Mr Thomas Joseph Hawkins

By Robert Hyslop

Thomas Joseph Hawkins (1898-1976), public servant, was born on 15 November 1898 at Carlton, Melbourne, second of ten children of Thomas Hawkins, a detective in the police force, and his wife Mary Frances, née Nash, both Victorian born. Educated at St George's School, Carlton, and St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, young Tom was appointed a staff clerk at Navy Office on 16 August 1915, two years after the formation of the Australian Fleet. He studied part time at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1921; LL B, 1926). Slim and 5 foot 11 inches (180cm) tall, in 1921-29 he played first-grade district cricket in turn for Fitzroy and Carlton as a medium-fast bowler.

During his career, which was to be wholly in naval administration, Hawkins was associated with seventeen Ministers for the Navy and fourteen Chiefs of Naval Staff, beginning with Rear Admiral (Sir) William Creswell [q.v.]. By 1939 Hawkins had risen to head 'N' Branch and in that capacity contributed to the part played by the RAN in World War II. He provided the Secretariat to the Naval Staff, and was responsible for the main signal office and its cyphering work. In 1948 he succeeded GL Macandie [q.v.] as Assistant Secretary and in 1950 took over from AR Nankervis [q.v.] as Secretary of the Department of the Navy. Hawkins was appointed CBE in 1955.

Endowed with intellect, he could be impatient with lesser minds, and his fiery denunciations of shoddy work were legendary. Hawkins had a high regard for the naval profession and remained watchful for any denigration of its civilian element by those who were poorly informed. As Secretary, he ensured that the Navy's requirements were properly formulated, then strenuously protected the Service's interests against the claims of other government departments. Some naval officers mistook his fighting qualities for hostility, but most - outstandingly Vice Admiral (Sir) John Collins [q.v.] - valued his support.

Hawkins' experience with Ministers for the Navy underwent a startling change when Senator (Sir) John Gorton assumed the portfolio in 1958; whereas his predecessors had conducted business from a distance, Gorton immersed himself in the whole range of naval affairs, working full time in Navy Office which was moved to Canberra in 1959. Hawkins earned Gorton's approbation for accommodating this massive change.

At the Church of St John the Baptist, Clifton Hill, Melbourne, on 16 August 1924 Hawkins had married Kathleen Monica Burke, a graduate of the University of Melbourne who taught French in secondary schools. Gently and with humour, she softened her husband's tempestuousness. She lived until 1994, gracious and much loved by their four sons and three daughters, and many 'grands' and 'great-grands'. After his retirement in 1963, Hawkins had returned to Melbourne where he continued his lifelong attachment to the Catholic Church, becoming the parish accountant at East Brighton and a director (1964-76) of the Villa Maria Society for the Blind. He died on 18 September 1976 at Malvern; following a service conducted by his brother Fr James Hawkins, SJ, he was buried in Melbourne general cemetery.