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Cook, Robert (1867–1930)

by A. O. Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Robert Cook (1867-1930), primary producer and politician, was born on 18 April 1867 at Lancashire Lead, Chiltern, Victoria, son of Henry Cook, splitter and later contractor, from Birmingham, England, and his wife Mary, née Wilkinson, from Cork, Ireland. Cook was mainly self taught, having received minimum education at state schools. At 18 he selected land at Tallangatta where he arrived, as he often recalled, 'with his sole worldly possessions—a chestnut horse and a pair of blue blankets'. A few years later he also acquired land at Porepunkah and supplied laths for the Chiltern and Rutherglen mines.

On 24 December 1894 at Porepunkah he married Sarah Anne Weston. They lived in Chiltern for some years before moving about 1905 to Oxley, south of Wangaratta, where Cook established a dairy farm with 'characteristic energy and thoroughness' on a property later known as Buffalo View.

Cook had been a councillor of Chiltern Shire in 1902-04. In 1908 he was elected to the Oxley Shire Council and was president in 1910-11 and 1916-17. He was a keen debater and always ready to learn more about the needs of the area; it soon became customary to appoint him as representative at conferences. He had boundless faith in the future of the Wangaratta district and became one of its most active public men. In 1906 he was a founder and first chairman of directors of the North Eastern Co-operative Society Ltd; shareholders acknowledged that his practical help and encouragement at the critical early stages of the society ensured its survival. Cook was a director of the Milawa Dairy Co., a member of the Victorian Dairy Council and chairman of the Butter and Cheese Factories Association of Victoria. He supported the local tobacco growing industry and was a board member of the Western and Murray Co-operative Bacon and Meat Packing Co. He was also a committee-member of the Wangaratta Agricultural Society and an executive council-member of the Chamber of Agriculture, Melbourne.

Cook joined the Victorian Farmers' Union when the movement was first introduced in the district and in 1919 was selected as its candidate for the Federal seat of Indi. He defeated the sitting member J. W. Leckie and increased his majority in the 1922 and 1925 elections. However, in the elections of November 1928, he mistook the deadline for lodging his nomination paper, thinking that it was 6 p.m. instead of noon; the seat went by default to the Labor candidate Paul Jones thus giving J. H. Scullin an important extra vote in the House of Representatives. Cook stood again as one of three Country Party candidates for Indi in 1929; he was overseas at the time on a tour of war graves, and failed to regain the seat.

Even then his health had begun to deteriorate. He died of cancer in a private hospital in Melbourne on 21 May 1930, survived by three daughters and two sons; his wife's death on 26 June 1927 had been a severe blow to him. After a service at St Paul's Church of England, Milawa, where he had been a member of the vestry, Cook was buried in the local cemetery.

Tributes were paid to him in the House of Representatives where (Sir) Earle Page described him as a 'plain, blunt, matter of fact, commonsense man … always genial, and able to see a humorous side to even the most serious circumstances … His work for the producers of Australia will be a monument more durable than any edifice of stone'.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1901, 1 (2)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1930, p2036-38
  • Wangaratta Chronicle, 24 May 1930
  • Wangaratta Despatch, 24 May 1930
  • Australian Worker, 28 May 1930.

Citation details

A. O. Smith, 'Cook, Robert (1867–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cook-robert-5764/text9767, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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