Herbert Cole Coombs (Nugget)
Welcome to some background on another exceptional Australian.
Nugget, as he was universally and affectionately known, became a vital and valued member of the CRES community, from the time it moved into its quarters in the new Life Sciences Library (now Hancock) Building in late 1976 until late 1995 when a stroke prevented his return to Canberra for the summer.
The Institute of Advanced Studies in ANU, to which CRES belongs, has well established policies on the appointment of retired persons as Visiting Fellows.
Let me emphasise that this was never a sinecure or a reward for his previous distinguished contributions to Australian society. The long continued sequence of annual reappointments was always based on his current intellectual, cultural and social contributions to CRES and ANU.
Nugget maintained a high level of productivity right up until his disabling stroke in late 1995. Even then, plans were in place for his return to CRES after recovery. Regrettably this was not to be. Hopes were high that he would be well enough to travel from Sydney to Canberra for a combined 90th birthday celebration and presentation, by the Vice-Chancellor, of his Distinguished 50th Anniversary Fellowship Award, on the 12th March, 1996. Unfortunately these hopes were dashed when his condition failed to improve.
Despite his well-earned image as a controlled, low-key, sagacious servant of the people, Nugget was passionate in his concern for natural justice and the welfare of the individual. This extended beyond the aboriginal causes for which he is best known. His anger at the social impacts of ill-informed and misguided political decisions rarely, if ever, descended to personal vilification. He never spoke ill of individuals whatever the provocation. This high level of emotional self-control could be, and was, breached on occasion: a great catch in a cricket test match or the first swirl of a sensuous Margaret River red on the palate, for instance.
The most enduring memory of Nugget is his humanity. His concern for the underdog and the disadvantaged never wavered. He remained unassuming and kept a low profile whatever the occasion. CRES staff and students profited greatly from his wit and wisdom at morning and afternoon tea in the CREStaurant on the fifth floor of the Hancock building. He played squash into his early 80s and starred in CRES cricket matches well beyond that.
The ladies demurred, but Nugget, with a flourish, uncorked another Gnangara and quoted, "moderation in all things"- and with a pause and a twinkle in his eye — "especially moderation".