Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Flewell-Smith, Bernard (1898–1992)

by Murray Johnson

This article was published online in 2016

Bernard Flewell-Smith (1898–1992), fruit grower and fruit producers’ co-operative manager, was born on 4 March 1898 at Lowood, Queensland, third surviving child of English-born John Francis Flewell-Smith, farmer, and his Queensland-born wife Frances Maude, née Stephens. A citizen-soldier and lieutenant colonel in the Queensland Defence Force, John commanded (February–July 1901) the 5th (Queensland Imperial Bushmen) Contingent, and then held the appointment of area commandant at Colesberg, in the South African War. He later served in the Commonwealth Citizen Military Forces. As a colonel (1916–17) in the Australian Imperial Force’s (AIF) Sea Transport Service in 1916-17, he commanded troops on board HMAT Boorara. He retired from the CMF in 1920 as an honorary brigadier general.  

Bernard, affectionately known by family members as ‘Bon,’ attended Tarampa State School. He completed his education at Ipswich Grammar School after winning a State scholarship in 1912. A brilliant student, in 1915 he was awarded the Thomas Joseph Byrnes memorial medal, given annually to the most successful candidate in the junior public examination held by the University of Queensland. The outbreak of World War I altered the direction of Flewell-Smith’s life. Intent on a career in medicine, he instead managed the family farms in his father’s absence until he too went to war.

On 18 April 1917 Flewell-Smith enlisted in the AIF. Joining the 15th Battalion on the Western Front in April 1918, he suffered a minor wound in June. In the battle of Hamel on 4 July, he took command when his section commander was wounded, rallied the men around him, and secured the objective. He was awarded the Military Medal for his courage and leadership. Promoted to sergeant in July 1919, he was discharged from the AIF in Brisbane on 14 September. Under the soldier-settlement scheme he bought a small farm at Bracken Ridge on the northern outskirts of Brisbane and began growing pineapples. He married Mary Ethel Carlin Darling at the Congregational Church, Cheshunt, Victoria, on 30 April 1921.

Actively involving himself in the affairs and problems of Queensland’s struggling fruit-growing industry, Flewell-Smith was the Bracken Ridge delegate to the Pineapple Growers’ Advisory Council in 1923. In 1925 and 1928 he was elected as a delegate to the Pineapple Sectional Group (PSG) committee of the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing (COD), a cooperative organisation established by the State government in 1923 to protect the interests of fruit growers particularly from over-production, and to improve marketing strategies. Through regular letters to the editor of Brisbane’s Courier newspaper, Flewell-Smith did much to counter criticism of the COD from growers and others who objected to its methods. He was appointed chairman of the PSG committee in 1929, acting manager of the COD in 1931, and (general) manager of the COD in 1935.

The organisation was in serious financial trouble when Flewell-Smith took over, but his superb managerial skills resulted in its return to profitability within twelve months. By 1950 the COD was one of Australia’s largest marketing agencies. Flewell-Smith’s support for the establishment of two COD canning factories was largely responsible for this turnaround. The first factory, located in the Brisbane suburb of Northgate, commenced operations in 1947; a second factory was opened at Koongal near Rockhampton in 1953. The Northgate factory processed 3,740 tons (3,800 tonnes) of pineapples in its first year of operation. Initially trading as Queensland Tropical Fruit Products, with Golden Circle as its brand name, it became known as the Golden Circle Cannery. The enterprise quickly expanded into the canning of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, as well as diversifying into jams and the production of fruit juice and cordials. Flewell-Smith was a member of the board of directors until his retirement in 1968.

Over six foot (183 cm) tall with grey eyes and light brown hair, Flewell-Smith was a very private man, especially in his business relationships. He had received a Coronation Medal in 1953. In 1958, in recognition of his service to the fruit and vegetable industry in Queensland, he was appointed CBE; he attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace. He was a member of Rotary International and was also involved with the Save the Trees Campaign in Brisbane. He moved to Caboolture in retirement. Predeceased by his wife and survived by his two daughters and one son, he died on 24 August 1992 at the War Veterans’ Home, Caboolture, and was cremated.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Buckley, Arch, and Janette Flewell-Smith. ‘Pioneer and Soldier: The Life of John Francis Flewell-Smith.’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 15, no. 8 (1994): 385–92
  • Covell, Roger. ‘These Queenslanders Fought Their Own Way to Fame and Fortune.’ Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 March 1950, 2
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘New Manager for COD: Mr Flewell-Smith Appointed.’ 14 December 1935, 19
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Ex-Fruit Boss Dies.’ 26 August 1992, 15
  • Flewell-Smith, Bernard. ‘Queensland Fruit Trade.’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 5, no. 3 (1955): 1090–1102
  • National Archives of Australia. B2455, Flewell-Smith, B
  • State Library of Queensland. John Oxley Library. Flewell-Smith Family Papers
  • Shogren, Diana. ‘The Creation of the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing.’ Queensland Heritage 2, no. 5 (1971): 31–38

Citation details

Murray Johnson, 'Flewell-Smith, Bernard (1898–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/flewell-smith-bernard-16352/text28311, published online 2016, accessed online 15 December 2018.

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