Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fletcher, John William (1884–1965)

by W. C. Skelsey

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

John William Fletcher (1884-1965), pastoralist, was born on 25 January 1884 in Sydney, son of John Walker Fletcher, schoolmaster and later a magistrate, and his wife Ann, née Clark. Leaving Sydney Grammar School in 1899, he joined the shipping and export firm G. S. Yuill & Co. In 1906-07 he was in Manila as assistant manager of Philippines Cold Stores Ltd. Returning to Queensland in November 1907, he worked for the Queensland Meat Export & Agency Co. Ltd in which Yuill had a controlling interest, first as a bookkeeper and later as secretary and chief accountant. With two partners, he bought the Torrens Creek meat preserving works near Hughenden in 1910, and on 25 October married Evelyn Barbara de Winton in Brisbane; they had one son and four daughters.

Fletcher bought out his partners in 1912 and formed a new company. In 1915 it processed a record 119,000 sheep. However, the works did not reopen after that year. Swift Australian Co. (Pty) Ltd had entered the field and early in 1916 Fletcher became general manager of its Gladstone meatworks. He also became a member of the town council and the Harbour Board, and vice-president of the local Chamber of Commerce and Turf Club. In October 1920 he won Port Curtis as a Nationalist in the State election but failed to hold the seat in May 1923. In 1924 he bought several properties totalling more than 230,000 acres (93,079 ha) near Mitchell. He was chairman of Booringa Shire in 1927-32 and in 1930 served under (Sir) William Payne on a royal commission on dingo and rabbit boards and stock route administration.

After his wife died on 28 November 1931 Fletcher decided to turn Bonus Downs, his principal property, into a wether station and to become a stock-dealer. After having 120,000 sheep on the road or on agistment in 1932, he bought Authoringa near Charleville in 1933 and formed a family company for his children. Through other transactions in 1934, 1938 and 1942, he secured vast and widespread areas of pastoral land in Queensland controlled by at least three family companies; most of these properties were ultimately sold in 1947-50. He became president of the Maranoa Graziers' Association and a councillor of the United Graziers' Association of Queensland. On 4 April 1934 in Brisbane he married Amy Muriel Cribb; they had no children.

On the recommendation of Payne, Fletcher was appointed on 23 March 1937 as one of a two-man committee to report to the Commonwealth government on land development policy in the Northern Territory. After travelling 10,000 miles (16,000 km) and examining 150 witnesses, they submitted their report on 10 October. It is still considered one of the better examinations of Territorial affairs but few of its recommendations were adopted. Fletcher refused any fee for the work because 'the successful outcome of enquiry would mean more to me than remuneration'. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1941.

Chairman of the Queensland Primary Producers Co-operative Association Ltd in 1953-55, Fletcher held other directorships and chaired the Queensland division of the Australian Comforts Fund in 1940-43. He stood unsuccessfully for the Federal seat of Brisbane in 1940 and 1943, was a member of the royal commission on abattoirs and the meat industry in 1945, helped raise £240,000 for St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, in 1946 and was on the Commonwealth Bank Board in 1951-52. He has been described as among the best-informed of representatives of the northern cattle industry.

An accurate judge of sun-time, Fletcher carried neither a watch nor, relying on an excellent memory, a notebook. In youth a notable cricketer and later an intelligent commentator, he had been secretary of and played for the Paddington (Sydney) club in 1902 with Victor Trumper and Monty Noble; he also represented Queensland. All his life, he divided his income into three, allotting a third to improving his properties, a third to the care of his family and a third to worthy causes. He died in Brisbane on 13 March 1965. A typescript autobiography is in the Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Fingleton, The Immortal Victor Trumper (Syd, 1978)
  • Queensland Country Life, 18 Mar 1965
  • Courier Mail, 1 Jan 1941
  • Payne-Fletcher Committee (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

W. C. Skelsey, 'Fletcher, John William (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-john-william-6193/text10645, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 July 2014.

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

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