Born in 1906 and trained as an economist, H. C. Coombs was Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia from 1949 to 1968. However, the breadth of his activities and his commitment to public affairs over seven decades makes his life story a cameo of Australians' many-sided quest for a better life. Coombs spent his childhood and youth in Western Australia. As Director-General of Post War Reconstruction he advised the Labor governments of the 1940s. In the Menzies years, he added performing arts and tertiary education to his duties in banking. Upon retirement in 1968 he continued to shape arts policy and took up a new reform interest as chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs. Particularly interested in Coombs as an economist, Tim Rowse shows that Coombs understood 'economic rationality' as the socially integrative mission of private and public sector elites. When his Keynesian confidence faltered in the early 1970s, Coombs reformulated his ideas of economy and governance to meet the challenges of environmental degradation and indigenous renaissance. Ceaselessly testing the adaptability of twentieth-century liberalism, and straddling the gap between public servant and public intellectual, Coombs made his career a 'reforming life'.
"Rowse has provided a definitive and accomplished account of Nugget Coombs' public persona and in so doing has managed to convey an integrating theme linking some of the most significant and formative events in Australia's modern history." Pacific Affairs, John Lea, University of Sydney, Australia
Part I. Learning and Teaching: 1. Childhood and youth; 2. Schooling; 3. Self-possession; 4. Busselton; 5. Claremont; 6. Wheat belt days; 7. Night student; 8. Finding the words; 9. Representing; 10. Murdoch; Part II. Liberalism's Crisis: 11. LSE student; 12. Politics v. economics; 13. The money power and its critics; 14. Poor Britain; Part III. The Experts we Need: 15. A vacancy?; 16. The economists; 17. From people's bank to central bank; 18. Sweden and Australia; Part IV. New Orders: 19. Trusting the people; 20. Reconstruction and feminism; 21. Fighting for 'yes'; 22. Soldiers and workers; Part V. Internationalist: 23. Labor's new internationalism; 24. The diplomacy of security; 25. Success in London; 26. Global temptations; 27. Geneva; 28. Havana; 29. An official community; 30. Coombs the Keynesian; Part VI. From Labor to Liberal: 31. Chifley's 'family'; 32. The commanding heights?; 33. The Cold War and CSIRO; 34. Vice Chancellor?; 35. Reconstructing Papua New Guinea; 36. Governor and father; 37. Chifley's man; 38. Menzies' man?; 39. Corporate Elizabethan; Part VII. Other People's Money: 40. Inflation and war; 41. Wage earners' democracy; 42. Horror budget; 43. The Governor muted; 44. Stern mentor?; 45. Coombs as boss; 46. Carrots and sticks; 47. Women at the bank; 48. A culture of inflation; 49. Separation; 50. A Melanesian way?; 51. Poor man's overdraft; 52. Frustrated internationalist; Part VIII. Managing Creativity: 53. Reasonable liberty; 54. Visualising Australia; 55. Nuclear matters; 56. Opera; 57. Ballet; 58. In search of an audience; 59. Re-designing Australia; Part IX. Labor's Second Chance: 60. Retirement; 61. Whitlam conscripts Coombs; 62. Trade reform; 63. Two cultural constituencies; 64. Wages and taxes; Part X. Rethink: 65. The stuffed owl of Minerva; 66. Nature and human nature; 67. Economies and communities; 68. Losing the master key; 69. The responsive public servant; Part XI. Elite Outrider: 70. Torres Strait; 71. Conservation and Aborigines; 72. Bapa Dhumbul; Conclusion: histories nostalgic and hopeful.