Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Collins, Stanley John (1911–1992)

by David Anthony

This article was published online in 2016

Stanley John Collins (1911–1992), grazier, businessman, and local government representative, was born on 6 March 1911 in South Brisbane, third of five children of Queensland-born parents Noble Victor Collins, grazier, and his wife Mary Isobel, née Fulford. In 1863 Stan’s grandfather Thomas Collins and his brother Charles had settled at Spring Creek station, near Mount Surprise in Far North Queensland. The property remained in the family and from a young age Stan took an active interest in its day-to-day running. He received his early education from his parents and a governess before attending Kuranda State School (1920), the Church of England Grammar School, Brisbane (1921–22), and Thornburgh College, Charters Towers (1923–28). Securing a scholarship to study at Queensland Agricultural College, Gatton, he completed a two-year diploma in stock in 1930.

Returning to Spring Creek, Collins worked as a jackaroo. His father adopted farming practices that Stan had learned at Gatton, including a more efficient hay-cutting program, and appointed him head stockman in 1935. On 23 June 1936 he married Nancy Atkinson at her family’s Gunnawarra homestead, near Mount Garnet. They were to have four sons and two daughters; one son died in 1945 aged eight.

When Victor Collins died in 1940, his half share of the family company, Collins Bros, was divided between Stan and his brother Eric. Stan took over the management of Spring Creek, to which he added nearby Rosella Plains in 1950, when his uncle Bramwell Collins retired. His reserved occupation had prevented him from joining the Australian Imperial Force in World War II. From 1942 to 1945 he served part time in the 23rd Queensland Regiment, Volunteer Defence Corps, rising to captain (1944). A Voluntary Air Observers’ Corps post was established on Spring Creek during the war.

Spring Creek was a property of more than 360 square miles (93,240 ha) comprising a mix of volcanic black soils and sandy ridges. It received an average of 28 inches (711 mm) of rain a year, but droughts in the 1940s and 1950s sorely tested the operation. Collins modernised stock management practices, transforming the station from an open-range system to one with a higher level of animal control. He fenced paddocks, sunk new bores, and from the 1960s used aircraft to coordinate management and mustering. From the late 1950s he gradually upgraded his herd from the British Shorthorn breed to the hardier Brahman-Shorthorn cross; later the tick-resistant Droughtmaster became the dominant breed.

In 1946 Collins was elected a divisional councillor on Etheridge Shire Council, which was based in Georgetown. He served on the council intermittently until 1982, including eighteen years as chairman. One of his early achievements was to purchase the shire’s first grader to maintain the road network. When the postmaster-general could not employ a mail contractor for the Mount Surprise-Greenvale run, Collins took over the contract and employed a local person himself. He had joined the Central and Northern Graziers’ Association in 1932 and in 1951 became a member of the State executive of the United Graziers’ Association of Queensland, which entailed regular drives to Brisbane. An aviation enthusiast, he was a founding director (1951) and later chairman of Bush Pilots Airways Pty Ltd, based at Cairns and delivering mail and medical services through the Gulf region and Cape York Peninsula.

Known affectionately to his family as ‘S.J.,’ Collins had a reputation as a fair employer, who preferred to work alongside his staff and create a family atmosphere on the station. This approach extended to his Aboriginal workers, many of whom had grown up with Collins. In 1967 he formed a partnership with his three surviving sons. He left Spring Creek in 1972 to live with his wife in Atherton, but remained a senior partner in the business and regularly undertook the four-hour drive to Georgetown for council duties. He served as chairman (1972–82) of the Cairns Regional Electricity Board (from 1974 the Far North Queensland Electricity Board), and as a government representative (1971–82) on the Cairns Harbour Board. Appointed OBE in June 1977 for service to local government, he also received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal.

In 1983 Collins retired from the partnership and transferred his share to his sons. The Collinses sold Rosella Plains in 1988, except for a portion containing a spectacular system of lava tubes and caves. They negotiated with the State government to reserve the region as Undara Volcanic National Park (gazetted 1989–94) in exchange for a special business lease to operate an associated tourist resort they named ‘Undara Experience.’ Although initially sceptical, Stan later endorsed the plan. Predeceased by his wife (1988) and survived by five of their six children, Collins died on 11 September 1992 at Atherton, and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Collins, Gerry. Personal communication
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Q230004
  • Smith, Anne. Cattle in the Blood: The Collins Family in North Queensland. [Kinwan, Qld]: Collins Management Services Pty Ltd, 2004

Citation details

David Anthony, 'Collins, Stanley John (1911–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-stanley-john-17253/text29038, published online 2016, accessed online 21 October 2019.

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