Roy Mervyn Badenach (1898-1957)

Roy Mervyn Badenach was born at Zeehan, Tas., on 6 January 1898. He was educated at Melbourne High School and at the University of Melbourne, where he graduated in Science after becoming a cadet Engineer with the Post Master General’s Department. During the latter stages of the First World War he served with the Australian Flying Corps as an air mechanic.


Following his War Service, he commenced his professional career with the Post Office. There he spent the next twenty years working diligently and determinedly in various Branches, including the Research Laboratories and the Radio Engineering Section. Communications history was being made during that era, and R. M. Badenach was responsible for connection of the first England-Australia radio telephone link to the national telephone network, which he achieved in April 1930. He also played a significant role in the introduction of broadcasting services to Australia.

His association with civil aviation began in 1935. In that year the services of C. S. Wiggins (then Director of Signals, RAAF) were lent to the Civil Aviation Branch of the Defence Department, to conduct a survey of Civil Aviation communications and navigation facilities in Europe and the USA. R. M. Badenach (then a Divisional Engineer in charge of the Long Lines Section of the Post Master General’s Department), was selected to accompany Wiggins on this tour. The innovative recommendation that flowed from this survey was to adapt the German Lorenz Blind Landing equipment for use at a frequency of 33MHz as a radio range system, placing it on a 25m-high tower for greater range. Also recommended was the establishment of a number of Medium Frequency Direction Finding Stations, using Bellini Tosi equipment. Click here to read more about the 33 Mc Lorenz Radio Range system.

When in 1939, shortly after the formation of the Department of Civil Aviation, the post of Supervising Radio Engineer was created, Badenach was appointed to the position and thereupon began his notable career with the Department. His first major task was to supervise the installation of the 33MHz Radio Ranges. These were installed initially at Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Holbrook, Canberra, Kempsey and Brisbane. Subsequently a contract was formed with Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd. (AWA) to produce and install others at locations such as Sydney, Nhill, Launceston, and Perth.

In 1940, Badenach became Chief Electrical Engineer, thereby assuming responsibility for the operation and maintenance of all air-ground-air and point-to-point communications facilities, and all navigation aids. During 1943/44, a sizeable quantity of equipment was procured under Lend-Lease from the USA in the form of Visual Aural Ranges (VARs) and Medium Frequency transmitters for use as Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs). Following the War, Badenach directed the progressive installation of these VARs in place of the 33MHz Radio Ranges, while the new NDBs were used to replace older, less powerful equipment.

This post-war activity, coupled with the increasing demand for communications and navigation facilities, paved the way for dramatic Departmental growth. About the same time, the Department also accepted full responsibility from AWA and the Post Master General’s Department for the installation of Aeradio stations and navigation aids, which further added to the work load. In all this expansion, Badenach played a vital role. He assumed the position of Director of Airways and, in this capacity, he set up the Departmental organisation for the Division of Airways, incorporating Airways Engineering, Aeradio and the newly-established Air Traffic Control. He was, additionally, closely involved with the organisation and establishment of the Departmental Regions.

The period of the late forties and early fifties, with Badenach at the Airways helm, also saw substantial advances in the technical area. Air-ground-air communications via wireless telegraphy gave way to HF voice communications, and subsequently to VHF communications; point-to-point communications via Morse code gave way to machine telegraphy; the first Instrument Landing Systems were installed; and, most significantly, hundreds of staff-years were devoted jointly with AWA to the development of the VHF Distance Measuring Equipment, a network of which was subsequently installed throughout Australia.

When, in 1953, Badenach was appointed Assistant Director-General (Ground Facilities), his professional responsibilities changed fundamentally, but again he rose to the challenge. The intimate contact with engineering that had absorbed him for forty years came to an end, and he redirected his energies to the wider administrative role in which the word ‘policy’ took precedence. Such was his commitment, that he approached this task with even greater fervour than had been his hallmark previously.

Throughout his career, Badenach was a strict disciplinarian, demanding the best from all who worked with him. "There were times when his colleagues caught the sharp blast of his anger which, typically, he expressed with intensity. When that happened, those who understood him waited for the squall to pass, as it swiftly did, in the very nature of squalls," and for the encouraging side of his nature to come to the fore, as expressed through his "kindliest of smiles" and "deep appreciation of work competently done."

Above all, R. M. Badenach was notable for "the meticulous care with which he planned." His successor as head of the Ground Facilities Division, Dr K N E Bradfield, said of him: "When ... the Airways Engineering Branch of the Department came within my responsibilities, I found it so well organised and so well staffed that it virtually ran itself, and that there was no way in which I would want to make any alteration whatever in its structure or its operation." Another senior Departmental Engineer recalled how Badenach "would pause sometimes in his consideration of a complex question and say: ‘I’ve a hunch that there is something wrong here,’ and very rarely was the hunch proved wrong."

He was noted, too, for being "jealous of the good name of his Department, proud of its record, and proud of the men who worked with him. The good name of the Civil Service was never in safer keeping than in his."

R. M. Badenach died suddenly in 1957, at the age of 59, "not taken from the leisure of long retirement but from the very height of his ability and maturity."

(Photo: CAHS collection)

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