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Falkiner, Franc Brereton Sadleir (1867–1929)

by John Atchison

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

This is a shared entry with Otway Rothwell Falkiner

Franc Brereton Sadleir Falkiner (1867-1929) and Otway Rothwell Falkiner (1874-1961), sheep breeders, were born on 17 June 1867 and on 16 December 1874 at Ararat, Victoria, eldest (after four girls) and third sons of Franc Sadleir Falkiner, a sheep-farmer from Tipperary, Ireland, and his wife Emily Elizabeth, née Bazley, who had been born at sea. In 1878 Otway's asthma prompted the family to move to the Riverina, where their father bought Boonoke North and its merino stud from the Peppins. Franc was educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School and Otway at St Kilda Grammar School and privately. Franc managed Moonbria from January 1885, then Tuppal from 1891 for his father, gaining much practical experience; from 1890 Otway became studmaster. On their father's death in 1909 Franc became managing director of F. S. Falkiner & Sons Ltd, formed in 1899, while Otway continued as stud-master until 1953.

Known as 'Bert', Franc was a foundation member of Conargo Shire Council in 1906. His interest in politics was aroused by the 1910 Federal land tax; in 1913 he entered the House of Representatives for Riverina, defeating J. M. Chanter, who turned the tables next year. In 1917-19 Falkiner held Hume for the Nationalists, but was defeated for the Senate in the 1919 elections. A large man, balding, with a bristling moustache, he was an impatient parliamentarian, brusque and humorous; he coined the phrase 'bangle bonus' for Andrew Fisher's 1912 maternity allowance.

After losing Riverina, Franc had sold his shares in F. S. Falkiner & Sons to his brothers in 1914 and in 1916 bought Haddon Rig near Warren and its Wanganella-based stud flock from James Richmond. Falkiner sold the outside block, improved the homestead's water-supply and consolidated an 80,000-acre (32,375 ha) property. His concentration on burly, robust, plain-bodied merinos was rewarded with successes at the Sydney Sheep Show (1922, 1923) and the Sydney ram sales in 1924. At Foxlow, Bungendore, bought as drought relief pasture in 1920, and at Haddon Rig, he also bred Red Poll Hereford cattle and Percheron horses.

A growers' representative on the Central Wool Committee from 1917, Falkiner was a member of the British Australian Wool Realisation Association Ltd in 1920-26. He was also president of the Southern Riverina Pastoralists' Union (representing it on the Pastoralists' Federal Council of Australia in 1915) and the New South Wales Sheepbreeders' Association (1919-1926), a founder of the Australian Stud Merino Flock Register and a director of the Bank of New South Wales 1919-29, Pitt, Son & Badgery Ltd, and the Commercial Union Assurance Co. Ltd.

Falkiner died of intracranial haemorrhage at Foxlow on 30 October 1929 and was buried with Anglican rites in the churchyard of St Thomas, Carwoola, on the eve of the dedication of the Falkiner Memorial Chapel at Geelong Grammar School. Survived by his wife, Ethel Elizabeth, née Howat, whom he had married at Scots Church, Melbourne, on 5 May 1902, two sons and two daughters, he left an estate valued for probate at £434,438. In 1954 his son George gave £50,000 to the University of Sydney to establish the F. B. S. Falkiner laboratory in the Physics-Nuclear Research Foundation.

At Deniliquin on 14 June 1899 Otway married Elizabeth McLaurin, daughter of a grazier; she died after the birth of their third child in 1909. On 15 November 1910 at St John's Church, Toorak, Melbourne, he married Una Caroline, daughter of A. A. C. Le Souef. In 1914 he succeeded Franc as managing director of F. S. Falkiner & Sons. He and his brother Leigh formed a close, harmonious partnership operating from Boonoke North and Wanganella Estate (bought in 1910 from the executors of Thomas Millear). The firm continued to buy properties, selling off the wheat lands; it was reputed to be the world's largest merino stud, selling rams all over Australia and to South Africa and New Zealand from the early 1900s. The 1920 ram sales inaugurated its golden decade; Otway's stiffest competitors were Haddon Rig and Charles Mills (Uardry) Ltd. In 1927 he bought Zara and next year sold its stud, a large number of sheep going to Fritz Hirschhorn's Smart Syndicate in South Africa. Falkiner severely criticized the 1929 embargo on stud merino exports.

Boonoke ram sales were severely hit by the Depression. In 1934 Falkiner made his greatest contribution to stud merino breeding; the Poll Boonoke. To offset wartime transport disruption he established a ram depot at Cleeve, near Longreach, Queensland. A formidable octogenerian, he surrendered the stud to Basil Clapham in 1953 (but remained chairman of directors); presided over the record ewe sale in 1957; and, next year, achieved his lifelong ambition by reuniting all Peppins' original studs with the purchase of Wanganella from the descendants of Albert Austin. By 1957, 70 million of Australia's 150 million sheep were descended from his rams.

A playboy and a strange mixture of authoritarianism, gruffness, crudity and kindness, Ottie was keen on breeding Clydesdale horses and racehorses. His greatest success, David, won the Sydney Cup in 1923. In 1944 he donated 1500 acres (607 ha) at Deniliquin to the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, to establish the Falkiner Memorial Field Centre.

Falkiner died in his sleep at Boonoke on 23 October 1961, and, after a service St Paul's Church of England, Deniliquin, was cremated in Melbourne. He was survived by a son and daughter by his first wife and by a daughter of his second wife; their son John was killed in World War II flying for the Royal Australian Air Force. Falkiner's estate was valued for probate at £357,659 in New South Wales and £192,788 in Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Sheepbreeders Association, The Australian Merino (Syd, 1955)
  • B. F. Short and H. B. Carter, Statistical Abstract of the Records of the Registered Australian Merino Stud Flocks (Melb, 1956)
  • T. E. P. Hewat, Golden Fleeces (Syd, 1980)
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Nov 1910, 16 June 1913, 16 Mar, 16 June 1922, 16 Nov 1948, 16 May 1952, 18 Nov 1961
  • New Nation Magazine, Apr 1935
  • Punch (Melbourne), 15 Jan 1914
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 24 June 1922
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 Oct, 1 Nov 1929, 16 Dec 1954, 24 Oct 1961
  • Queenslander, 7 Nov 1929
  • Farmer and Settler, 26 Aug 1955
  • Bulletin, 12 Aug 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Falkiner, Franc Brereton Sadleir (1867–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/falkiner-franc-brereton-sadleir-6137/text10533, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 October 2014.

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

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