Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Johnson, George (1868–1952)

by K. W. Manning

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

George Johnson (1868-1952), sugar-grower, was born on 7 February 1868 at Stillington, County Durham, England, son of Thomas Johnson, farmer, and his wife Isabella, née Robinson. Educated at Houghton-le-Spring High School, Durham, he left England with a brother in 1889, hoping to acquire a western Queensland grazing run, but because of drought took employment in the sugar industry. Two years later he and his brother selected 320 acres (130 ha) at Mia Mia, about thirty miles (48 km) from Mackay, on which they began to grow sugar. Johnson was soon giving active encouragement to English migration to the sugar districts.

Johnson soon became involved in sugar affairs. He was particularly impressed by the Sugar Works Guarantee Act of 1893. In 1906-07 and 1911-14 he was president of the Pioneer River Farmers' and Graziers' Association and was president of the Mackay District Show Association in the same years.

In 1913 the P.R.F.G.A. sponsored action which led to the formation at Mackay of the United Cane Growers' Association in December 1914. Johnson was first president of the association until 1917; maintenance of cohesive membership and adequate finance were always problems. In 1915 he contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Mackay unsuccessfully against W. Forgan Smith. Johnson represented the association in the Industrial Court in 1914-17, was active in the agitation preceding the Co-operative Sugar Works Act of 1914 and the Regulation of Sugar Cane Prices Act of 1915, and gave evidence for the U.C.G.A. to the board of inquiry into the sugar industry of 1916.

The Queensland Primary Producers Organization and Marketing Act of 1922 provided for compulsory membership and brought most Queensland farmers into industry groupings. The sugar industry did not easily conform to this general pattern, primarily because of special circumstances related to the phasing out of black labour from the cane-fields in 1901-12, the establishment of the Central Sugar Cane Prices Board in 1915 and of the Queensland Sugar Board in 1923. The Queensland Cane Growers' Association, with the Queensland Cane Growers' Council as its governing body, was inaugurated following a State conference of sugar men at Mackay in January 1926. Though Forgan Smith, minister for agriculture, presided, Johnson was the actual leader of the proceedings. When the council was set up a few days later, he became inaugural chairman and held the position until he retired in 1946.

Johnson supplied cane to North Eton mill, established since 1887 as Australia's first central mill owned by growers and sponsored by government. From 1927, when North Eton became a co-operative under the Primary Producers' Co-operative Associations Acts of 1923-26, until 1940, Johnson was its chairman. He was also a member of Pioneer Shire Council in 1907-14 and chairman in 1911-13, chairman of Mirani Shire Council in 1914-17 and 1920-39 and chairman of the agriculture section of the Queensland Society of Sugar Cane Technologists in 1940-41.

Johnson lived in retirement at Mackay, died there on 2 May 1952 and was buried in Mackay cemetery with Presbyterian forms. His estate, valued for probate at £28,958, was left to his wife Elizabeth, née Dumma, whom he had married at Mackay on 23 July 1906, and to their three sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Easterby, The Queensland Sugar Industry (Brisb, c1934)
  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1911-12, 2, p 1158, 1915-16, 2, p 1053, 1916-17, 2, p 904
  • Sugar Journal and Tropical Cultivator (Mackay), 15 Feb 1895
  • Australian Sugar Journal, 1952, p 165, Oct 1976, p 344
  • Queensland Educational Journal, Mar 1915
  • Daily Mercury (Mackay), 21, 29 Jan 1926, 14 Dec 1914, 5 May 1952.

Citation details

K. W. Manning, 'Johnson, George (1868–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnson-george-6854/text11871, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 November 2014.

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

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