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Pattison, James Grant (1862–1946)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

James Grant Pattison (1862-1946), grazier and journalist, was born on 28 January 1862 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, son of William Pattison, contractor, and his Scottish wife Helen Margaret, née Grant. The family arrived at Rockhampton, Queensland, in February 1865 when the town was 'mostly bog, sandy blight and malaria'. The quality of Pattison's primary-school education was later reflected in his lively style of writing. His mother's early death and father's remarriage during James's adolescence led to self-confessed wildness. As his father would 'brook no back chat' and his own temper was hot, young Pattison left home. Polo, horse-racing and hurdle-jumping occupied much of his time. He also acquired a part-share in four grazing properties.

Pattison married Margaret Murphy at St Paul's Church of England, Rockhampton, on 2 April 1885. The cattle-tick plague of the late 1890s and the great drought in 1900-03 ended his independence. Forced to take any available work, he eventually qualified as an engine-driver, gained knowledge of well-boring and then became bookkeeper at Warung Station, Normanton, where he began to write 'stock pars' for the Townsville papers.

Returning to Rockhampton, Pattison began his popular 'Early days' series for the Evening News and Artesian under the pseudonym 'Battler'. During the 1920s and continuing for eight years—the happiest of his life—he was travelling country reporter for the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin and the weekly Capricornian. At first he drove a horse and sulky to visit small farms in the newly cleared tropical scrublands. It was a rough life, camping out each night on a creek bank, musing on how 'I had the back out of my shirt, the seat out of my pants, through climbing through innumerable barb-wire fences, [and] was hungry enough to enjoy the curried bandicoot and quart of tea that finished my supper at camp'. When he acquired a car, central west Queensland began to figure in his series. Pattison's articles were based on historical facts and were colourfully written with a hint of intrigue. A snippet from his description of a young bushman's language illustrates his flavour: 'Some of those old bullockies lying in their bark coffins in the Raglan scrub must have rattled their bones with envy'. In old age Pattison compiled cuttings of about 400 of his 'On the track' articles as 'The Battler' series.

When he grew too old for the track, Pattison retired to his home, The Sanctuary, near Rockhampton, and wrote for the Brisbane-based Pastoral Gazette, Queenslander, Brisbane Courier and Australian. He moved to Wilston, Brisbane, in 1935. Combining published articles, local history, personal comment and his reminiscences, he published 'Battler' Tales of Early Rockhampton in 1939. In this book he viciously attacked those whom he claimed had deliberately set out to ruin his father, once briefly one of the Mount Morgan millionaires. On legal advice he deleted 'a good deal of the history of Mount Morgan and the Rape of William Pattison's estate' because he could not risk being taken to court. Pattison died at Wilston on 6 July 1946, and was cremated. Four of his seven sons and four daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. McInerney, Biographical Index to James Grant Pattison's Battler's Tales of Early Rockhampton (Rockhampton, 1979)
  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton (Brisb, 1981)
  • Central Queensland Herald, 11 July 1946
  • J. G. Pattison (compiler), Battler series, vols 1-7 (held by Rockhampton District Historical Society)
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Pattison, James Grant (1862–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pattison-james-grant-7985/text13909, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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