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Jenkins, Sir George Frederick (1878–1957)

by Dean Jaensch

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Sir George Frederick Jenkins (1878-1957), politician and grazier, was born on 24 June 1878 in the South Australian country town of Terowie, son of George Kirkhouse Jenkins, farmer, and his wife Mary Ann, née Gordon. After education at Terowie Public School and Roseworthy Agricultural College, he was active as a debater in literary societies and began a pastoral career in the north and north-west of the State. By 1918, when he finally won the seat of Burra Burra in the House of Assembly, his pastoral holdings were considerable. He owned Neath Vale merino stud and had a part interest in Wirraminna station. He was re-elected in 1921, defeated in 1924, elected in 1927, defeated in 1930 and re-elected in 1933. He later looked back on himself as extremely conservative, but defeat taught him to take a broader view and, following the 1936 redistribution, he won Newcastle in 1938. He held it until his resignation from parliament in 1956.

Jenkins showed 'rare ability' as minister of agriculture and town planning and as assistant minister of repatriation in the Barwell ministry in 1922-23. For six months in 1923-24 he held the portfolios of public works, local government and marine. On returning to parliament in 1927, he was commissioner of crown lands and minister of local government in 1927-30; in 1929 he secured the passage of the important Pastoral Amendment Act. For the first four months of 1930 he also held railways and marine; these were all in the R. L. Butler government. He held the portfolios of agriculture and forests in 1944-54 in the Playford ministries. Jenkins described his record as a 'good innings'; he thought personality and persistence the most important qualities for a politician.

He played a key role in the South Australian Liberal Federation. He was president in 1924-27 and assisted in the protracted negotiations with the Country Party which led to the formation of the Liberal and Country League in 1932. He was chairman of the L.C.L.'s parliamentary party in 1933-44.

Jenkins was a moderate and practical minister who fostered research into soil conservation and passed the crucial Soil Conservation Amendment Act (1945) which controlled indiscriminate clearing. He developed an advisory service within the Department of Agriculture and extended educational programmes and facilities for rural industries, including annual farmers' schools in country towns. Farmer and grazier interest-groups received his support. Jenkins was also a driving force in the rapid growth of the State's softwood forests. He was president of the Stockowners' Association of South Australia in 1931 and president of the Graziers' Federal Council of Australia in 1932.

On 2 April 1907 he had married Ruby Vera Bowen at the Southwark Baptist Church; they had three sons and two daughters. Jenkins was knighted in 1946. He died in Calvary Hospital, Adelaide, on 25 July 1957 and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. On his retirement, Premier (Sir) Thomas Playford had said: 'his magnificent service to the State has seldom been equalled and never excelled. The fact that S.A. enjoys an agricultural advisory service second to none in Australia is due to his work and practical knowledge'.

Select Bibliography

  • Observer (Adelaide), 30 Aug 1924, 9 Apr 1927
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 17 Sept 1956, 16 July 1957.

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Citation details

Dean Jaensch, 'Jenkins, Sir George Frederick (1878–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jenkins-sir-george-frederick-529/text11833, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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