Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fairley, Sir Andrew Walker (1884–1965)

by A. McLeary

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

Sir Andrew Walker Fairley (1884-1965), businessman, was born on 28 January 1884 at Grangemouth, Scotland, fifth son of James Fairley, draper, and his wife Mary Agne née Walker. The family arrived in Melbourne in 1886 and settled at Shepparton in 1887. Andrew was educated at Shepparton and later at Devon College, Launceston, Tasmania, where the principal was a family friend.

On arrival at Shepparton, James Fairley worked in a grocery store, which he later purchased and expanded. When he died in 1907 the business, a prosperous department store, continued under the control of his sons John Frederick, William and Andrew. Fred and Andrew also formed a separate business partnership which dealt in land subdivision, operated a large orchard and a grazing property, and built retail premises for leasing. Andrew became well known in Shepparton for his drive and business ability.

In 1921 he was asked to act as financial adviser to the Shepparton Fruit Preserving Co. Ltd (later the Shepparton Preserving Co. Ltd or S.P.C. Ltd) and was made a director. The co-operative canning company had been established with government assistance in 1917 but after some successful years was facing financial difficulties. Until it again became profitable, Fairley refused to accept salary or expenses. In 1924 he became chairman, and in 1926 managing director; under his guidance, S.P.C. became one of the largest co-operative fruit-canning plants in Australia. By 1929 all government loans and interest had been repaid. The company began to pay substantial annual bonuses to grower-shareholders, and plant and buildings were fully modernized and expanded. Fairley took a keen interest in operations on the factory floor, as well as in financial and managerial problems; he walked through the plant morning and afternoon. His fairness, as well as his firmness, was recognized by employees, and he established good relations with the trade-union movement. In his will, Fairley left a legacy for each S.P.C. staff-member of five years standing.

In December 1926 the Commonwealth government set up the Canned Fruits Export Control Board to implement quality control and the orderly marketing of exports, and Fairley was appointed as representative of co-operative and state-owned canneries. In 1931 he was appointed to the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee. During World War II he was made a member of the Commonwealth Tinplate Control Board, and was commissioned to organize a scheme of vegetable production and canning in the Shepparton district. He was a member of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria for over twenty years. In 1947 he was appointed C.M.G. for his services to the fruit industry and the State of Victoria, and K.B.E. in 1951.

In 1927 Fairley became first mayor of the Borough of Shepparton, and in 1948-49 the first mayor of the city. He was also mayor in 1931, and for many years was chairman of the council's public works committee. He made donations to the municipal art gallery, and in his will bequeathed for investment £10,000, the income to be used for the acquisition of works of art. The permanent collection gallery in the Shepparton Arts Centre has been named after him, and his portrait in oils by William Dargie hangs at the entrance.

On 18 April 1934 at Canterbury, Melbourne, Fairley married Mineta (Minnie) Lenore Stewart; there were no children. One of the many local organizations to benefit from his philanthropy was the Baptist Church; He worshipped regularly, and his fellow directors became accustomed to his biblical quotations. 'Ab' Fairley's favourite recreation was field shooting, and he was a keen fisherman. He played golf and bowls, and in 1927 won the Victorian Country Singles Bowls Championship. He was a member of the Melbourne Cricket and Victoria Racing clubs.

Survived by his wife, Sir Andrew died in Melbourne on 15 April 1965 and was cremated. He left an estate valued for probate at £421,462, the bulk of which was used to establish the Sir Andrew and Lady Fairley Foundation for the benefit of registered charities in Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne), 17 Apr 1965
  • Herald (Melbourne), 17 Apr 1965
  • Shepparton News, 21 Apr 1965
  • SPC, Annual Report, 1964-65, and F. J. Pick, Our Golden Valley (held by SPC, Shepparton, Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

A. McLeary, 'Fairley, Sir Andrew Walker (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fairley-sir-andrew-walker-6135/text10529, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 November 2014.

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

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