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Fletcher, Sir Alan Roy (1907–1991)

by D. B. Waterson

This article was published online in 2014

Alan Fletcher, Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd, n.d.

Alan Fletcher, Queensland Newspapers Pty Ltd, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 23401

Sir Alan Roy Fletcher (1907-1991), farmer and politician, was born on 26 January 1907 at Pittsworth, Queensland, eldest child of New South Wales-born Alexander Roy Fletcher, grazier, and his Queensland-born wife Rosina Wilhelmina, née McIntyre. Rosina came from a large Darling Downs farming family. Her uncle Donald McIntyre pioneered dairying and commercial cheese making on the Darling Downs, was a founder (1891) of the Queensland Farmers Alliance (precursor of the Country Party in Queensland), and member (1907-08) of the Legislative Assembly for Aubigny. Her brother Malcolm McIntyre had farming properties at Mount Tyson, near Pittsworth; was MLA for Cunningham (1944-53); and served as chairman of directors of the Mount Tyson Co-operative Dairy Association, chairman of the Queensland Cheese Marketing Board, and director of the Queensland Cheese Manufacturers’ Association. Violet Brodie, whose husband A. H. Davis (‘Steele Rudd’) wrote On Our Selection, was her cousin.

Alan was educated at the local state school and Scots College, Warwick. On leaving school he commenced dairy farming at Mount Tyson. He also farmed at Mount Russell. On 15 March 1934 at Mount Tyson, he married, with Presbyterian forms, Enid Edna Phair Thompson, a New Zealand-born music teacher. In World War II Fletcher served part time (1942-44) as a sergeant in the 7th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps. From 1945 to 1955 he held office on the Pittsworth Shire Council, including nine years as chairman. He was a director of the Queensland Co-operative Milling Association, president of the Old Scots Collegians’ Association, and a member of the council of the Warwick Presbyterian School.

In 1953 Fletcher succeeded his uncle as the Country Party member for Cunningham. He was appointed Speaker by the incoming (Sir) Frank Nicklin coalition government four years later. The first non-Labor speaker since 1932, Fletcher was fair and judicious, exercising firm control over debates; this approach did not endear him to his Country Party colleagues. He became minister for lands and irrigation in 1960.

Despite representing himself as an ‘unsophisticated rustic’ (Qld Parliament 1953-54, 111), Fletcher was neither unpolished nor unaware of rural challenges. During his lifetime small dairy farming on the Darling Downs virtually collapsed. Almost all small butter and cheese factories, which his forebears had done so much to establish, closed. Fletcher’s attacks in parliament on margarine production and his warnings ‘that the continued prosperity and even security’ (Qld Parliament 1953-54, 107) of the State and the nation was largely dependent on the efforts of small primary producers, especially dairy farmers, could not stem the rush towards larger mixed farms. Fletcher himself admitted that he did not like dairying: ‘It is not a pleasant job. You have to be at it for seven days a week’ (Qld Parliament 1953-54, 1213). While he personally retained a dairy herd, he increasingly focused on grain growing and beef cattle production on his farms.

As minister, Fletcher was determined that the Fitzroy Basin Brigalow Land Development Scheme should succeed. He sponsored converting manageable leasehold properties into freehold estates, the successful consolidation of the labyrinthine Queensland land laws into clear and concise regulations, the easing of land taxes on small proprietors hit by rising land values, and restrictions on the use of pesticides. Never a patron of large graziers, either individuals or companies (he believed that the owner of the land should operate it), he ran foul of the powerful United Graziers’ Association of Queensland.

In January 1968 Fletcher stood against (Sir) Johannes Bjelke-Petersen for the deputy leadership; unpopular with graziers, and lacking support within the party, he was defeated. When Bjelke-Petersen was elected premier in July, Fletcher again sought the deputy leadership, but was unsuccessful. He had been appointed minister for education and cultural activities in January that year. An education reformer, he oversaw the passage of legislation to establish the James Cook University of North Queensland (1970), Griffith University (1971), and the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (1971). Under his leadership the Board of Secondary School Studies was established to replace the junior and senior external examinations, and State pre-school education was commenced.

A member of an uncompromisingly conservative government, Fletcher, as minister, was cool and detached. He endorsed university autonomy and, while supporting the Queensland Literature Board of Review’s banning of The Little Red Schoolbook, nevertheless conceded that ‘some of its statements were sound’ (Qld Parliament 1972, 913). He was knighted in 1972.

Following his retirement from parliament in 1974, Sir Alan was appointed chairman (1975) of the Queensland Theatre Orchestra, and vice-president (1977) of the Pittsworth Historical Society. A long-term advocate of equality of access to education, he was patron of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association. His recreations included tennis, croquet, fishing, shooting, and cricket; he had served as captain of the Irongate Cricket Club for twenty-four years, returning to his electorate on weekends to play.

Six feet (183 cm) tall with blue eyes and brown hair, Fletcher was a committed Presbyterian. He was the last of the politically significant agrarian yeomen of the Darling Downs. Survived by his wife, a son, and a daughter, he died on 7 October 1991 at Toowoomba and was cremated. One daughter and one son pre-deceased him. The Alan Fletcher Research Station, Sherwood, Brisbane, was named after him.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Cato, Nancy. ‘Keeping a Tight Rein on Progress.’ Canberra Times, 16 February 1972, 14
  • Kingston, B. R. Personal communication with author
  • Lack, Clem, ed. Three Decades of Queensland Political History 1929-1960. Brisbane: Government Printer, 1962
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Q225174
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vols. 206-07. 1953-54, 107-111, 1212-14
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 212. 1955, 231-35
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 214. 1956-57, 804-09
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 234. 1962, 2280-83
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 255. 1970-71, 2198-2200
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 257. 1971, 640-46
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 259. 1972-73, 913
  • Queensland. Legislative Assembly. Parliamentary Debates. vol. 320. 1991, 1724-31
  • Toowoomba Chronicle. ‘Former MP Sir Alan Fletcher Dies.’ 9 October 1991, 4
  • Waterson, D. B. ‘The Darling Downs: Changing Patterns and Altered Perspectives, 1920-1989.’ In Peripheral Visions: Essays In Australian Regional and Local History, edited by B. J. Dalton, 8-24. Townsville: James Cook University Press, 1991.

Additional Resources

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Fletcher, Sir Alan Roy (1907–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-sir-alan-roy-16120/text28062, published online 2014, accessed online 17 August 2018.

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