Commodore John Alexander Matthew

John Alexander Matthew was born in Neutral Bay, Sydney on 22 August 1928 and educated at Sydney Boys High before joining the Navy.

He entered the Royal Australian Naval College in January 1942, as a 13-year old Cadet Midshipman, and on completion of a four year course graduated from the College in August 1945 just at the conclusion of World War II. John then served with the Royal Navy in the British Pacific Fleet which operated in the western Pacific Ocean and Japanese waters. As a junior officer he gained experience aboard a number of ships and these included the cruiser HMS Newfoundland, which he joined in late 1945, and later he served in HM Ships Glory (Aircraft Carrier), Belfast (Cruiser) and Cossack (Destroyer) during 1946-47.

John was promoted to Sub Lieutenant in June 1947 and during the period 1947-49 he underwent various training courses in the United Kingdom. He excelled in those involving Aviation and it appeared he was destined at an early age to become a naval aviator. It was at this time that the Fleet Air Arm of the RAN was being formed so in 1949 John returned to Australia and served in the Corvette HMAS Gladstone for a short time. In February 1950 he commenced No19 Pilots Course at RAAF Base Point Cook and in May 1950 he was promoted to Lieutenant.

After receiving his ‘wings’ in late 1951 he proceeded to the United Kingdom for more advanced aircrew training in carrier operations. He was trained to fly the Fairey Gannet, which was a three crew Anti Submarine Warfare aircraft. John was then to spend the next nine years serving as a pilot; mainly in 816 Squadron at the Naval Air Station Nowra (HMAS Albatross) and in the aircraft carriers HMA Ships Sydney, Vengeance and Melbourne. While serving in these ships he spent a significant amount of time in South East Asian waters during the Malayan Emergency and also as part of the Far East Strategic Reserve (FESR). He also found time to qualify on the Destroyer Command course in 1955 and the Air Squadron Command course in 1956.

John was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in May 1958 and completed the RAAF Staff Course at Point Cook in 1959. The following year he was appointed as the First Lieutenant in the destroyer HMAS Anzac and served in her from January to November 1960. He was then selected to serve on loan with Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) during the period November 1960-January 1963. During this time a large number of RAN personnel served in Malaysia supporting and training the personnel of the fledgling RMN. It was during those years that he developed a lasting interest in International Relations and South East Asia in particular.

In May 1963 he became the Executive Officer (second in command) of the Daring Class destroyer HMAS Vendetta and with occasional periods in command. He served in her until March 1964 during which time the ship was mainly employed as a unit of the FESR in South East Asia.  

In 1964, John was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (Military), in the New Year’s Honours List, in recognition of his service on exchange with the Royal Malaysian Navy and was promoted to Commander in December 1964. In February 1966, John became the Commanding Officer of the Destroyer Escort HMAS Parramatta. During his time in command the ship operated mainly in South East Asian waters.

He relinquished command in June 1967 and proceeded to Navy Office in Canberra where he languished in a desk job until selected to attend the six month course at the US Armed Forces Staff College in 1969-70. On successful completion of this course he became the Assistant to the Head of Defence Staff in Washington from 1970 until 1974. This was the time of Australian involvement in Vietnam and the Defence Staff had access to the higher level staff at the Pentagon, and other Government agencies, than would normally occur. During this time John came to have a high regard for Australian-American friendships and US military efficiency.

Shortly after his return to Australia, he was again involved in international affairs - the Australian Government had decided to accelerate the granting of independence to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In June 1975, John was promoted to Captain and in March 1976 he assumed command of the RAN base at Port Moresby (HMAS Basilisk) and remained in command until December 1977. While in PNG he was also the Defence Advisor to the PNG Government as well as Commander Defence Cooperation Group located at Basilisk

John noted that he went to Port Moresby in December 1975 as the Defence Advisor, but Sir Arthur Tange (Secretary of the newly created Department of Defence) directed that he also command the Defence Cooperation Group - John objected, indicating the difficulty of being both a diplomat and Commander, but was told by Sir Arthur to “Do it!”, so he did!

After two years service in PNG, John returned to Canberra to work in the Joint Intelligence Organisation. In 1978 was promoted to Commodore as the Director of Joint Services Intelligence and believed this was to be his retirement posting. How wrong he was! The Department of the Prime Minister was seeking a new Head of the Office of Ceremonial and Hospitality, a position at Senior Executive Level. In 1981, after nearly 40 years in uniform, he retired from the RAN and became a Public Servant.

His new duties included helping to organise the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference (attended by 42 countries), responsibility for visits to Australia by Royalty and the Heads of State of foreign Governments. While serving as the Under Secretary to the Queensland Government he was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO) during the Royal Visit in 1982 for the Commonwealth Games.

John was commissioned as the Administrator of Norfolk Island during the period 1985-1990 and recalled it was an idyllic island with a fragile economy and a population who wanted independence from Australia! Following this retired to Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast and it was here that he entered a new phase in his service to the community.

John became a member of the local Probus Club and Brisbane Water (NSW) Legacy. It was as a member of the latter organisation that his leadership and administrative skills were to come to the forefront. John was President in 1993-1994 and then Honorary Secretary of both the Club and Company for more than 10 years. During this period he oversaw the development of Brisbane Water Legacy into the largest Legacy Club in Australia outside of the Capital Cities. 

In mid-2010 John announced his retirement from Brisbane Water Legacy and his intention to move, with his wife, to Bowral in order to be closer to family members and to finally spend some time on the golf course as well as being active with the local Legacy Club.

John was awarded the Centenary Medal in January 2001 for his services to Australia over many years.