KENDALL, Roy (1899–1972)
Senator for Queensland, 1950–65 (Liberal Party of Australia)

Few if any senators have enjoyed such a varied and unique range of occupational, military and territorial experiences as did Captain Roy Kendall, Reserve Decoration, Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). While Kendall spoke somewhat infrequently in the Senate, his experiences in the merchant navy and the RNR from 1914, and in the Royal Navy (RN) from 1939 to 1945, with sojourns in New Guinea, China and Japan, had given him rare geopolitical insights. His specialised technical knowledge was totally disregarded by a government mostly concerned with domestic issues and Cold War threats.

Roy Kendall was a great survivor. He was born at Battersea, London, on 9 June 1899, the son of Harry Wilson Hume Kendall, a Melbourne-born actor and, later, film industry administrator, and his English wife, Minnie Oram. The Kendalls had long been active in the wool trade but at the age of twelve Roy, after primary education at Bristol Cathedral School, entered the Thames Nautical Training College, HMS Worcester, a training ground for RNR officers. Leaving the Worcester in June 1914, he became a cadet on the full-rigged sailing vessel the Kinpurney, which, en route from Cardiff for Port Nolloth, South Africa, was torpedoed by a U-boat on 15 January 1917. Kendall was taken on board the submarine before being transferred to a Norwegian steamer. His next ship, the barque Amulree, was blown up after capture by an enemy submarine on 24 April. Twelve men, including Kendall, took to the lifeboats. Eight days later, Kendall, who had watched most of his older shipmates die from exposure, was rescued. Towards the end of 1917 he was assigned to the Kilmallie on the Capetown–America run.

Returning to England in 1918, Kendall sat for and passed his first marine examination. After demobilisation in England, Kendall became third officer on a small steamer plying the Chinese coast and ‘the big inland rivers’. Here he experienced the human turbulence of a China in chaos, which he described as ‘no picnic for a European’, as well as the devastating impact of the 1921 Japanese earthquake. He survived a tidal wave at Swatow and a violent typhoon off Hong Kong in 1923. After short periods of work as a Hong Kong harbour pilot and a Borneo timber mill manager, he returned to Hong Kong and was appointed second officer, and then master, of the 3000-ton coastal steamer Hai Ning in 1924. His capacity for survival was again demonstrated when he remained untouched by a massive Hong Kong landslide.[1]

Back in England again in the mid-1920s, Kendall undertook regular reserve training, a process that continued during the interwar years. In 1926 he completed a year’s training, mostly in submarines, and was promoted lieutenant in 1927. He also completed training programs at different times with the RAN, including in HMAS Sydney in 1938.

Resuming his mercantile service, Kendall was appointed chief officer on the Australind and left for Australia in 1927. There he joined the Canadian Australian Royal Mail shipping company, working for several years on the Sydney–Vancouver run. In 1929 he attained the highest qualification in the mercantile service, the Extra Master’s certificate, and joined the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. On New Year’s Eve the same year, he married Doris Margery MacPhee, of Sydney, in Wellington, New Zealand. His first marriage on 17 March 1923 to Olga Kapelman, in Tientsin, China, had ended in divorce on 21 October 1929.

Kendall was now a master mariner, although he had lost his mortgaged home during the Depression when his company demoted him to junior officer on a smaller ship. From 1936 he was engaged in lucrative inter-island trading in New Guinea. In that year he moved his wife and four young sons to Rabaul, New Britain, and purchased a new 100-ton motor vessel, the Induna Star, which he sailed from Hong Kong to Rabaul. In May 1937 he survived the eruption of the Vulcan and Matupi volcanos, during which he was credited with the rescue of over 200 people under hazardous conditions. Kendall resumed business at a time of unprecedented prosperity in island trading. He later recalled: ‘I was very happy there. Those years were probably the happiest years of my life’.[2]

Kendall, who had been on the permanent active list of reserves in the Royal Navy since 1918, was called up for service in 1939 as a lieutenant commander. He was placed in charge of convoys in the English Channel and the North Sea. His work was hazardous: on every voyage ships were lost through attacks by submarines or by aircraft. In 1940 Kendall was promoted commander and appointed Commodore of Convoys in the channel and the North Sea. In the following year, he was bombed out of two ships, barely made it to port with a third, and often stayed on the bridge for sixty hours at a stretch. He recalled that ‘nervous tension was the principal enemy. If an attack was not in progress you could bet your life there was one on the way. The advent of the acoustic mine trebled the strain. It was one long, unending nightmare’.

