Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Gunn, Donald (1856–1943)

by M. French

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 2017

This is a shared entry with Walter Gunn

Donald Gunn (1856-1943), wool-grower and politician, was born on 19 February 1856 at Burnima, near Bombala, New South Wales, eldest son of Donald Gunn, a squatter from Scotland, and his wife Anna Sophia, née Hughes, an English-born governess. Seeking to avoid the free-selection mania in the colony of New South Wales, Gunn acquired Wyaga, near Goondiwindi on the Darling Downs, and took his family to Queensland in July 1861. Wyaga was sold in 1863 in order to acquire runs at North Toolburra near Warwick, and Pikedale near Stanthorpe, but floods and heavy debts forced the sale of North Toolburra in 1868. Young Donald was initially educated by his mother, who 'started us children in the right direction', before attending the National School, Warwick, and Brisbane Grammar School.

In 1873 the youth drove ten thousand sheep to the family's newly acquired Kensington Downs, near Bowen, of which he was to be manager, but his father's forced retirement terminated the project. From 1874 Donald was responsible for the management of Pikedale. The run was fenced and developed for the production of fine wool, and a modern wash-pool was constructed. Native fauna continued to be subjected to recreational battues until the mid-1880s. At Stanmore, New South Wales, on 29 December 1880 Gunn married with Presbyterian forms Mary Ann Rattray Deuchar; they were to have three sons and two daughters. Wool 'considered second to none in Queensland' was produced at Pikedale and won several medals in that decade. After his father died in 1885, Donald sold Pikedale to the Queensland Co-operative Pastoral Co. When the company failed three years later, he bought back the debt-ridden station and in 1889 again sold the restocked run, for £35,000. He managed a neighbouring property until 1891, then bought a grazing farm at Boonarga (Boolarwell), near Talwood, only to be successively confronted by floods, the bank crash and the long drought.

Describing himself 'as not so much a Kidstonite as a Morganite', in 1907 Gunn stood as an Independent—opposed to (Sir) Robert Philp, the Australian Pastoral Co. 'and that class'—and won the Legislative Assembly seat of Carnarvon. He championed the small grazier and selector, and advocated railway extension, prickly-pear eradication and 'every progressive movement on the Darling Downs' until his retirement in October 1920. An influential founding member and councillor of the United Graziers' Association of Queensland, he was a veteran member and chairman (1906) of Waggamba Shire Council and president of the Goondiwindi Show Society. He travelled extensively, visited Japan, the Americas and South Africa to study wool production, and published A Grazier's Travels: Japan and America Visited (1925). A member of the Royal Geographical and the Historical societies of Queensland, and of the Royal National Association, he wrote an authoritative local history, Links with the Past (1937). He died on 24 July 1943 at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, and was cremated; two sons and a daughter survived him. A charitable, genial and honest man, it was said that 'money could not buy him nor threats coerce him'.

His third son WALTER (1888-1968), born on 19 September 1888 at Pikedale, was educated locally and at Brisbane Grammar School. 'A splendid worker', he managed the family property following his father's election to parliament. On 30 October 1912 he married with Anglican rites Doris Isabel Brown at her parents' home at Gulnarbar, near St George. After a brief partnership with his father at the end of World War I, Walter acquired runs in the Goondiwindi district—Mundine and Kildonan in 1924, and Tarewinnebah in the 1930s. Chairman (1939-52) of Waggamba Shire Council, he presided over various local clubs and donated premises for a museum at Goondiwindi. A thickset man, he was a humorous raconteur, with a passion for showing horses, though he was also president (1951-55) of the Downs and South-West Queensland Racing Association. Walter retired from Kildonan in 1966. Survived by his wife, two sons and one of his two daughters, he died on 13 October 1968 at Ascot, Brisbane, and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $402,799. His son Sir William Gunn was chairman of the Australian Wool Board.

Select Bibliography

  • G. O. Armstrong, Waggamba Shire Story (Brisb, 1973)
  • Pastoral Review, 16 July 1941, p 522, 16 Aug 1943, p 547
  • Brisbane Courier, 18 July 1861
  • Australasian, 11 Dec 1926
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 26 July 1943, 20 Mar 1971
  • Toowoomba Chronicle, 26 July 1943
  • Gunn papers (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

M. French, 'Gunn, Donald (1856–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gunn-donald-10377/text18383, published first in hardcopy 2017, accessed online 19 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 2017

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018