Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Katter, Robert Cummin (Bob) (1918–1990)

by Paul D. Williams

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

Robert Cummin (Bob) Katter (1918-1990), businessman and politician, was born Cummin Katter on 5 September 1918 in South Brisbane, fourth child of Carl Robert Katter, a Lebanese draper, and his locally born wife Vivian Bridget, née Warby. He became known as Robert Cummin Katter. The family later moved to Cloncurry to run a general store. Bob was educated at Mount Carmel College, Charters Towers, where he excelled at athletics, Rugby League football and debating. On matriculation, he returned to Brisbane to enrol in law at the University of Queensland but his studies were interrupted by war. Having enlisted in the Militia in October 1936, he was appointed as a lieutenant in April 1940. He was called up for full-time duty in September 1941 and promoted to temporary captain but his appointment was terminated on medical grounds in July 1942. Returning to Cloncurry, he leased a clothing store and, later, a picture theatre. On 22 April 1944 at the Church of the Holy Spirit, New Farm, Brisbane, he married with Catholic rites Mabel Joan Horn.

Politics soon beckoned. Belonging to a family that boasted an engagement with Labor politics from the 1891 shearers’ strike, Bob joined the Australian Labor Party and later became its Cloncurry branch secretary. In 1946 he was elected to the Cloncurry Shire Council; he served as chairman in 1949-52 and again in 1964-67. As Australia’s youngest local government head, Katter oversaw numerous advances, including the provision of housing for pensioners. His advocacy of Aboriginal rights also marked him as ahead of his time; for example, he raised eyebrows when he removed from his theatre the steel partitions dividing Aborigines from other patrons. In the late 1950s he hosted his own community radio program, `Katter’s Candid Comments’.

Following a short stint as a union delegate on the Brisbane wharves, Katter moved towards Labor’s anti-communist wing. He split from the ALP in 1957 and stood, unsuccessfully, as a candidate for the breakaway Queensland Labor Party (later the Democratic Labor Party) for the State seat of Flinders (1957-58) and for the Federal electorate of Kennedy (1958). Vehemently opposed to the principle of one vote, one value, in 1964 Katter joined the Country Party, for which he won in 1966 the Federal seat of Kennedy. Re-elected, with increasing margins, a further nine times, he was a powerful advocate of northern interests.

A man of rugged appearance with at all times polished shoes, Katter soon earned a reputation as a no-nonsense member, a `blue heeler’ who `dug his teeth in’, and a `battler’ with a `gloves off’ approach. Regarded as an `old style bush politician’, he became an early hawk on the Vietnam War. Katter later served, from February to December 1972, as minister for the army and, from June 1974 to November 1975, as shadow minister for northern development and the Northern Territory. He was chairman of the parliamentary committee on road safety, and an adviser to the United Nations General Assembly in 1970 and 1984 and during the Zimbabwean elections in 1980. Later he was an inaugural director of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach.

Katter did not recontest Kennedy at the 1990 poll. After the death of his first wife in 1971, he had married Joycelyn Marjorie Steel, a secretary, on 22 May 1976 at his old school chapel. Katter was deeply committed to his family, his faith and his constituents. He died on 18 March 1990 at Mount Isa and was buried in Sunset lawn cemetery; his wife and their two sons and daughter survived him, as did the two sons and daughter of his first marriage. His eldest son, Robert, followed him into the House of Representatives in 1993.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 8 May 1990, p 32
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 8 Dec 1966, p 10, 19 Mar 1990, p 1
  • Review (Melbourne), 29 Jan-4 Feb 1972, p 404
  • Australian, 19 Mar 1990, p 3
  • Canberra Times, 19 Mar 1990, p 2
  • Katter biographical information (Parliamentary Library, Canberra)
  • private information.

Citation details

Paul D. Williams, 'Katter, Robert Cummin (Bob) (1918–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/katter-robert-cummin-bob-12716/text22929, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 31 July 2014.

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

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