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Fisken, Archibald Clyde (1897–1970)

by Geoff Browne

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

Archibald Clyde Wanliss Fisken (1897-1970), by Richards & Co., 1930s

Archibald Clyde Wanliss Fisken (1897-1970), by Richards & Co., 1930s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23616103

Archibald Clyde Wanliss Fisken (1897-1970), grazier and politician, was born on 11 March 1897 at Ballarat, Victoria, son of Archibald James Fisken, grazier, and his wife Beatrice May, née Wanliss, both Victorian born. Educated at E. N. Marryatt's Church of England Grammar School for Boys, Ballarat, at Ballarat College and at Geelong Church of England Grammar School, he was commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery on 27 August 1916. A letter of recommendation from his Geelong Grammar headmaster, F. E. Brown, praised Clyde's leadership qualities, noting that he possessed 'a fine public spirit and . . . is thoroughly manly'. Fisken served with the 281st (London) Brigade on the Western Front in 1916-18 and with the occupation forces in Germany in 1919. For keeping 'his guns firing with great determination' during an enemy attack, he had been awarded the Military Cross in 1918. He was wounded that year and promoted lieutenant.

On his return, Fisken absorbed himself in managing Lal Lal, the family property at Yendon, where merino sheep and Shorthorn cattle grazed on 10,000 well-watered acres (4047 ha); the property had long been famous for its Shorthorns. He had inherited conservative traditions, both a sense of place and property, and of community service. Lal Lal had been in the family since 1846; the family name, through his father and grandfather, had been continuously represented on the Buninyong Shire Council from 1864. Elected to the council in 1922—the year before his father's death and his inheritance of Lal Lal—Clyde remained on it until his death, and was president in 1931-32, 1946-47, 1957-58 and 1966-67. He was prominent in the Ballarat Agricultural and Pastoral Society. In 1927 he had donated the Fisken Cup as a perpetual sports trophy for competition between primary school students, the meetings being held initially at Lal Lal. Fisken himself was an effective batsman with the Golden Point Cricket Club. On 20 February 1924 at Mona Vale Chapel, Ross, Tasmania, he had married with Anglican rites Elspeth Anne Cameron, daughter of a prominent Tasmanian wool producer.

At the 1934 Federal elections Fisken won the House of Representatives seat of Ballarat for the United Australia Party. During the campaign he declared himself to be 'an ordinary business man' and 'no professional politician'. He refuted claims that he was a 'snob' and 'unapproachable' by citing his cricketing activities. Handsome, with strong features, full lips and a moustache, Fisken startled the House when he rose to make his maiden speech in 'full morning dress and white spats in a great splash of sartorial splendour'. But his concerns were serious enough. He was greatly troubled by unemployment, believing that 'humanitarian reasons alone' demanded a solution to the problem and that 'all the ills of the country would be rectified' if it were solved. He also worked for the expansion of repatriation benefits. With a reputation for common sense rather than for oratory, he was mentioned as a ministerial possibility, but decided not to re-contest Ballarat in 1937. He gave as the reason a commitment to his appointment as founding chairman (1936) of the Australian Meat Board, but Canberra's political intrigue was uncongenial to him.

The Meat Board's primary role was in regulating meat exports, mostly to the British market. Fisken served as chairman until the board was reconstituted in 1946. In his first six years of office he endeavoured to increase Australian meat quotas to Britain and to expand the market for Australian beef in North America; in addition, he negotiated wartime contracts with Britain. From 1943 the board's role was largely superseded by the wider wartime powers given to the Meat Industry Commission, to which Fisken was appointed. In 1943-45 he acted as deputy-controller of meat supplies for Victoria.

Fisken was chairman of Dennys Lascelles Ltd, a director of the Commercial Union Assurance Co. and chairman of its Victorian board, and a life member, trustee and council-member for thirty-five years of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria. Much of his time and effort was directed towards the establishment of a tertiary education institution at Ballarat. In 1958 he was appointed O.B.E. and in 1963 he was elevated to C.M.G. While formal and reserved in his public manner, he was an affectionate parent. He was deeply attached to Lal Lal, which was his consuming hobby as well as his work. Fisken died there on 20 June 1970 and was cremated; his wife, son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Meat Producer and Exporter, June 1970
  • Ballarat Courier, 28 Dec 1935, 22 June 1970
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 22 June 1970
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Fisken, Archibald Clyde (1897–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fisken-archibald-clyde-10190/text18005, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 November 2014.

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

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