Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Oberg, David Olof August (1893–1975)

by Alison Pilger

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

David Olof August Oberg (1893-1975), timber merchant, was born on 24 September 1893 at Coolamon, New South Wales, second child of Joseph Nathanael Oberg (d.1896), a licensed surveyor from Sweden, and his Victorian-born wife Jane (Jean), née Hannah. In 1897 Jean married Sidney Welman; they were to have three children. Ollie's stepfather arranged for him to be raised by a neighbour and then by a friend in Sydney. An outstanding student, he was a school captain (1911) at Sydney Boys' High School, but was forced to leave before sitting the senior public examination to assist his mother, who had again been widowed. His bitter disappointment fuelled a determination to succeed.

Starting work as a timber-yard labourer, Oberg became manager (by 1915) of the lumber firm, A. C. Laman. In 1921 he was appointed general manager of Davies & Fehon Ltd, timber merchants. At the Congregational Church, Petersham, on 3 November 1917 he had married with Methodist forms Dulcie Sutton Druce (d.1974). In 1930 he joined with the Thatcher brothers in establishing a new timber business, Thatcher & Oberg (Pty) Ltd. Oberg chose the firm's motto, 'Quality and Efficiency'. Under his direction the partnership developed as a major importer of American west-coast softwoods. In 1962 the company was to be taken over by Blue Metal Industries Ltd.

Oberg was a member (1931-34) of the Unemployment Relief Council and president (1939-48) of the Citizens' Reform Association. His other offices included presidency of Sydney trade organizations, and of the Timber Development Association of Australia (1938-48) and the Australian Council of Employers' Federations (1943-46). During World War II he was an adviser to the timber controller for Australia and to the deputy-controller of manpower (New South Wales). Co-ordinating timber distribution, he encouraged the development and conservation of forests, and demonstrated how improved kiln-drying techniques could make Australian timber more suitable for building and furniture.

His advisory role with the Australian delegation to the United Nations Conference on International Organization, held at San Francisco in 1945, was the highlight of Oberg's public life. That year he also joined employer delegates at the International Labour Organization's conference in Paris, and was a member (later deputy-chairman) of the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council. Politically conservative, Oberg opposed Labor's socialist policies, especially its postwar plans for regulating the building industry. In anticipation of a housing boom, he urged taxation relief for new capital investment, and advocated equality between private and public enterprise in regard to manpower and material. Appointed C.M.G. in 1953, he was State president (1957-61) of the United Nations Association of Australia.

A long-time member of Rotary International (director 1954-55, vice-president 1955-56), Oberg believed in repaying through community service the debt he owed for the opportunities he had received. He was a national council-member of the Boy Scouts' Association of Australia and was also involved with the Young Men's Christian Association. Strong and vital, ebullient and convivial, he was fond of sport, gardening and fishing. He belonged to the New South Wales, Sydney Savage and Concord Golf clubs, and the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Survived by his two daughters and two of his three sons, he died on 15 February 1975 at Bowning and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Mitchell, The Rotary Club of Sydney 1921-1981 (Syd, 1981)
  • A. G. Mitchell, District 975 of Rotary International 1927-1983 (Syd, 1984)
  • Pinion, Dec 1939
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 1937, 21 Apr 1939, 17 Jan 1941, 13, 14 June, 16 Aug 1944, 19 Oct 1945, 2 Dec 1957, 20 Oct 1958, 24 Oct 1960
  • private information.

Citation details

Alison Pilger, 'Oberg, David Olof August (1893–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/oberg-david-olof-august-11271/text20107, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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