In January 1942 Kendall was appointed head of Security Intelligence Australia (SIA), a branch of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6); he reported directly to Winston Churchill. Kendall was responsible neither to Australian Intelligence nor to the Americans, both of whom were suspicious of his activities in reasserting British influence in South-East Asia. Complaints between intelligence organisations were endemic, but Kendall’s operational independence and his personal links to Downing Street, combined with his ability and charm, smoothed his unit’s passage. As an SIA colleague, Graham Garland, said of him: ‘He was friendly with the Coastwatcher organisers … He liked to be called skipper and I never hesitated to address him in that manner … A typical naval type, he just could not be hassled and was never seen to get emotional or lose his cool. I had great respect for him’.

Although much of the SIA’s work remains untraceable, with its nominal headquarters in Brisbane it was said to be the only intelligence agency to crack the cryptograms of enemy spies in Java. In 1954 Kendall made mention of working ‘very closely’ with Chiang Kai-shek and Lord Louis Mountbatten during the war. Described as ‘shrewd, capable, imaginative [and] dangerous’, he had ‘a disregard for any matters irrelevant to his duties’, in the course of which he flew over a quarter of a million miles, often over enemy occupied territory.[3]

Kendall was demobilised in Brisbane in 1946, and placed on the retired list in 1949. He purchased an Indooroopilly newsagency, served as Commissioner of Sea Scouts in Queensland and New Guinea, and joined the Liberal Party. In June 1949, as secretary of the party’s central zone, he won nomination to the Senate and on 10 December was elected successfully as a member of a Liberal Party that remained in government until well after the expiry of his term. An ex-serviceman, small businessman, sociable and community orientated, he was part of the new cohort of R. G. Menzies’ conservatives. Third on the Liberal–Country Party Coalition’s Senate list, he was elected fifth senator for Queensland in a seven-seat set of vacancies. In 1951 he was part of a coalition team that overturned Labor’s control of the Senate. He campaigned on the classic conservative approach that stressed anti-communism and free enterprise. He claimed that Labor, since its previous defeat, and working through ‘the Communist-controlled unions, has done its utmost to speed the inflationary spiral in an effort to discredit the Government’.

Kendall was not required to stand again until 1958. In an ironic twist of fate, after being placed last on the coalition ticket, he benefited from the Labor Split, as ALP preferences were sufficient to re-elect him over the Democratic Labor Party’s Condon Byrne. He was a low-key electoral campaigner, reinforcing the coalition in the Wide Bay, Capricornia and Kennedy electorates, but displaying little of the soapbox virulence of Menzies, Archie Fadden and the DLP renegades. This was his last contested election, and he retired on the completion of his Senate term on 30 June 1965. It was alleged that he was about to lose preselection, and after 1963 there was a noticeable falling off in his contribution to Senate debates in terms of both content and frequency.[4]

Kendall’s contributions in the Senate reflected his formidable experience and expertise. His particular interests were the sea, defence, Papua New Guinea, foreign affairs, and cultural matters. He campaigned extensively for a National Library in Canberra (he had over 2000 books himself), and supported university education, Australian literature, art and music (his family formed a small light orchestra). Even the ‘highbrow’ efforts of the Australian Broadcasting Commission won his support, though he was appalled that the broadcaster sullied Sundays with The Goon Show, which he found irreverent and incomprehensible. Pandering to his Queensland constituency, he opposed the fluoridation of water and daylight saving.[5]

Papua New Guinea claimed his attention. Before entering the Senate he revisited the territory or six weeks, and he devoted the whole of his first speech to New Guinea. Kendall began by contrasting what he saw as the ‘happy’ times before 1941 with the ‘deplorable’ postwar position. He deeply regretted the subsidies of over £3 million a year, the lack of supervision of native expenditure, the wealth of the Chinese shopkeepers, the removal of the head tax, the decline of European influence, the serious problems with inter-island shipping, the high cost of living, and ‘the maladministration that has taken, and is taking, place’. By 1953, Kendall was praising the efforts of Paul Hasluck as Minister for Territories in remedying past deficiencies, advancing political and economic change, and resettling Rabaul.

Kendall spoke on the need for northern hydrographical surveys and the expansion of the Papua New Guinea timber industry. Once again, Kendall used his rich experience and understanding of the history of the territory to instruct the Senate on matters often ignored. One could argue that he would have made a fine teacher if his first love had not been the sea: ‘ to a sailor a ship is a living, pulsating being, especially if it happens to be his first command. It does not matter if she is some dirty old scow around the waterfront of Woolloomooloo … as the days, months and years go by she becomes more and more beautiful’.

