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Rhodes, Fred (1877–1964)

by Lorna L. McDonald

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

Fred Rhodes (1877-1964), master mariner, author and journalist, was born on 2 May 1877 at Dudley, Staffordshire, England, son of Francis Rhodes, Anglican clergyman, and his wife Mary, née Grainger. The family migrated to New Zealand about 1880 and Fred was educated at an Auckland primary school. He then went to sea as a midshipman with the British India Steam Navigation Co., eventually obtaining his master's ticket. He became chief officer on the Australasian United Steam Navigation Co.'s Bingera, a coastal steamer. During this period he gained his extra master's ticket. He was appointed harbourmaster/ pilot at Cleveland Bay, Townsville (1910, 1916) and Cairns (1911) but enlisted in February 1917 and served on a British destroyer.

After demobilization Captain Rhodes (a title he retained throughout his life) was appointed harbourmaster at Rockhampton (1919-21). In November 1921 he was notified of his transfer to Thursday Island. He thought this 'hardly a promotion', but the crown solicitor ruled out any appeal and so Rhodes resigned. He believed his transfer was the result of his protest speech at a meeting of the National Democratic Party of Central Queensland against the Labor government's intention to abolish the Upper House. Noted for his forthrightness and colourful language, Rhodes described the attempt to 'bury' him on Thursday Island as 'a reward for not thinking accommodatingly along the same lines as the alleged democratic Labor Government'. He remained at Rockhampton and became managing (insurance) agent of the Central Queensland Exchange and a freelance writer. He missed preselection for a Senate vacancy in 1922 by one vote of the National Democratic Party.

In 1923 when dryland cotton-farming was seen as the great white hope for soldier settlers and for cattlemen following the collapse of the beef-cattle market, Rhodes became one of the founders and managing director of the Cotton Farmer Publishing Co. Ltd. As well as general publishing, printing and bookbinding, it founded a journal, the Cotton Farmer, with Rhodes as manager and editor. He was also provisional general secretary of the Cotton Growers' Union; in 1923 he published the pamphlet, Central Queensland, the Land that Clothes Millions. The industry and the journal soon collapsed.

Rhodes was a prolific writer who contributed articles to the Australian press on Nature study, shipwrecks, tales of the sea and history. His regular column in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin under the pseudonym 'Junius' attracted the attention of managing-editor Andrew Dunn who invited him to join the staff as leader-writer. Rhodes's keen critical sense and lively style sometimes led to controversial editorials. Highly respected as a journalist, he eventually became associate editor of the Rockhampton Bulletin and its weekly, the Central Queensland Herald.

In 1933 some of his articles were published as Australia's Maritime History as Shown by a Pageant of Long Gone Ships. He also published a novel, Broadcasting the Tea Race (1934), and short stories, usually adventures of the sea. His greatest contribution to Australian history was his well-received two-volume Pageant of the Pacific (1936). It remains a valuable reference book for overseas and east-coast shipping, shipwrecks and associated history. In a radio broadcast, 'Historical standards', on 2BL Sydney on 27 May 1935 Rhodes deplored the frequent inaccuracies in Australian history books. He had become aware of these during his fifteen years research for Pageant of the Pacific and more recently while supplying 'historical anniversaries' for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. His contribution to historical accuracy in an era in which Australian history was often mythologized was valuable.

Rhodes's broad view of Australian land and maritime history gave him a keen sense of local history. Under the name 'Historicus', his series of articles on Central Queensland history began in the Central Queensland Herald on 1 January 1948 and continued intermittently, with up to twenty-six articles in a series, until 1951. The Rockhampton Bulletin also published in booklet form his Port of Rockhampton (1949) and A Trip Down the Fitzroy River (1949). He summed up his view of history in a radio talk: 'Nothing is so essential to the culture of a people as a clear knowledge of their past history, for history has a peculiar knack of repeating itself'. He retired to Brisbane in 1954.

Rhodes had married Edith May Thomas (d.1954) in Brisbane on 10 April 1908. He died in Brisbane on 18 June 1964, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His son and adopted daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 30 Nov, 10 Dec 1921, 19 Mar, 20 July 1923, 23 Aug 1924, 19 June 1964
  • Central Queensland Herald, 13 June 1935
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Rhodes, Fred (1877–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rhodes-fred-8188/text14321, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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