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McRae, Christopher John (1863–1924)

by John Atchison

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Christopher John McRae (1863-1924), storekeeper and primary industry organizer, was born on 27 June 1863 at Stroud, New South Wales, second of four sons of Christopher McRae, Scottish-born storekeeper, and his English wife Maria, née Farley. He was educated at Stroud and entered his father's business. In 1886 he was employed by F. G. Crofton of Lismore and in 1888 joined him in partnership in a general store at Coraki. There, on 22 January 1890, McRae married Florence Eliza Mobbs. Crofton and McRae had dissolved their partnership in 1889, but McRae carried on as McRae Bros & MacIntyre and in 1907 became sole proprietor. Active in local affairs, he was an alderman on Coraki Municipal Council in 1891-96 and 1908-10, and mayor in 1909-10; he also worked for a railway from Kyogle via Casino to Coraki. Commissioned first lieutenant in 1892 in the New South Wales Lancers, he was promoted captain and transferred to the 5th Light Horse in 1903, joining the reserve in 1910.

McRae acquired a wide experience of agricultural districts whose land use was changing rapidly from sugar-cane to dairying. A chairman of the Coraki Co-operative Butter Co. Ltd and president of the Northern Rivers Associated Butter Factories, he was deeply respected by dairy farmers and all operators of co-operative factories. He was a prominent founder and first president in 1916-24 of the Primary Producers' Union, presiding over its Richmond district council until he moved to Sydney in March 1919 to assume official duties. He was largely responsible for the union's constitution and for building up membership to over 14,000, with some 300 branches, within five years.

In World War I McRae was a producer representative on the Necessary Commodities Control Commission in 1914-20, the Australian Dairy Council, the State Butter Advisory Committee and various post-war committees preparing stabilization schemes for dairy products. He was also employer representative on the State Board of Trade in 1918, and was appointed to the Commonwealth Board of Trade in 1923.

In a paper to the 1918 jubilee conference of the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales, McRae pointed to dairying as the one organized primary industry, the success of which lay in being largely producer controlled. He argued strongly against the desire of government, especially Federal, to continue control of primary industry after the war. His consciousness of cost factors and tenuous profitability was allied with a vision of overseas market expansion. As P.P.U. leader he combined the judicial temperament, clear thought and wide outlook of a man with an absorbing interest in the business aspects of primary production. He strove to keep the union out of politics and there was some criticism when in August 1923 he accepted nomination to the Legislative Council by Sir George Fuller.

An active Freemason and Presbyterian, McRae belonged to the New South Wales Club and lived at Eastwood in Sydney. On 3 September 1924 he died suddenly in a railway carriage near Yass. He was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery after a funeral service at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. His wife, a son and six daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Agricultural Society (New South Wales), Proceedings of Jubilee Conference of Primary Producers (Syd, 1918)
  • W. A. Bayley, History of the Farmers and Settlers' Association of N.S.W. (Syd, 1957)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1925, p 1774
  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1908, 2nd session, 3, p 703
  • Sydney Tatler, 18 Jan 1923
  • Australian National Review, 20 Aug 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3, 21 Aug, 3 Sept 1923, 5, 6 Sept 1924.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'McRae, Christopher John (1863–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcrae-christopher-john-7442/text12957, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 October 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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