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Captain David John Hamer AM DSC

David John Hamer, who served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had a distinguished career as a naval officer before entering the Parliament in 1969.  He was also an enthusiastic, fluent writer with two published books and numerous newspaper contributions and broadcasts.  During his years in the Senate, and particularly his period as Deputy President and Chairman of Committees, he was a dedicated campaigner for a greater role for the Senate as a house of review.

Hamer was born in Melbourne on 5 September 1923, the youngest of four children of Hubert Hamer and his wife Elizabeth Anne, née McLuckie.  Hubert Hamer was a senior partner in a leading Melbourne law firm, while David’s mother was the ‘dominant influence’ in his early life.  The Hamers became one of Australia’s most accomplished families.  David’s oldest brother, Rupert (Dick) Hamer was Premier of Victoria from 1972 to 1981.  The second brother, Alan, was a Rhodes Scholar who became a senior executive and director of the ICI chemical group in Australia and India.  Their sister, Alison (Patrick), was for forty years a senior member of the Department of History at the University of Melbourne and an internationally recognised authority on the French Revolution.  David’s paternal aunt Ethel married George Swinburne, founder of Swinburne Technical College (later Swinburne University) and a distinguished member of the Victorian Parliament.  The Hamer children grew up surrounded by leading political, business and professional figures.

Hamer received his primary education at Glamorgan, Toorak (1930–32) and Adwalton, Glen Iris (1932–33).  In 1934 he followed his brothers to Geelong Grammar School, but left at the end of 1936 when, after a competitive exam, he was selected for the Royal Australian Naval College (RANC) at Flinders Naval Depot to pursue his dream of a career in the navy.  Despite enduring a culture of ‘systematic bullying’, Hamer was impressed by the academic standard of the college.  He recalled that graduates of the RANC were ‘very disciplined and very proud’.  Hamer participated in sports and developed a ‘fascination’ for boxing.  Clandestinely, he fought one professional bout and was successful; he gave his winnings of thirty shillings to his opponent.  He graduated in 1940 with his colours for rugby and the prizes for mathematics and navigation.  He also came first in his class for English and history and was awarded the Grand Aggregate Prize for academic studies and awarded maximum time (four months) for early promotion to Lieutenant.  He was promoted to Midshipman in January 1941 and posted to the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra which served in the Indian Ocean.  In November 1941 he joined the destroyer HMAS Napier and served in her in the Mediterranean.

In February 1942 he was appointed to the battleship HMS Revenge operating in the Indian Ocean.  Hamer was sent to England to undertake further training courses in May 1942 and was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in August 1942.  He excelled on these courses gaining five first class certificates for gunnery, torpedoes, navigation, signals and seamanship.  He was awarded the Beaufort and Wharton Prize for navigation and pilotage and the Ian Macdonald Memorial Prize for the signals course.  In January 1943 he was appointed to the destroyer HMAS Norman and again served in the Indian Ocean as part of the British Eastern Fleet.  He was promoted to Lieutenant in August 1943 and in May 1944 was posted to the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia.

He served onboard Australia as the Air Defence Officer, during her operations in the Philippines at Leyte Gulf in October 1944 and at Lingayen Gulf in January 1945, where he directed the ships anti-aircraft guns against frequent and multiple enemy air attacks.  Australia was subjected to repeated suicide aircraft (kamikaze) attacks and despite putting up a heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire she was hit four times; losing three officers and 41 ratings killed and one officer and 68 ratings wounded.  Hamer was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross:

"for gallantry, skill and devotion to duty while serving in HMAS Australia in the successful assault operations in the Lingayen Gulf, Luzon Island".  

It is worth citing in full what Captain Armstrong wrote recommending his Air Defence Officer, perched above him in the director Tower, for a DSC:

"Lieutenant David John Hamer:  for outstanding efficiency, coolness and courage during the whole period of the operation.  His handling of the A/A (anti-aircraft) lookouts and constant instructions to the A/A gun positions throughout the action broadcast system over a period of 7 to 8 days was exemplary.  His orders and instructions were given calmly and clearly and did a great deal to give confidence to the A/A guns crews.  His team of lookouts was well-trained and made many visual sightings of enemy aircraft when radar had missed them.  On one occasion when it appeared certain that the suicide plane would hit the Air Defence Position he maintained his place and carried on directing the Ship's A/A fire calmly and without flinching.  The wing of the plane  passed within some 15 feet of his head"

Lieutenant David John Hamer was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, however,
there is some suggestion in naval circles that Hamer was originally considered for
the award of the Victoria Cross for his gallantry at Lingayen Gulf.

In August 1945, Lieutenant Hamer was sent to England to undertake the long gunnery course at HMS Excellent and also saw service at the Royal Naval Air Station (HMS Goldcrest) in Wales during September 1945-January 1946 where he learnt to fly a Tiger Moth.  Upon return to Australia in June 1947 he was posted as Flotilla Gunnery Officer and served in the destroyers HMAS Bataan and HMAS Warramunga.  In September 1948 he returned to England to complete the Advance Gunnery Course at HMS Excellent.  He returned to Australia in September 1949 and was sent as an instructor to the gunnery school at HMAS Cerberus where he served until December 1950.  In January 1951 he was posted to the destroyer HMAS Tobruk and served in her until March 1952 as the Flotilla Gunnery Officer.  In April 1952 he was posted to Navy Office, in Melbourne, and served as the Flag Lieutenant Commander to the Naval Board until January 1954.  Hamer was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in August 1951.

