Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gibson, Sir Frank Ernest (1878–1965)

by Hal G. P. Colebatch

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Sir Frank Ernest Gibson (1878-1965), pharmacist and politician, was born on 11 July 1878 at Egerton, Victoria, eighth son of Alexander Gibson, an Irish-born policeman, and his wife Louisa, née Herring, from London. Frank was educated at Grenville College and at the School of Mines, Ballarat, then qualified in pharmacy and moved to Western Australia, where he managed a shop at Cue. He bought premises at Leonora in 1909.

On 10 August 1911 at the district registrar's office, Kalgoorlie, he married Jean Rodger Dunkley, née Ella, a widow with two young sons. There were to be twins of the marriage. Gibson became mayor of Leonora in 1912. He moved to Fremantle in 1914, where he was mayor for some twenty-nine years, from 1919 to 1923 and from 1926 to 1952. Appointed a justice of the peace in 1916, he won the seat of Fremantle in the Legislative Assembly as a Nationalist in 1921 but was defeated in 1924. He stood unsuccessfully against John Curtin for Federal parliament in 1928 and was member of the Legislative Council for the Metropolitan-Suburban Province in 1942-50 and for Suburban Province from 1950 to 1956.

Fremantle was strongly Labor, but Gibson held office over a long period as a conservative on a personal vote. When he retired from the Legislative Council, Labor won his former seat. For many years he was the district's best-known identity. It was said that during World War II, when the port was a major naval as well as commercial base, he visited every ship that called, and worked to help the morale of visiting servicemen and a civilian population which—with the fall of Singapore—feared bombing and invasion. Radiating cheerfulness and optimism, which he was privately often far from feeling, he did much to establish Fremantle as a haven for war-weary seamen and soldiers. In the process he accumulated a huge collection of mementoes presented by ships' companies.

In 1945 Gibson was a foundation member of the Liberal Party. His son-in-law was Sir Hal Pateshall Colebatch, a former Western Australian premier and senator. Gibson had friends in all parties, however, including his onetime opponent Curtin, with whom he worked closely during the war. Gibson's integrity, public service and freedom from sectarianism won him universal respect. He was a commander of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and sat on the executives of many organizations, including the Milk Board, Lotteries Commission and Fire Brigades Board and pharmaceutical professional and examining boards. He was knighted in 1948.

From about 1929 Gibson played an influential part in creating Monument Hill, overlooking Fremantle, as a war memorial. He supported establishing a naval base on the west coast. With his friend and successor as mayor (Sir) Frederick Samson he began the campaign to preserve Fremantle's historic buildings and precincts before such conservation became fashionable. He unsuccessfully advocated keeping Fremantle's trams.

Active in many charities, such as the crippled children's home at Point Peron, he also put his philosophy of public-spiritedness into practice by personally sweeping the footpath and street in front of his High Street chemist shop before opening every morning. He quietly helped many individuals in trouble and among his possessions was a gold watch presented to him by a grateful ex-convict, with a letter assuring him that the money that paid for it had been honestly earned. As a very old man he was known to intervene and break up fights on the wharves on more than one occasion.

Late in life Gibson and his wife lived at the Orient Hotel, Fremantle. Both loved literature and poetry. A tall, handsome man, with white hair from an early age, he was a keen golfer and rifle-shot and remained very active until the last weeks of his life. Lady Gibson died in 1955. Sir Frank died on 31 December 1965 in hospital at Shenton Park, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His son and daughter and two stepsons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Black and G. Bolton, Biographical Register of Members of the Parliament of Western Australia, vol 1 (Perth, 1990)
  • West Australian, 14 Mar 1921, pp 6 & 7, 1 Jan 1966, pp 2 & 7
  • family papers (privately held)
  • personal information.

Citation details

Hal G. P. Colebatch, 'Gibson, Sir Frank Ernest (1878–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-sir-frank-ernest-12934/text23371, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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