BROWN, SIR HARRY PERCY (1878–1967)
Engineer, secretary and director-general of posts and telegraphs, H.P. Brown arrived in Australia as expert adviser to the Commonwealth government on telephone and telegraph management, on loan from the British Post Office, in January 1923. He became the permanent head of the Postmaster-General’s Department (PMG) in December 1923.
For 16 years Brown was the instigator of a range of strategic planning decisions that modernised Australia’s telecommunications systems. He transformed the diffuse PMG, restructuring and centralising its functions and placing it on a foundation of sound engineering management. Believing that the telephone was the service that had ‘the most personal and intimate contact with the community’, Brown made it his top priority, dividing it into social and business activities. He standardised telephone and exchange equipment throughout the Commonwealth,and from 1925 accelerated the systematic introduction of automatic exchanges. He also pushed through ‘carrier wave’ technology of multi-channel trunk lines and linked the telephone to speed telegraphic traffic. New technology and a strong engineering culture were central.
His concern to keep abreast of telecommunications inventions and developments overseas prompted the creation of a one-man research section under S.H. Witt in 1923 and the establishment of the PMG Research Laboratories in 1925. Brown also played an important role in the growth of wireless broadcasting between 1923 and 1928. He was influential in the adoption of the dual system of ‘A’ (national) and ‘B’ (commercial) stations under the revised Wireless Telegraphy Regulations of 1924, an idea that remained the basis for Australian radio and television broadcasting.
From the outset, Brown attracted the attention of the press. Newspapers dubbed him ‘Horse-Power’ Brown or ‘Pooh-Bah’ after The Mikado’s ‘Lord High Everything Else’. He had a keen eye for public relations and was a pioneering publicist and propagandist. At the same time, his frequent travels to locations throughout Australia, his awareness of the diverse employees under his command and his simply expressed sense of institutional goals inspired the enthusiasm of subordinates.
Through the 1930s, the PMG became one of Australia’s largest business undertakings and employers. Brown established rapport with nine ministers from all major political parties. Prime Minister Joseph Lyons knighted him for his services in 1938, but he was ousted from his post under (Sir) Robert Menzies in late 1939 following a dispute over plans to transfer some regulatory powers to Sir Ernest Fisk.
REF: A. Moyal, Clear Across Australia (1984).