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Head of H.C. Coombs
, c.1972 (cast 2018)

by Norma Redpath

bronze (including base: 8.6 cm x 4.5 cm depth 6.5 cm)

Herbert Cole (‘Nugget’) Coombs (1906-1997), an economist, was the governor of the Commonwealth (later Reserve) Bank of Australia from 1949 to 1968. After working with the Commonwealth Bank and in various government posts, Coombs was appointed Director of Rationing by Prime Minister Curtin in 1943. Following his success in this position he became Director-General of Postwar Reconstruction. Guided by Keynesian principles and his own social concerns, he developed plans for full employment and the alleviation of other social problems. Remarkably, Coombs was economic adviser to seven Australian prime ministers: Curtin, Chifley, Menzies, Holt, McMahon, Gorton and Whitlam. He was central to the establishment of the Australian National University in the 1940s and 1950s; the institution’s HC Coombs Building, designed by Melbourne architects Mockridge Stahle and Mitchell, opened in 1964. An active advocate of Aboriginal land rights, he was also the first Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, established in 1968. A Canberra suburb is named in his honour; the adjoining suburb is named for his lover late in life, the poet and activist Judith Wright.

The tiny bust of Coombs featured in the exhibition Norma Redpath: Works from the Studio, 1970s and 1980s at Charles Nordrum Gallery, Richmond, 21 June-7 July 2018.

The bust – recently cast - is supposed by Charles Nodrum to have been conceived at around the time Redpath was the HC Coombs Creative Fellow at ANU. While it is possible that she toyed with the idea of a large sculpture of Coombs for the vicinity of his eponymous building, the circumstances in which she created this portrait head – as such, possibly unique in her oeuvre – are currently unknown.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2018
Accession number: 2018.128