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Pearce, Edward Tom Stanley (1914–1980)

by John D. Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Edward Tom Stanley Pearce (1914-1980), sugar-industry administrator, was born on 13 January 1914 in South Brisbane, son of Thomas Stanley Pearce, a commercial traveller from England, and his Queensland-born wife Mary Lilith Dagmar, née Hasberg. Dux of Toowong State School, Eddie won the Lilley memorial medal in 1927. He proceeded to Brisbane Grammar School, where he was awarded gold and silver Lilley medals, then entered the University of Queensland (B.A., 1935; B.Com., 1938).

In August 1934 Pearce joined the Australian Sugar Producers' Association as a junior industrial officer. Promoted to industrial officer one year later, he appeared as the association's advocate in the Industrial Court of Queensland. He regularly visited sugar districts to provide advice to millers and growers, and to stimulate membership of the A.S.P.A. After becoming the association's assistant-secretary in 1937, he began to study law at the university.

On 25 June 1940 Pearce enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Allocated to intelligence duties with the 24th Brigade, he sailed for the Middle East in December. In May 1942 he was mentioned in dispatches and commissioned lieutenant. He served at 9th Division headquarters in the South-West Pacific Area in 1943-45 and attained the rank of captain. When F. C. P. Curlewis, the A.S.P.A.'s general secretary, died in March 1945, the association secured Pearce's release from military operations. He took over as general secretary in June 1945.

Working closely with (Sir) Alfred Brand, president of the A.S.P.A., Pearce expanded the association from its Brisbane base into an effective regional organization, with offices spread throughout the major sugar districts. He co-operated with the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia to encourage ex-servicemen to enter the industry under the War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act (1945). To overcome postwar labour shortages, he was involved in an immigration scheme which enabled farmers to select and employ Southern Europeans as canecutters. At St Mary's Anglican Church, Kangaroo Point, on 13 December 1947 he married Edith Jean Ritchie, a 31-year-old social worker.

Pearce urged sugar-growers to introduce machinery and enlarge their holdings so that the industry would be more competitive. A member of the Mechanical Harvesting Committee and the Bulk Handling Consultative Committee, he served on the royal commission (1950) which prepared a long-term plan for the development of the sugar industry. He was a founder (1949) and a director of Sugar Research Ltd, an organization free from government control; its laboratories at Mackay were opened in 1953 and funded by the mill-owners.

Known as 'Mr Sugar', Pearce represented the industry at meetings—in Canberra, London and Geneva—which regularly negotiated renewals of Australian, British Commonwealth and international sugar agreements. Appointed C.M.G. in 1959, he retired in 1977. He was a member of the Queensland, Brisbane and United Services clubs. Survived by his wife and son, he died of cancer on 9 January 1980 at Wesley Hospital, Brisbane, and was cremated with the forms of the Uniting Church. In 1980 the A.S.P.A. named a student bursary after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Sugar Journal, 37, no 3, 1945, 41, no 10, 1950, 69, no 9, 1977, 71, no 10, 1980
  • Queensland Cane Growers' Association, Annual Report, 1980
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Dec 1949, 12 Jan 1971, 20 May 1977
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 15 Dec 1977, 12 Jan 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

John D. Kerr, 'Pearce, Edward Tom Stanley (1914–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearce-edward-tom-stanley-11357/text20287, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 22 June 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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