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Plunkett, Thomas Flood (1877–1957)

by S. J. Routh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Thomas Flood Plunkett (1877-1957), dairy-farmer and politician, was born on 19 December 1877 at Indooroopilly, Brisbane, fifth of eight children of Thomas Plunkett (1840-1913), grazier, and his wife Maria, née Ryan. Thomas senior, son of John Plunkett and his wife Catherine, née Flood, was born in April 1840, probably at Arrigal, County Meath, Ireland. He arrived in Queensland in the Fiery Star in 1863 and took up a selection at Waterford. On 2 May 1866 at St Stephen's Catholic Church, Brisbane, he married Maria, an 18-year-old immigrant from Ireland.

In 1869 Plunkett bought a property on the Albert River near Tamborine; he engaged in dairy-farming, grazing and crop-growing, and also established a general store. A supporter of Sir Thomas McIlwraith, he won the seat of Albert in the Legislative Assembly in 1888 and held it until 1908, save for one term (1896-99). He advocated opening crown lands for closer settlement and backed co-operative initiatives by farmers. A member of the Colonists' Anti-Convention Bill League, he campaigned against Federation, fearing economic domination by New South Wales and Victoria. He wanted to exclude rural workers from general industrial awards, withdrew his support from the Kidston government in 1907 and retired from parliament in the following year.

Plunkett had bought more land in the Logan area, and several of his children extended their family and business links in the district. He was described as 'tall, fair-bearded, and handsome, and a sort of unofficial governor of his neighbourhood'. Maria, who was cheerful, energetic and charitable, contributed to his influence. Survived by his wife, and their four daughters and four sons, Plunkett died on 2 September 1913 at Sandgate, Brisbane, and was buried in Tamborine cemetery.

His son Thomas Flood was educated at Tamborine State School and St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace, Brisbane. A good sportsman, like his father, he represented his district in cricket and football. About 1898 he moved to a family property on the Albert River, at Kerry, near Beaudesert, and made it a leading dairy-farm. He was a founding director (1904) and chairman (1915-57) of the Logan & Albert Co-operative Dairy Co. Ltd; the latter post was to remain the linchpin of his career in the dairy industry. Active in the Farmers' Union and a number of local societies, he sat (1914-32) on the Beaudesert Shire Council. At St Mary's Catholic Church, Beaudesert, on 12 October 1915 he married Margaret Ellen Higgins ('Nan') Deerain, the daughter of a farmer.

Queensland's butter-production seasons complemented those in the southern States, though conditions were, in general, less benign. Representatives from the industry in Queensland, including Plunkett and James Purcell, became national leaders in promoting co-operative pricing and exports. Plunkett was prominent on dairy-marketing committees (1915-21) and chairman (1921-23) of the Queensland-New South Wales Butter Pool Committee. Founding chairman (1925-48) and a member (until 1957) of the Australian Dairy Produce Board (which supervised exports), he visited Britain and Europe in 1935 to investigate marketing. He was also a member (1926-34) of the Australian Stabilisation Committee (which implemented Thomas Paterson's scheme), and a founding director (1934) and chairman (1950-57) of its successor, the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalisation Committee Ltd. In addition, he chaired (1939-48) the Dairy Produce Control Committee, set up to deal with wartime contingencies.

In Queensland, where there was a long tradition of legislative support for agricultural co-operatives, Plunkett was a member (1925-57) of the Butter Marketing Board. He held the Legislative Assembly seat of Albert (1929-50) for the Country and Progressive National Party (Country Party from 1936) and, following a redistribution, that of Darlington (1950-57).

A forceful speaker for dairying interests, Plunkett was, again like his father, respected for his integrity, equanimity and good humour. He was considered to have 'made a great contribution to dairying . . . by treating every section of it with absolute fairness for the general good'. In 1957 he was appointed C.B.E. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and three sons, he died on Christmas Eve 1957 in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, South Brisbane, and was buried in Gleneagle cemetery, near Beaudesert. His former home was sold in 1960 and converted into Boys Town.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox (compiler), The History of Queensland, its People and Industries (Adel, 1919)
  • R. J. J. Twohill, Epitome of Dairying Industry Organisations in Australia (Syd, 1956)
  • N. T. Drane and H. R. Edwards (eds), The Australian Dairy Industry (Melb, 1961)
  • Plunkett (Tamborine, Qld, 1980, held at State Library of Queensland)
  • Queenslander, 13 Sept 1913
  • Queensland Dairyfarmer, 18 Jan 1958
  • Z. Abidin, The Origins and Development of the Queensland Country Party 1909-1932 (M.A. thesis, University of Queensland, 1958).

Citation details

S. J. Routh, 'Plunkett, Thomas Flood (1877–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/plunkett-thomas-flood-11438/text20385, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 August 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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