Herbert Cole “Nugget” Coombs was an Australian economist, public servant and my grandfather.
Born 24th February 1906 in Kalamunda, Western Australia, he was one of six children born to a country railway station-master and a well-read mother.
With his death, 29 October 1997 Australia lost its greatest public servant.
He was a man who spent his life as an employee of the Commonwealth initiating major civilizing activities in economic and cultural fields. More than any other individual, he was responsible for the formation of the Australian National University, he was an influential Governor of the Reserve Bank, he was the foundation chairman of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust and of the Australian Council for the Arts and its successor, the Australia Council. He is known as the most influential arts administrator this country has produced.
From the time of his appointment as Chairman of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs in 1968 he became deeply interested in the welfare of Australia’s First Peoples. The Australian Council for Aboriginal Affairs, was set up in the wake of the 1967 referendum giving the Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate specifically for First Australians. Grandpa largely wrote Labor’s policy on Aboriginal affairs, particularly the commitment to Aboriginal land rights.
Aboriginal affairs remained his greatest passion, and in 1979, he launched the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, calling for a formal treaty between Australians and Australia’s First Peoples
He was given a state funeral and a service of thanksgiving which was held in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney on 14 November 1997. He wanted it known that the choice of a Catholic church should not be taken as a sign of a death-bed conversion, but because his wife Lallie would have delighted in it.
Some time later he was accorded full Aboriginal funeral rites, with scattering of half of his ashes at Yirrkala in the Northern Territory, the only white person to have been so honoured. Then on 11 March 1999 the other half of his ashes were scattered on the garden at University House, where he had lived for many years.
Three sons, one daughter, numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, survived him when he passed