Speaking on the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission Bill in June 1956, Kendall deplored any attempt to break up the Commonwealth shipping interests. He advocated a national service scheme for the merchant navy, seeing it as a parallel unit to the army, navy and air force, and the expansion of Australian shipping, including tankers. These views placed him closer to Labor than to those in his own party who were basically uninterested in an Australian mercantile fleet. He also deplored the use of flags of convenience on the Australian runs.[6]

Kendall strenuously advocated the development of a strong domestic fishing industry. He regretted that Australia’s fisheries had been neglected, that overseas trawlers were plundering resources and that so little was known about the type, extent and scientific basis of piscatorial resources. He suggested the establishment of a select committee to consider the problems of fisheries. He continually pressed for the construction of two Antarctic supply and scientific vessels.[7]

While acknowledging the supremacy of air power, Kendall took pains to ensure that the navy was not neglected. He was highly critical of the focus on the acquisition of aircraft carriers and other larger vessels, which were vulnerable to air attack and of little or no use in a global war. He emphasised the value of submarines and a large number of small fast ships, such as frigates and mine sweepers.

Kendall was an early campaigner for anti-erosion conservation, and advocated the culling of kangaroos in times of drought by the rifles of national servicemen. He was a firm supporter of the United Nations, and supported the Korean intervention, and the ANZUS treaty. Only after ANZUS was put in place would he countenance a ‘soft’ peace with Japan. He was a keen supporter of the Colombo Plan (he was part of a group in Brisbane facilitating contacts between South-East Asian students and Australians).

Kendall’s first speech on China was a historical discourse, stating:

I learned to know the people and to respect them, and one of my aims in life has always been to get our people to understand the Chinese people and to respect them…China has had a rotten deal from the European countries … We should all get out and leave China to settle its own affairs, for about ten years.

His close personal knowledge of China and his wartime contacts with Chiang Kai-shek informed Kendall’s attitude to the accession to power by the communists in 1949. He believed that Chiang Kai-shek’s government had been ‘blackguarded’ and misunderstood in the West. Kendall admired and respected the democratic ideals of the republican movement headed by Chiang, and praised China’s military efforts during the war. He did not believe Mao Zedong’s regime would last for long and saw no virtue in recognition of a ‘temporary government’. By 1954, realising that communist rule was not going to be temporary, almost alone among his coalition colleagues, he had come to advocate diplomatic recognition. Kendall declared that he ‘would far sooner have China as a friend than either Germany or Japan; yet we have accepted both those nations. Let us go a step further and recognise China’. This was a view that became increasingly unfashionable in Australia, as American influence accelerated. Against the political tide, Kendall, in 1962, could say of the Chinese that they are ‘an intelligent, hard-working and lovable people, and I shall never change my views on this subject’.[8]

Kendall died at the Jindalee Nursing Home, Brisbane, on 9 March 1972, and, after a service at St Andrew’s Church of England, Indooroopilly, was cremated at Mount Thompson Crematorium. His wife and four sons survived him.

Roy Kendall was a rara avis in politics—one of a species now virtually extinct. On such critical issues as the recognition of China, the environment, state housing, immigration, and the importance of air power, as well as on the geographical positioning of Australia as part of Asia, not to mention his concern to advance Australian shipping and the nation’s cultural and scientific endeavours, he was closer to a few sophisticated Labor members than he was to the Cold War warriors on his own side of politics. Dorothy Tangney noted before his retirement that ‘his usual thoughtful contribution to the debate [means that] he always breaks new ground and gives us something to ponder over’. Her Labor colleague, Senator Willesee, praised Kendall’s incisive debating ability and quick grasp of points, and noted that in discussions on China and Papua New Guinea he ‘brought a very fresh mind to bear and he talked about them when a lot of us were not thinking about them as deeply as we do today’. A fellow ex-serviceman, Senator O’Byrne, pointed to Kendall’s services as assistant Whip to Dame Annabelle Rankin and his occasional agreement with the views and values of the Opposition, including, in 1964, his expression of complete support for O’Byrne’s Christian ideal of the achievement of peace on earth.

While Kendall resented the material conditions of his early service in the merchant marine and feelingly quoted from Kipling’s Seven Seas that ‘there was “grub that would bind you crazy and crews that would turn you grey”’, he loved ships and the sea, and retained an affinity for Asian people and the islands to Australia’s north. He was one of the last effective voices of, and for, maritime Australia and the best features of the old British Empire. While these increasingly lost resonance in Australia, at least Kendall, with his blend of experience, nostalgia and realistic modernism, was a parliamentary representative out of the ordinary run of the usual political party delegate.[9]

D. B. Waterson

[1] People (Syd.), 17 Dec. 1952, pp. 38–41; Lloyd’s War Losses, The First World War: Casualties to Shipping through Enemy Causes, 1914–1918, Lloyd’s of London Press, 1990, pp. 85, 122; Great Britain, Board of Trade, Index to Certificates of Competency, Masters, Mates, Engineers and Fishing Officers, Home and Foreign Trade, BT 352 fiche 450, National Archives, UK; Lloyd’s Captains Registers 1851–1947, MS 18 569, vol. 21, reel 45, National Archives, UK; Barbara Winter, The Intrigue Master: Commander Long and Naval Intelligence in Australia, 1913–1945, Boolarong Press, Moorooka, Qld, 1995, p. 148.

