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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walker, John Noble (1904–1987)

by Rachel Grahame

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

John Noble Walker (1904-1987), businessman, was born on 25 April 1904 at Mosman, Sydney, second of four children of New South Wales-born parents Charles Harry Walker, accountant, and his wife Catherine Ethel, née Noble. From 1908 to 1916 the family lived at Coolamon in the New South Wales Riverina. John completed his schooling at Sydney Grammar School in 1920. Working as an office boy for the accountancy firm J. P. Larcombe & Goward, he qualified (1924) as an associate of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants.

In 1925 Walker started his own practice and was the auditor for, among other clients, MacRae Knitting Mills Ltd, later known as Speedo, of which he became a director in 1928. While with MacRae, the first Australian manufacturer to introduce interlock cotton goods, Walker registered several designs for swimwear. In 1934 he was elected chairman of the Hosiery and Knit Goods Manufacturers Association of New South Wales.

Walker started at Jantzen (Australia) Ltd in 1938 as sales and advertising manager. In December 1938 he joined the board of directors and in April 1940 took over as managing director, replacing Ed Klindworth. Energetic, friendly and compassionate, Walker travelled frequently to visit Jantzen operations.

In 1941 Walker gave evidence to the Commonwealth Tariff Board, stressing the importance of swimming suits to the maintenance of public morale during World War II. He submitted that, while stockingless summers might be acceptable, ‘it is a far cry to nude bathing’. Unimpressed, the government banned their production. Walker contributed his expertise and energy to other areas of the war effort. As a councillor of the Australian Association of National Advertisers he was appointed one of two censors of all national advertising and was a member of the Knitting Industry Manpower Committee.

An overseas trip that Walker took in 1953 resulted in the introduction of a knitted terylene fabric in swimwear; successful Australian swimmers at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games wore Jantzen racing suits. Walker retired as managing director in 1968 but remained on the board until Jantzen ceased to exist in 1973. He was also a director of Macquarie Worsteds Ltd (1960-80) and W. J. Cryer & Co. Ltd (1968-78). In 1968 Walker was appointed to the Trade Practices Tribunal, on which he served for twelve years. He was appointed OBE (1964) and AM (1978).

Walker held office in many industry bodies including the Chamber of Manufactures of NSW (president 1959-61) and the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia (president 1961-62). He advised the Australian government on the consequences of Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community and led the Australian delegation to the first of the Australia-Japan Business Co-operation Committee meetings, held in Tokyo in 1963.

On 3 February 1927 at the Strathfield Presbyterian Church Walker had married Jessie Catherine Gemell Morrison. An active Mason, he was also a member of Rotary International, serving as governor of District 29 in 1955-56. He owned a succession of large yachts, which the Walker family used to explore and fish, and to entertain friends; he belonged to the Kuring-gai Motor, the Royal Motor and the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht clubs. In 1959 he joined the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol, winning an efficiency award in 1971. His memoirs, The Walker-Noble Connection, were published in 1983. Predeceased by his wife (in February 1987) and their infant daughter (in 1934) and survived by their son, he died on or about 13 June 1987 in his home at Killara and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Jan 1938, p 2, 9 Apr 1940, p 8, 20 May 1956, p 17, 25 Nov 1961, p 12, 26 May 1962, p 4, 9 Mar 1968, p 4.

Citation details

Rachel Grahame, 'Walker, John Noble (1904–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 27 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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