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Cunningham, Edward (Ted) (1914–1993)

by David Anthony

This article was published online in 2018

Edward (Ted) Cunningham (1914–1993), grazier, community leader, and philanthropist, was born on 2 December 1914 at Bondi, Sydney, second of four children of Queensland-born parents Arthur Henry (Harry) Wickham Cunningham, grazier, and his wife Nellie Maud, née Wharton. As part-owner and manager, Harry Cunningham controlled a number of Queensland cattle properties from his base, Strathmore station, near Collinsville. Ted’s early education was by correspondence. He then attended Cranbrook School, Sydney (1925–30). In the 1930 Intermediate certificate examination, he received a Miss E. Hume Barbour’s prize for Australian history.

Back at Strathmore, Cunningham worked on the station and by 1936 was head stockman. Following the outbreak of World War II, he and his brothers, John and Henry, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, Ted on 22 July 1940. He was discharged three months later, being required in a reserved occupation because of his father’s poor health. When his father died in 1942, he took over the management and control of the family’s grazing interests. From May to August that year he served at Volunteer Defence Corps headquarters, Brisbane. One of his responsibilities during the war was to supply five thousand head of cattle yearly to the armed forces.

On 19 December 1941 at St James’s Anglican Cathedral, Townsville, Cunningham had married Winifred Margaret Salmon; they had a daughter who died in infancy and a son before being divorced in March 1952. In a Presbyterian ceremony at Norman Park, Brisbane, on 18 April that year Cunningham married Barbara Peyton Macdonald, a private secretary; they were divorced in March 1963. At the district registrar’s office, Chatswood, Sydney, on 5 April the same year, he married Edwina Anne Crabbe, née Wedgwood, a divorcee, who was Strathmore’s bookkeeper; they were later divorced.

Described as an ‘old school’ cattleman, Cunningham bred Devon cattle and ‘woe betide any man foolish enough to suggest he change his ways’ (Andersen 1983, 169). In 1955 he was one of the first to introduce the Poll Devon strain to Australia. He was a councillor and patron of the Devon Breeders’ Society of Australia and president (1968–85) of its Queensland branch. Active in the United Graziers’ Association of Queensland, he served as president of the Bowen branch from 1942 to 1976. Beginning in 1980, he sold the leases on the eight grazing properties, other than Strathmore, that the family owned.

In 1942 Cunningham had succeeded his father as managing trustee of the Scartwater Trust, which helped war veterans to re-establish themselves in civilian life. Men and women who had resided in a defined area of North Queensland before their enlistment were eligible for assistance. The trust operated Scartwater cattle station, on the Suttor River, to fund its activities: providing interest-free loans, but also some grants, to applicants; and awarding scholarships, in the names of Scartwater and Cunningham, to their children.

By the 1960s, although the demand for scholarships was increasing, the requirement for loans and grants was declining. To expend surplus funds, Cunningham decided to establish a retirement home for ex-service personnel. The construction of the A. H. W. Cunningham Memorial Home at Queens Beach, Bowen, was completed in October 1962. Depressed conditions in the beef industry prompted the trust to sell Scartwater station in 1979 and additionally to subdivide and dispose of unused land behind the retirement home. The proceeds were invested to generate continuing income for the home and the scholarship program.

Having chaired Wangaratta Shire Council from 1955, Cunningham held the same office in the amalgamated Bowen Shire Council (1960–66). He was a director of a number of companies, including Bowen Consolidated Coal Mines Ltd. A keen showman, he exhibited his cattle and horses throughout Queensland and helped found the Collinsville Pastoral, Agricultural and Industrial Association (president, 1955–80, and life member, 1981). Horse racing was another of his abiding interests. He was chairman of the North Queensland Amateur Turf Club (1965–68) and the North Queensland Racing Association (1973–82), president (1942–93) of the Bowen River Turf Club, and a member of numerous other racing organisations. For his services to sport and the community he was appointed CBE (1974).

Motivated by a sense of 'guardianship and care of people’ (Lewis 1994, 11), Cunningham gave dedicated service to his industry and community. A niece, Robin Slattery, described him as a kind and generous uncle who loved children. He taught them life lessons, such as the requirements to behave responsibly with money and to undertake their chores; regaled them with historical anecdotes; and told them about the Aboriginal people’s way of life. His storytelling included a lurid tale of Japanese paratroopers landing in one of his paddocks and being caught and killed; the sighting of an unidentified parachutist had been reported in April 1942. At Strathmore everyone ‘would dress with some formality for dinner with pre-dinner drinks and relaxed conversation on the polished veranda’ (Slattery 2016). A private zoo on the station provided enjoyment for visitors and the children in the extended family.

Cunningham was killed in a car accident near his property on 21 December 1993 and was cremated; his long-time companion, Blanche Marie ‘Peg’ Mott, also died in the accident. His son, Edward Thomas Cunningham, took over Strathmore; when he died in 2008 ‘the 140-year-long male Cunningham management of grazing property in North Queensland’ ended (Morgan 2008, 5). The redeveloped retirement home was renamed Cunningham Villas to acknowledge the contributions of both Harry and Ted; RSL (Qld) War Veterans Homes’ Ltd (RSL Care Ltd) took over its management in 2004. Next year the Scartwater Trust was split in two: one supporting aged care and the other, education.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Andersen, John. Bagmen Millionaires: Life and People in Outback Queensland. South Yarra, Vic.: Lloyd O’Neil Pty Ltd, 1983
  • Andersen, John. ‘Gripping Yarn.’ Townsville Bulletin, 14 February 2012, 15
  • Burke, Brian. ‘Champion of Country Ways.’ Australian, 13 January 1994, 11
  • Lewis, John. ‘Ted Cunningham — “Over Fork Over”.’ Bowen Independent, 4 February 1994, 11
  • Morgan, Ian. ‘An Era Ends with Passing of Ted Cunningham.’ North Queensland Register (Townsville), 7 August 2008, 5
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX11365
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Q249901
  • Queensland State Archives. Item ID319604, Correspondence, police
  • Slattery, Robin. Email to author, 11 August 2016. Copy held on ADB file
  • Smith, Anne. The Story of Scartwater Trust. Charters Towers, Qld: Mimosa Press Publishers, 1986

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Anthony, 'Cunningham, Edward (Ted) (1914–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cunningham-edward-ted-27154/text34687, published online 2018, accessed online 14 October 2019.

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