[2] People (Syd.), 17 Dec. 1952, pp. 40–1; The Navy List (London), Dec. 1926, Jan. 1927, Dec. 1927, Dec. 1939, Dec. 1940, Oct. 1941, Apr. 1942, Aug. 1942, Jan. 1946, Oct. 1946, July 1949; Admiralty: Royal Navy, Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Women’s Royal Naval Service: Officers’ Service Record Cards and Files, ADM 340/79, ADM 340/320, National Archives, UK; CPD, 26 Mar. 1957, p. 179, 15 Mar. 1960, p. 135; Pacific Islands Monthly (Syd.), 21 Dec. 1936, p. 34, 23 July 1937, p. 72; CPD, 11 Oct. 1960, p. 989.

[3] People (Syd.), 17 Dec. 1952, p. 41; Admiralty: Royal Navy, Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Women’s Royal Naval Service: Officers’ Service Record Cards and Files, ADM 340/320, National Archives, UK; Winter, The Intrigue Master, pp. 148–9, 165, 205–7; Alan Powell, War by Stealth: Australians and the Allied Intelligence Bureau 1942–1945, MUP, Carlton South, Vic., 1996, pp. 22, 26, 154–7, 214–16; Allison Ind, Spy Ring Pacific: The Story of the Allied Intelligence Bureau in South East Asia, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1958, pp. 10–11.

[4] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 31 May 1949, p. 1, 6 Dec. 1949, p. 7, 7 Dec. 1949, p. 8, 19 Apr. 1951, p. 5, 24 Nov. 1958, p. 3.

[5] CPD, 1 Mar. 1950, pp. 175–80, 10 Nov. 1953, pp. 28–9, 19 Oct. 1954, pp. 831–2, 3 July 1951, pp. 765–71, 24 Feb. 1959, pp. 155–6, 6 Dec. 1960, p. 2067, 15 Mar. 1960, p. 138, 27 Feb. 1964, pp. 92–3, 13 May 1959, p. 1371; People (Syd.), 17 Dec. 1952, p. 41; CPD, 27 Nov. 1951, pp. 2732–3, 8 Oct. 1957, pp. 391–2, 1 Sept. 1960, pp. 380–1, 14 Aug. 1963, pp. 52–4.

[6] CPD, 1 Mar. 1950, pp. 175–80, 10 Nov. 1953, pp. 28–9, 26 Aug. 1959, pp. 303–4, 7 June 1956, pp. 1328–34, 16 Oct. 1956, pp. 610–15, 17 Sept. 1958, pp. 377–8, 23 Mar. 1965, pp. 47–9.

[7] CPD, 8 Sept. 1955, pp. 92–9, 9 May 1956, pp. 627–32, 25 Feb. 1958, pp. 16–17, 26 Mar. 1957, pp. 173–5, 26 Aug. 1959, p. 304, 17 Sept. 1958, p. 377, 24 Feb. 1959, pp. 151–2, 21 Mar. 1961, p. 272.

[8] CPD, 8 Oct. 1957, p. 397, 19 Oct. 1954, p. 831, 16 Sept. 1954, pp. 384–5, 26 Aug. 1959, p. 303, 25 Feb. 1958, p. 18, 10 Nov. 1953, pp. 26–7, 3 July 1951, pp. 765–71, 28 Apr. 1955, pp. 105–6, 9 Sept. 1954, pp. 266–70, 22 Feb. 1962, p. 93.

[9] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 10 Mar. 1972, pp. 5, 30, 11 Mar. 1972, p. 48; CPD, 26 Aug. 1959, p. 305, 21 Mar. 1972, pp. 687–8, 22 Oct. 1964, pp. 1271–2, 7 June 1956, p. 1331.

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. 286-291.

KENDALL, Roy (1899–1972)

National Archives of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator for Queensland, 1950–65

Senate Committee Service

Library Committee, 1950–65

Standing Orders Committee, 1953–65

Select Committee on Payments to Maritime Unions, 1958

Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory, 1962–65