Lieutenant Commander Hamer joined the cruiser Australia in early 1954 as the Fleet Gunnery Officer and transferred to the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in June 1954, in the same role, after Australia was decommissioned.  On 7 June 1955 at Christ Church Anglican Church, South Yarra, Hamer married Barbara McPherson, head medical social worker at the Austin Hospital, Melbourne; they had a daughter and two sons.  Barbara’s grandfather was Sir William McPherson, merchant-industrialist and Premier of Victoria from 1928 to 1929.

In March 1956 Hamer attended the Royal Navy staff course and was promoted to Commander in June 1956.  Upon successful completion of the staff course he was posted on a two year exchange to the Joint Service Amphibious Centre at Poole in southern England as the Senior Naval Instructor.

Upon return to Australia in early 1959 he served at Navy Office in Canberra and was a member of the joint planning staff of the three armed service departments, and was a member of the team organising the move of the Department of Defence to Canberra in 1959.  He was appointed as the Operations Officer to the Flag Officer Commanding the Australian Fleet (serving in the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne) in early 1960.

In early 1962 Hamer was promoted to Acting Captain and appointed as the Director of Naval Intelligence in Navy Office and was also an honorary Aide-de-camp to the Governor-General.  He was confirmed in the rank of Captain in June 1962.  On 2 December 1963, Captain Hamer was posted as the Commanding Officer of the destroyer HMAS Vampire and also commanded the Australian Destroyer Squadron during 1963-65, during the period of Indonesian ‘Confrontation’ of Malaysia, later describing his captaincy as ‘the best job in the Navy’.

In July 1965 Hamer returned to Canberra to take up his final appointment in the RAN in the newly-created post of Director of Project Coordination.  He was also an honorary aide-de-camp to the Governor-General, Lord Casey (1965–68).

Captain David Hamer resigned from the Navy on 1 February 1968 in order to pursue a career in politics.

Still only in his mid-forties, he was deeply frustrated by the political direction of defence matters, which he regarded as ‘hopeless’.  Hamer believed that the needs of service personnel were not well understood and felt that he could help bridge the gap between Parliament and the defence forces.  Despite holding considerable reservations about Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, Hamer’s natural affinity was with the Liberals.  Encouraged by John Gorton, he decided to seek a seat in the House of Representatives and in 1969 was elected to the Australian House of Representatives as the Liberal member for Isaacs (Victoria).

The Liberals valued Hamer’s practical—if sometimes uncomfortable—expertise in defence.  His first ‘small but gratifying’ success came in 1970 when he told Prime Minister Gorton that he was prepared to cross the floor if the government opposed an Opposition motion to set up a committee to investigate the Defence Forces Retirement Benefit Scheme.  As Hamer knew all too well from his personal experience, service personnel who retired before the designated retirement age for their rank received only their own contributions to the pension fund, and were penalised by taxation without any interest or compensation for inflation.  He won Gorton’s support for the establishment of a joint select committee, on which he served between 1970 and 1972.  The committee’s recommendations for a better scheme were eventually accepted and enacted by the Whitlam Labor government

He remained a fierce and persistent critic of defence administration and strategic planning.  In 1979 Hamer characterised the Department of Defence as ‘grossly bloated and incompetent’ and attacked the Fraser Government’s ‘complete lack of action’ in instigating reforms.  The response of defence minister Killen demonstrated ‘breathtaking ignorance of administrative method’.  Hamer particularly deplored ‘disastrous’ procurement methods, noting a ‘top-heavy’ command structure in the services, and ‘vast friction between the military and civil components of the Department of Defence’.  He attributed much of the malaise to the influence of the long-serving departmental head, Sir Arthur Tange, whom he later described as ‘the ultimate Sir Humphrey Appleby’.

In 1980 his strong advocacy in the party room was crucial in gaining the support of the Liberals for the continuation of plans to build the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, after the Public Works Committee had opposed the scheme.

Hamer knew that he would struggle to win pre-selection for the 1990 election.  At that time the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, headed by Michael Kroger, was looking for younger candidates and Hamer was defeated narrowly by Rod Kemp (Lib., Vic.).

In retirement Hamer increased his literary output.  In 1994 he published Can Responsible Government Survive in Australia? in which he closely compared parliamentary operations in Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, and promoted arguments for a legislative brake on the executive, including proposals for strengthening the status and powers of the Senate.  He supported an Australian republic as providing ‘a unique chance to update our political system’.  Bombers Versus Battleships, published in 1998, was a study of the often difficult relationship between naval and air power over control of the sea during war.  Hamer also wrote a privately published memoir for family and friends, in which he was notably frank about his contemporaries.

Hamer held a number of non-political appointments during his life, most of which reflected his intense interest in the arts. Together with Barbara he was active in establishing the Arts Council of Victoria in 1969, believing that although he had no special artistic ability, he could provide organisational skill.  He was federal president of the Arts Council of Australia from 1976 to 1983, and chaired the Australia Day Council from 1975 until 1981, and the Australian Film Institute from 1980 until 1984.

David Hamer died of leukaemia on 14 January 2002, and was survived by Barbara and their children.  He was appointed posthumously a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2002:

"for service to the Parliament of Australia, to the recording of Australian military and political history as a researcher and writer, and to the community through arts organisations."


Sea Power Centre - Australia
The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate
Bravo Zulu Vol I - Ian Pfennigwerth