbourne), 16 April 1927, p. 19, 18 April 1927, p. 14, 23 April 1927, p. 21, 3 June 1949, p. 5; Age (Melbourne), 18 April 1927, p. 11, 20 April 1927, p. 10; CPD, 29 November 1927, pp. 2129–2132, 8 December 1921, p. 14093, 18 June 1926, pp. 3269–3277; Australian Law Journal, 16 June 1949, p. 90.

[8] Age (Melbourne), 3 June 1949, p. 2; CPD, 30 June 1926, pp. 3633–3636; Drake-Brockman’s portrait is held at Parliament House, Canberra.


This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 368-371.

DRAKE-BROCKMAN, Edmund Alfred (1884–1949)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, WA, 1920–26

Senate Committee Service

Select Committee on the Officials Engaged In and About the Senate, 1920–21

Joint Select Committee into Proposed Agreement with Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited, 1921–22

Select Committee on the Claims of Captain J. Strasburg for a War Gratuity, 1921–22

House Committee, 1923–26

Standing Orders Committee, 1924–25