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Blythe, Lindsay Gordon (1908–1986)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Lindsay Gordon Blythe (1908-1986), pastoralist and businessman, was born on 2 May 1908 at Derby, Western Australia, eldest of five children of Joseph William Blythe, a blacksmith who had been born at Bunbury, and his Queensland-born wife Ethel Marion, née Bell. The Blythe family’s links with the Kimberley district dated from 1885 when Gordon’s native-born grandfather, Joseph Blythe (1850-1919), arrived with his wife, daughter and seven sons to establish one of the first pubs at Derby, just in time to prosper from the Halls Creek gold-rush. Later, as manager of Noonkanbah station for the Emanuel [q.v.8] brothers, Joseph located good grazing country between the King Leopold and Phillips ranges. In 1894-97 he took a prominent part in conflict with its traditional occupants, the Bunuba people, who were led by Tjangamarra. From that time he and his sons took up pastoral leases (more than thirty by 1900), sometimes individually, sometimes with partners, including (Sir) Sidney Kidman.

Educated at Guildford Grammar School, Perth, until 1926, Gordon followed commercial pursuits in the city. On 11 August 1934 in his old school chapel, he married with Anglican rites Mollie Gertrude Smith (d.1973). He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 January 1942. Promoted to acting sergeant in March (confirmed 1944), he was posted to a succession of training, Volunteer Defence Corps and garrison battalions in Western Australia. In May-October 1945 he served on Bougainville, where he was attached to the 3rd Field Punishment Centre. He was discharged from the army on 16 November. His war experience alerted him to the potential of using aircraft for freight.

After the war Blythe took an increasing part in the running of the family’s beef cattle stations. He and his brothers, Douglas and Keith, were responsible for managing the family’s core properties, Mount House and Glenroy, covering 1,250,000 acres (505,862 ha) and capable of pasturing 20,000 cattle. Isolation from the nearest meatworks at Wyndham and Broome was a major impediment to marketing beef. Blythe took up the idea of killing cattle at an abattoir on Glenroy and air-freighting the carcasses to a meatworks, thus eliminating the loss of condition inevitable in droving cattle long distances. With Australian National Airlines Pty Ltd, MacRobertson-Miller Aviation Co. and a group of local pastoralists, he set up Air Beef Pty Ltd in 1948. He was managing director, and (Sir) Ivan Holyman was the first chairman. Supported by the Western Australian government, and from 1951 helped by a Commonwealth subsidy, the Glenroy abattoir was soon slaughtering over four thousand cattle annually. The carcasses were flown out by Bristol freighter and processed at the Wyndham meatworks. Neighbouring cattlemen marketed stock through Air Beef, and serious thought was given to setting up killing centres at Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.

Expansion ceased when the Federal government decided to concentrate its investment on providing all-weather roads to facilitate the transport of livestock. This initiative favoured Air Beef’s competitor, the Broome meatworks. Blythe responded by sponsoring the opening of an abattoir in 1959 at Derby, in some ways a better location than Broome, but the completion of a beef cattle road to the Mount House-Glenroy region in 1962 spelt the end to freighting of beef by air. Blythe served (1964-65) on a six-man Commonwealth government committee chaired by Sir Louis Loder, investigating transport costs in northern Australia. In 1965 Air Beef was obliged to go into receivership.

Blythe was a director of Winterbottom Holdings Ltd (1967-78) and of the West Australian Trustee, Executor & Agency Co. Ltd (1970-79). He was a member of the Weld, West Australian and Royal Perth Yacht clubs. One of the foremost of that third generation of Kimberley pastoralists who brought innovative developments to the North-West, he died on 7 June 1986 in his South Perth home and was cremated. His two sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Pedersen and B. Woorunmurra, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance (1995)
  • The Story of the Air Beef Project in North West Australia (1951?)
  • Aircraft, Feb 1950, p 12
  • Weekend News (Perth), 27 Oct 1962, p 14
  • West Australian, 6 May 1964, p 16
  • G. C. Bolton, A Survey of the Kimberley Pastoral Industry from 1885 to the Present (MA thesis, University of Western Australia, 1954)
  • Blythe family papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Blythe, Lindsay Gordon (1908–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blythe-lindsay-gordon-12224/text21923, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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