FRANK GEOFFREY EVANS, OBE VRD RANR
INDUSTRIALIST, ADC, DEFENCE ANALYST
7-2-1922 -- 21-6-2012
by JOHN BIRD
GEOFFREY Evans, whose dedication to the Royal Australian Navy
extended far beyond his 40 years of service and earned him the
light-hearted title ''the Fifth Naval Member'' among his admiral
friends - a play on the original naval board having four members
- has died of a lung infection at Royal Melbourne Private Hospital.
He was 90.
Geoffrey Evans saw active service in the Pacific theatre in World
War II and went on to co-found an industrial chemical company
in Box Hill. In-between, he was a stalwart of the Navy League
of Australia and served as aide-de-camp and then private secretary
to the governor of Victoria. He also served three terms as an
alternative member of the Press Council between 1987 and 1996.
He even led a major behind-the-scenes effort in 1983 to get the
federal government to reinstate the RAN with an ''affordable''
aircraft carrier after the navy's last carrier, HMAS Melbourne,
was decommissioned in May 1982 and later sold to China for scrap
Born in Melbourne to Frank and Doris Evans, he was educated at
Trinity Grammar and Scotch College. His grandfather, G.F.Holden,
was an MP and chairman of the Melbourne Harbour Trust from 1913
Evans joined the RAN as a sailor in 1941 and served in the armed
merchant cruiser Manoora before joining the new destroyer Warramunga
before it was commissioned in November 1942. He served on that
ship until August 1944. He was on Warramunga in July 1943 when,
as part of Task Force 74, the ship provided fire cover for landings
in Kiriwina and Woodlark islands. Three months later the ship
shelled Gasmata Island in support of landings there, and in December
it supported landings in Aware and was involved in pre-landing
bombardment of Cape Gloucester. (During 1944 and 1945, Warramunga
covered a multitude of landings and despite coming under fire
on many occasions and suffering a near miss during a kamikazi
attack during the Lingayen Gulf operation, the destroyer suffered
no serious casualties.)
Along the way Geoffrey Evans was appointed to junior officer rank
(sub lieutenant), and then to lieutenant. His full-time service
ended in 1947, and then he joined the RAN Reserve when it was
re-activated, retiring with the rank of commander in 1982.
After the war, he concentrated on establishing an industrial chemical
company, Kemol Pty. Ltd., with a partner, Mel Butler. They were
advised by Evans' father, Frank, who was an industrial chemist.
The company manufactured products ranging from shampoos to industrial
coating compounds and auto and building fillers. One of the products,
called Strawberry Shampoo, was used by well-known 1940s stage
and radio star, Stephanie Deste, at her beauty salon called Stephanie
Deste Beauty Lodge. Deste, who is said to have inspired Dame Edna's
flamboyant eyeglasses, made capital of her belief that the strawberries
for the shampoo were flown in daily from New Zealand. Evans was
involved with the business from 1948 until 1976, when it was sold.
In between, he was ADC to the Governor of Victoria, Sir Dallas
Brooks, in 1956 then spent some time catching up on his business
affairs, before taking up the appointment of private secretary
to the governor in 1962-63. When Sir Dallas became chairman of
Rothmans National Sports Foundation, Evans became his personal
assistant up to 1965.
In his spare time, Evans was one of a small group of naval personnel
who ''Australianised'' the UK-based Navy League and established
the Australian Sea Cadet Corps, of which he was senior officer
in Victoria from 1953 to 1975.
He was a member of the Sea Cadet Council for the same period.
Evans was president of the Navy League in Victoria from 1967 to
1973, Federal President 1972 to 1994, and chairman of the league's
advisory committee for some years thereafter.
His knowledge of maritime matters and his wide range of contacts
through successive chiefs of the navy and numerous other notables
both in Australia and overseas, were of immense value to the league.
Most of the chiefs of navy during his periods of office became
personal friends, which helped the league to fulfil its main aim
of ''maintaining the maritime well being of the nation''.
Hence reference to him being ''the fifth naval member''.
Evans was a busy writer who contributed many papers to organisations
involved with maritime defence as well as to the league's magazine,
The Navy, both during his time as president and as elder statesman
thereafter. He was often quoted in the press on matters of maritime
defence and was largely responsible for the media referring to
the league as ''an influential body in the area of maritime defence''.
The League was presented with a particular raison d'etre in the
early '80s, when the government decided to disband the fixed-wing
component of the Fleet Air Arm, which continues to leave the RAN
without the essential support it will surely need in some situations
during a conflict. In addition to seminars, articles and letters
to the press, he organised a group, consisting of League members,
a naval architect, a retired manager of a naval dockyard, and
a serving commodore, provided by the then Chief of Navy, who designed
what was believed to be an affordable aircraft carrier. However
the government was not to be persuaded.
In 1980, the Navy League in Victoria, with the co-operation of
the Royal Yacht Club of Victoria, initiated a yacht race as its
contribution to Navy Week. The race has become a regular event
in the club's calendar with contestants sailing for the Geoffrey
Evan's Cup - ensuring that his name will be remembered into the
Evans was still working on Navy League matters in the days before
his death, including providing input for the History of the Navy
League of Australia, which is being prepared for publication.
As a member of the Naval Officer's Club for many years, he enjoyed
many lunches and dinners in the company of his many naval friends,
but suffered ill health for some years. In the 1980s, he developed
emphysema, having been a smoker for many years. He was confined
to Heidelberg Hospital for some time and was not expected to live,
but against the odds, survived for more than 20 years. He had
major heart surgery in the '90s. He was a fighter.
Geoffrey Evans was awarded an MBE in 1967 for service with the
RANVR, and the OBE in 1982 for service to the Navy League of Australia.
He did not marry and has no immediate survivors.