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Perrett, Christopher James (1896–1972)

by N. T. McLennan

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

Christopher James Perrett (1896-1972), public servant, was born on 26 November 1896 at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents William Joseph Perrett, baker, and his wife Margaret, née Keogh. Chris was educated at St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne (B.Com., 1931; B.A., 1943). Five ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, he had a 'quick eye' and represented the university in cricket and baseball.

On 24 September 1913 Perrett joined the Department of Defence as a clerk. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 March 1917, he performed pay and administrative duties at headquarters in England and France, and rose to warrant officer (1919). At Westminster Cathedral, London, on 4 June 1919 he married with Catholic rites Charlotte MacDowell (d.1966); they were to remain childless. He was discharged from the A.I.F. on 16 April 1920 in Melbourne. Resuming his job with the Department of Defence, he worked in the finance, accounts and munitions-supply branches. By the 1921-22 season he was playing sub-district cricket for Malvern's first XI. Promoted (1931) investigating officer in the Treasury's taxation branch, he moved to Canberra in 1935 to join the marketing arm of the Department of Commerce. In September 1939 he was appointed secretary of the newly established Australian Wheat Board, which was based in Melbourne.

Succeeding John Thomson as the board's general manager on 1 January 1946, Perrett was responsible for finding additional markets for Australian wheat. He went on numerous missions to Africa, Europe and Asia to contact potential buyers. Having negotiated the first large purchase of Australian wheat by the People's Republic of China, he organized the export of 2,007,000 tons to that country in 1960-61, 1,161,000 tons in 1961-62, and 2,967,000 tons in 1962-63 during a period of record harvests. In the face of opposition to dealing with China from Sir John Teasdale, chairman of the A.W.B., and despite rumours that the Chinese resold the wheat to pay for arms, Perrett was named 'Salesman of the Year' by the Australian Sales Representatives' Association in May 1962.

Under his management, Perrett thought that the A.W.B. had achieved a high reputation throughout the world for 'its efficiency and the standard of its trading methods'. In 1962 he was strongly supported by the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation to succeed Teasdale, but the government appointed Jim Moroney. Perrett blamed (Sir) John McEwen for the decision.

Perrett retired from the board in 1963 and was appointed O.B.E. that year. In 1964 he visited China as a guest of the government. He worked as a business consultant, and wrote A Record of the Constitutional Developments, Policies and Operations of the Australian Wheat Board, 1939-1965 (Melbourne, c.1966). On 9 June 1967 at the registrar general's office, Sydney, he married Shirley Prior Reid, a 46-year-old 'sales counsellor'. He died on 19 July 1972 at his Seaforth home and was buried with Catholic rites in Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Whitwell and D. Sydenham, A Shared Harvest (Melb, 1991)
  • Wheat Board Gazette, 12, no 10, Mar 1961, 14, no 6, Oct 1962, no 9, Jan-Feb, no 11, Apr 1963, 15, no 6, Oct 1963
  • Wheat Australia, Aug 1972, p 1
  • Sporting Globe, 27 Jan 1923
  • Land (Sydney), 24 May 1962
  • Perrett papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

N. T. McLennan, 'Perrett, Christopher James (1896–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/perrett-christopher-james-11372/text20317, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 20 March 2019.

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

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