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Heffernan, James Patrick (Jim) (1926–1981)

by Charles Fahey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

James Patrick (Jim) Heffernan (1926-1981), farmer and lobbyist, was born on 17 March 1926 at Naracoorte, South Australia, fourth surviving child of John Heffernan, farmer, and his wife Mary Mabel, née Knight, both Victorian-born. Jim was educated at Kybybolite State School and the Christian Brothers’ Rostrevor College, Adelaide. He trained briefly as an electrical engineer with Broken Hill Proprietary Ltd, Whyalla, until 1947 when, attracted by the postwar boom in agriculture, he joined his father in farming at Kybybolite. In 1965 he moved to Apsley, Victoria, purchasing a 2150-acre (870 ha) property, Bringalbert, where he raised merino sheep and Murray Grey-cross beef cattle. On 8 December 1951 at Rostrevor College chapel, he had married Joyce Leslie Dickenson, a telephonist.

Dismayed by the lack of organisation among farmers and graziers, in 1959 Heffernan joined the South Australian branch of the Australian Primary Producers’ Union. As State (1961) and federal (1962-67) president, he lobbied for the merger of farmer organisations. He took a particular interest in the marketing of rural produce, serving as chairman of the Co-operative Farmers and Graziers Direct Meat Supply Company (1970-74) and of the Wool Committee of the Victorian Farmers’ Union (1971-72), and as a member of the Australian Wool Industry Conference.

In 1973-79 Heffernan was president of the VFU. Described by a journalist as `well-spoken, tall, with well-groomed greying hair and tasteful tailor-made suits’, he was prepared to work with both Labor and coalition governments while sparing neither in his criticism. During his presidency farmers suffered severe declines in wool and wheat prices. Forcefully advancing their interests, he condemned the decision of the Whitlam government to end the superphosphate bounty while also accepting appointment as chairman (1974-75) of its National Rural Advisory Council. In 1977 he rejected the defence of the coalition treasurer, (Sir) Phillip Lynch, that the government had limited powers to stem falling prices for farm products. The provision of a floor price for wool and a stabilisation scheme for wheat were, he argued, examples of the `orderly marketing’ through which statutory bodies could save farmers from the `rapacious onslaughts of laissez-faire capitalists’.

Heffernan travelled constantly throughout rural Victoria, often flying himself in a hired aircraft, listening closely to farmers and speaking on rural issues. He opposed death duties, called for council amalgamation to reduce farmers’ costs, proposed cheaper telephone connection fees, and was alarmed by the ageing of farmers and the drift of population to the cities. A critic of trade unions and the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, he opposed tariffs for local manufacturing industries and had little sympathy with the environmental movement. Championing the export of uranium, he also favoured the use of herbicides, the export of kangaroo meat and the culling of corellas.

In 1979 Heffernan became the first treasurer of the National Farmers’ Federation. He remained a prominent rural lobbyist. On 23 March 1981 at Bringalbert he died suddenly of myocardial infarction, survived by his wife, their four daughters and two of their three sons. He was buried in Naracoorte cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Connors, To Speak with One Voice (1996)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 6 July 1973, p 19
  • Herald (Melbourne), 16 Feb 1974, p 3
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 7 Dec 1977, p 5.

Citation details

Charles Fahey, 'Heffernan, James Patrick (Jim) (1926–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/heffernan-james-patrick-jim-12616/text22727, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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