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Fairweather, Andrew (1882–1962)

by D. F. Fairweather

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Andrew Fairweather (1882-1962), mining engineer, was born on 31 May 1882 at Port Adelaide, one of four children of Andrew Abercrombie Fairweather, engineer, and his first wife Cecelia, née Russell. Young Andrew was educated at public schools, Way College (on a scholarship), the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1901; converted to B.E., 1913) and the School of Mines and Industries of South Australia (fellowship diploma in mining and metallurgy, 1904). He gained practical experience underground in the Sulphide Corporation Ltd's Central Mine at Broken Hill, New South Wales, and in 1904 was appointed to the underground technical staff of the South Mine of Broken Hill South Silver Mining Co. (from 1918 Broken Hill South Ltd). At the Methodist Church, Port Adelaide, on 16 October 1907 he married Emily Edna Symes, a nurse.

Promoted underground superintendent (1910) and mine superintendent (1920), Fairweather completely reorganized the system of underground management at the South Mine and achieved improved efficiency. With W. E. Wainwright's backing, he engaged qualified engineers such as A. B. Black whose work led to safer mining methods. In 1932 Fairweather badly underestimated the remaining potential of the ore body, believing it likely to last only fifteen years. His conservative instincts prevented him from advocating exploration for other deposits: he regarded such expenditure as too great a gamble for the shareholders. In 1937 he succeeded Wainwright as general manager of B.H.S. Ltd.

Fairweather's main contribution was in the field of industrial relations. The workers' bitterness and distrust of the companies had culminated in the 'Big Strike' of 1919-20. Fairweather studied the causes of unrest. With leading unionists, he attended Workers' Educational Association lectures on socialism to gain an insight into miners' attitudes and aspirations. 'Come the revolution, Andy', said one prominent unionist, 'when the workers get control of the mines, you'll be our mine manager'. Fairweather resented paternalism and disliked arbitration tribunals with their entourage of lawyers who encouraged argument instead of discussion and promoted division instead of harmony. As president (1935-44) of the Mine Managers' Association, he represented all the mining companies and headed delicate and critical negotiations with the unions. He was trusted by both sides and was the key figure in maintaining industrial peace in the B.H. mines.

Had his father been able to afford the cost, Fairweather would have studied medicine rather than engineering: he paid particular attention to the medical and health aspects of work in the B.H. mines. He served on the Broken Hill and District Hospital board and the local water board, and was a member of the joint committee under the Workmen's Compensation (Broken Hill) Act (1920). After retiring in 1944 to Rose Park, Adelaide, he became a director of B.H.S. Ltd (1944-54), the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd (1947-54), the Electrolytic Refining & Smelting Co. of Australia Pty Ltd (1946-54) and Western New South Wales Electric Power Pty Ltd (1944-54). He had been president (1932) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and was awarded its medal for 1945 'in recognition of his long and efficient service to the mining industry, his valuable contributions to the industrial phase of Broken Hill operations, and also to the splendid work he has done in guiding and introducing students to the profession'.

Widely read, Fairweather believed in education in the humanities as a background for all professions. His knowledge of Shakespeare's plays and characters had proved valuable, he claimed, in management and industrial relations. He welcomed retirement as an opportunity to catch up on a backlog of reading, but his sight deteriorated. A man of quiet, studious and serious nature, and an upright character with a strong sense of justice, Fairweather was firm but fair as a manager. He was a little below middle height and of average build, with hazel eyes, brown hair (which turned grey), an open countenance, a steady gaze and a firm mouth. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, Fairweather died on 4 May 1962 at Toorak Gardens and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • B. Carroll, Built on Silver (Melb, 1986)
  • R. J. Solomon, The Richest Lode (Syd, 1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1937, 3 Apr 1944, 9 Mar 1946, 10 Feb 1947
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy records (held at Clunies Ross House, Parkville, Melbourne)
  • family records (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. F. Fairweather, 'Fairweather, Andrew (1882–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fairweather-andrew-10146/text17917, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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