Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Curlewis, Frederick Charles (1876–1945)

by John D. Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Frederick Charles Patrick Curlewis (1876-1945), cane-grower and administrator, was born on 10 December 1876 at Bellarine, Victoria, fifth child of Alfred Claribeaux Curlewis, a native-born inspector of schools, and his wife Ellen Jessie, née Curlewis, from England. Educated at Brighton Grammar and Melbourne Church of England Grammar schools, Frederick worked for a shipping agent before becoming a vigneron near Rutherglen. He moved to North Queensland in 1909, reputedly for his health, but two of his uncles had explored the colony's frontier in the 1860s. Curlewis grew sugar-cane for the Mulgrave and Hambledon mills and became active in the Hambledon Cane Farmers' Association. On 23 August 1910 he married a nurse Harriet Ethne O'Brien with Anglican rites at Corowa, New South Wales. As secretary (from 1912) of the Cairns Canegrowers' Association, he wrote on industry matters for the Cairns Post. He sold his farm in 1924, following his appointment as northern industrial representative for the Australian Sugar Producers' Association, which acted on behalf of growers as well as millers.

The A.S.P.A. competed with the United Cane Growers Association (formed in 1914) and antagonism was commonplace. Ill feeling intensified when the latter body, renamed the Queensland Cane Growers Association, used the provisions of the Primary Producers Organization and Marketing Act (1926) to force compulsory membership on all cane-growers. While officially apolitical, the A.S.P.A. was aligned with right-wing politics and the Q.C.G.A. with the left. The Cairns Canegrowers' Association, however, contrived to represent both the A.S.P.A. and the Q.C.G.A.—an achievement attributed to Curlewis's diplomacy and integrity.

After the death of its foundation secretary G. H. Pritchard, the A.S.P.A. took nearly a year to select Curlewis from 238 applicants for the post. He left Cairns for Brisbane and began his duties on 13 May 1931. Unlike his extroverted and confrontationist predecessor, he was pronounced by the Innisfail delegate to be 'the most painstaking man he had ever met'. Curlewis's practical knowledge of sugar politics was of exceptional value in preparing submissions and in briefing A.S.P.A. representatives. A member of the Commonwealth sugar inquiry committee (1929-31) and of the Queensland royal commission on sugar peaks (1938-39), he was respected for his balanced approach. He was a conciliator in an industry where growers and millers had common, and competing, interests.

Curlewis worked well with the Q.C.G.A.'s secretaries Bill Doherty and Ronnie Muir, and seldom raised his voice, although he regarded the flamboyant Muir as something of a playboy. As a matter of principle, Curlewis strongly supported the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations in disciplining farmers to prevent the spread of diseased cane; he also advocated increased funding for the bureau and persuaded the industry to augment the salary of the bureau's director (a public servant). With lean features and a pensive expression, Curlewis was a quiet perfectionist who expected and received devotion from his staff; politically conservative, he was well read, and enjoyed classical music and golf.

During World War II, when vital staff enlisted, Curlewis carried a heavy workload which was increased by wartime regulations and shortages. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on 12 March 1945 at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Sugar Journal, Aug 1931, p 87, Mar 1932, p 679, Mar 1945, p 439
  • Queenslander, 23 Apr, 14 May 1931
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 12, 13 Mar 1945
  • private information.

Citation details

John D. Kerr, 'Curlewis, Frederick Charles (1876–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/curlewis-frederick-charles-9880/text17485, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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