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Ahern, John James (Jack) (1904–1994)

by Rae Wear

This article was published online in 2019

John James Ahern (1904–1994), dairy farmer, dairy industry leader, cattle grazier, and political party organiser, was born on 15 December 1904 at the family property, Connemara, in the Conondale district, near Maleny, Queensland, second of six children of Queensland-born parents George Ahern, dairy farmer, and his wife Bridget Agnes, née McCarthy. When one of the children, Andrew, died in 1913 before he could receive medical attention, the family moved to Kilcoy, from where George worked the farm. Educated at Mount Kilcoy State School and in Brisbane at St Joseph’s College, Nudgee (1919–21), Jack returned to Connemara and in 1933 took it over. He sold pine, beech, cedar, and hardwood from the property, including much of the timber used in the construction of the 1.7-mile (2.7 km) Hornibrook Highway bridge that linked Brisbane and the Redcliffe Peninsula in 1935.

 On 8 February 1936 at St Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral, Brisbane, Ahern married Gwendoline May Thornton (d. 1962), a typist. In World War II he served part time (1942–44) as a corporal in the 6th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps, based at Nambour. At Connemara he applied scientific principles to produce a superior herd of Jersey dairy cattle. One of the first farmers in Australia to use artificial insemination to improve bloodlines, he also bought top-performing bulls. He worked with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to develop his pastures. When he switched to grazing beef cattle in 1967, he paid the same attention to enhancing his Polled Hereford herd.

Earlier Ahern had been prominent in the Queensland Dairymen’s Organisation as a member for eighteen years and sometime chairman of the Wide Bay district council and the district’s representative (1963–67) on the State council. In 1964 the Queensland government appointed him to the Dairy Industry Advisory Committee, which studied production problems. On the committee’s recommendation, the government instituted the Dairy Pasture Subsidy Scheme that enabled farmers to establish improved perennial pastures. Ahern was appointed OBE (1969) for his services to dairying.

Active in rural politics, Ahern had risen through the ranks of the Australian Country Party–Queensland (National Party of Australia–Queensland, from 1982), becoming a member of the central council’s influential management committee in 1952. Locally, by 1954 he had progressed from chairman of the Maleny branch to chairman of the Landsborough electorate council, a position he would hold for some thirty-five years. In this role he became campaign manager for the member for Landsborough in the Queensland parliament, (Sir) Francis Nicklin, who was premier from 1957 to 1968. Ahern was State president of the party between 1964 and 1967.

At St James’s Catholic Church, Coorparoo, Brisbane, on 18 December 1971, he married Olive Marion Laherty, née Roginson, a nurse and a widow. He had parliamentary ambitions but these remained unfulfilled when he missed out on selection for the Liberal and Country parties’ coalition Senate ticket in 1964 and 1967. His son, Mike, succeeded Nicklin in the seat of Landsborough in 1968. Committed to the coalition but equally determined to preserve his party’s separate identity, Jack resisted demands by elements in the Liberal Party for three-way electoral contests and calls by the Australian Labor Party for a one-vote, one-value electoral system. The Nationals awarded him life membership in 1988.

The Aherns were unusual in being Catholics in a largely Protestant party. ‘A tall, spare man in a big bush hat’ (da Costa-Roque 1987, 5), Jack was a fine horseman, who when young had enjoyed campdrafting and hacking. Shooting and fishing were other recreations. Alan Shannon described him as friendly and good-humoured (1991, 45). In 1989 he reluctantly sold Connemara and moved to Caloundra. He died there on 24 August 1994 and was buried in Nudgee cemetery, Brisbane. His wife survived him, as did the children of his first marriage: two daughters together with Mike, who was premier of Queensland from 1987 to 1989.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • da Costa-Roque, Sylvia. ‘State is Lucky to Have Him, Says Father Jack.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 29 November 1987, 5
  • Queensland Country Life (Brisbane). ‘Queen’s Honors [sic] Presented.’ 30 October 1969, 5
  • Reynolds, Paul. Lock, Stock and Barrel: A Political Biography of Mike Ahern. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2002
  • Shannon, Alan. Twentieth Century Profiles. Vol. 2. Bowen Hills, Brisbane, and Sarina, Qld: Boolarong Publications with A. Shannon, 1991
  • Statham, Anne. The Fight for a Fair Go: A History of the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation. Brisbane: Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation, 1995
  • Sunshine Coast Daily (Maroochydore, Qld). ‘John Ahern’s Dedication to Politics Spanned a Lifetime.’ 26 August 1994, 7
  • Whittington, Dot. ‘What Now for Connemara Dad and the Conondale Kid? Sale of the Ahern Stud Ends an Era.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 5 March 1989, 7

Additional Resources

Citation details

Rae Wear, 'Ahern, John James (Jack) (1904–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ahern-john-james-jack-19020/text30624, published online 2019, accessed online 29 March 2020.

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