This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996
Ernest Evans (1892-1965), sugar-cane farmer and politician, was born on 6 March 1892 at Killarney, Queensland, eighth child of Joseph Evans, sawyer, and his wife Harriet, née Murphy, both native-born. Educated at Spring Creek and Killarney state schools, Ernest became a canecutter, timberworker and shearer in the Cairns district. On 31 October 1914 he married Winifred Ellen Cronin with Anglican rites at Christ Church, Bundaberg. Tall and heavily built, Evans was active on behalf of the Australian Workers' Union and earned the nickname 'Firestick Ernie'. In 1920 he took up a cane-farm at Little Mulgrave, near Cairns, and organized the local farmers into a company which built and operated a tramline to carry their cane to the Mulgrave Sugar Mill. Following a brief sojourn at Southport, in 1929 he returned to sugar-farming at Nindaroo, near Mackay. A member (from 1929) of the Pioneer Shire Council (chairman 1934-47 and 1955-57), he was also a director and chairman (1935-57) of the Farleigh Co-operative Sugarmilling Association Ltd.
In May 1947 Evans won the Legislative Assembly seat of Mirani for the Country Party, defeating Labor's deputy-premier and minister for transport E. J. Walsh in a bitter campaign. From 12 August 1957, in (Sir) George Nicklin's Country Party-Liberal Party coalition, Evans held the newly created portfolio for development, mines and main roads; from 9 June 1960 until 28 February 1965 he was minister for development, main roads and electricity. Previously a member of the Hillsborough Oil Syndicate, he had taken part in exploration at Cape Hillsborough. This experience aided him in introducing legislation which opened Queensland to oil prospectors, and which led to the Moonie and Roma strikes. His efforts helped to establish Australia's oil industry. He was also responsible for enacting legislation which authorized agreement with Comalco Industries Ltd to mine bauxite reserves at Weipa, and which allowed coal deposits at Moura to be developed by Japanese interests.
Presiding over the Department of Main Roads, Evans overcame problems associated with the increase in heavy transport vehicles by providing sealed roads across large areas of the State. As a shire councillor himself, he lent a sympathetic ear to local authority representatives and his proposals, raised at an interstate conference of road ministers, contributed to moves towards uniform road charges in 1963. Queensland farmers particularly appreciated a concession that authorized them to carry primary produce on trucks of less than four tons without incurring road tax. Evans's administration changed a patchwork pattern of ad hoc policies into a co-ordinated programme which gave Queensland an all-weather road from Cairns to the New South Wales border. While he was minister for electricity with responsibility for the State Electricity Commission, reticulation was accelerated to meet growing demand, and, as minister for mines, he actively encouraged the discovery of new mineral deposits.
His energy could always be harnessed in the interests of the sugar industry. In 1957, when he had severed many formal links with Mackay organizations, the Farleigh mill was about to build a tramway to Wagoora. Evans was one of those who conceived and executed this undertaking which built the mill into one of the finest in the industry. He was an executive-member (1935-50) of the Australian Sugar Producers' Association and served as millers' representative on the Queensland Sugar Board's consultative committee on bulk handling. Sincere and purposeful, he was a fierce advocate and a forthright opponent. His understanding of the sugar industry was considerable; his counsel carried weight and influence among primary producers and in the political sphere.
Survived by his wife, daughter and three sons, Evans died on 28 February 1965 in Brisbane; he was accorded a state funeral and buried in Mount Bassett cemetery, Mackay. The degree to which he benefited his district was less widely known than his emphatic conviction, 'I work for Queensland'.
Gordon Noscov, 'Evans, Ernest (1892–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/evans-ernest-10127/text17877, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 15 September 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996