Sir David Smith KCVO AO KStj
14th September 2022
By Joe Shneider OAM
National Jewish Memorial Centre
32 National Circuit, Forrest, ACT, 2063
David and I were close friends.
He was born on August 9th 1933 in North Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne, which, in those days, was the centre of Jewish migrant activities for families who came to Australia.
I have known him for over 70 years. In our younger days we had come across each other from time to time but it wasn’t until our first year in University that we became firm friends.
David was a prolific and accurate note taker which came in very handy if I had skipped a lecture or two. There were also other aspects of David which I admired, and the main ones being his attention to detail, attention to procedure and his insistence on doing the right thing. He was scrupulously honest. David was a handsome young man and always presented himself extremely well. He married June on the 4th April 1955. I was his Best Man. My fiancée and I were married soon after on the 5th July 1955. David was my Best Man.
Neither of us continued with our University studies at that time for a number of reasons with David joining the Public Service.
David always had a fastidious concern for truth and correct process which is exemplified in the book that he wrote many years later which is entitled “Head of State”. It is well worth reading as it provides facts and
not than political fiction. I believe these attributes, truth and protocol, as they came to the attention of the Public Service Department Heads over the years, were the primary reasons for his rapid progression through the system.
In September 1957, a position became available in Canberra so his family (by this time David and June had two young boys) packed up and moved to Canberra where he started work as a Training Officer in the Department of the Interior. While he was still in Melbourne David had begun a part time Commerce course at the University of Melbourne which, upon his transfer to Canberra, he continued at the Canberra University College of the Melbourne University where he finished and achieved his Degree.
As a close friend, I followed his career with great interest. And whenever he, and his family, came to Melbourne for the summer holidays our families would get together. The boys still call me “Uncle Joe” Because of David’s attributes he was appointed to be the Private Secretary to the Minister of the Interior.
In the early 60’s, the Jewish Community in Canberra applied for a lease of land which was to become this Jewish Community Centre. David, at this time, was the Honorary Secretary of the Jewish Community.
On the 19th January 1962, the Minister Gordon Freeth signed the lease of the land to the Jewish Community
in the presence of Earle Hoffman, the Centre President, Norman Stanton, the Centre Treasurer and David Smith
as the Centre Vice President.
Sir Israel Brodie, the Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth accepted the invitation to lay the Foundation Stone of the Centre which he did on the 26th February 1962 in the presence of Sir Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister and Gordon Freeth, the Minister of the Interior.
In 1969, David was promoted to the Prime Minister’s Department as Senior Adviser in the Parliamentary and
David, as Secretary of the Federal Executive Council, impressed Governor-General Hasluck to the extent he
was appointed as Official Secretary to the Governor General where he stayed for 17 ½ years. In 1975, when Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister, Whitlam proposed the establishment of an Australian Honours System to be administered by the Governor General. The Official Secretary to the Governor General was to be the Secretary of the Order of Australia and Secretary to the Council of the Order of Australia which was presided over by the Chief Justice. As the Order of Australia was largely modelled on the Order of Canada, Sir John Kerr sent David to Ottawa and London for consultation. The Assistant Private Secretary to the Queen was an Australian, Bill Hesseltine, with whom David had become acquainted back in Canberra previously and he arranged for David to have a series of meetings with Palace and Government officials who were managing Honours matters.
Whitlam decided that he would copy the Canadian system, not the British system, and which would be independent of Government and be administered by the Governor-General and his Official Secretary (David) This has resulted in the Australian Government having no part to play in the Honours system and that any
Australian can make a nomination for any other Australian for an Award.
From 1973 to 1990 David was Official Secretary to five Governors-General:-
*Sir John Kerr
*Sir Zelman Cowen
*Sir Ninian Stephen, and
*Mr Bill Hayden
David was attached to the Queen’s household at Buckingham Palace in June/July 1975 and Knighted by
the Queen as Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1990.
David became a Visiting Fellow in the Political Science program, of the Research School of Social Sciences, the
Australian National University, and a Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Law, the Australian National University,
where he had been a Visiting Fellow since 2000.
During the course of his career we maintained our friendship and family connection and were deeply saddened when we learned of his passing. David loved this country and he was fiercely loyal. He recognised very early that opportunities were available if one was prepared to do the hard work – and hard work and diligence is what got him to the positions that he achieved.
As they say in Yiddish, he was a “Mensch” – an outstanding individual. He will be sadly missed.
Alav Ha-Shalom Dovid May peace be with you David.