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Rodgers, Arthur Stanislaus (1876–1936)

by Geoff Browne

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

Arthur Stanislaus Rodgers (1876-1936), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1920s

Arthur Stanislaus Rodgers (1876-1936), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co., 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24166567

Arthur Stanislaus Rodgers (1876-1936), farmer, stock and station agent and politician, was born on 20 March 1876 at Geelong, Victoria, third son of Patrick Rodgers, farmer and contractor, and his wife Margaret, née Byrne, both Irish born. Rodgers won a government scholarship to Xavier College, Melbourne, attending in 1889-90 but returning home after his father's death. About 1894 he began farming a few acres near Horsham and expanded it to a 1200-acre (486 ha) wheat and sheep property by 1912. He also bred draught and blood horses and later, until 1930, owned a grazing property, Bringenbrong, on the Murray River. Farming was not Rodgers' sole occupation. After briefly working in the office of Horsham solicitor J. Weldon Power, he joined Young Bros stock and station agency, and eventually managed its land department. On 20 September 1905 at St Columb's Church of England, Hawthorn, he married George Young's daughter, Eileen Eleanor.

In 1910 Rodgers helped to draw up the manifesto of the conservative rural-based People's Party and became its vice-president. In 1912 he resigned from Young Bros to contest the Federal seat of Wannon. The support of the politically influential Weldon Power was crucial in securing his preselection as Liberal candidate. Campaigning as a progressive protectionist, Rodgers attacked the land tax, advocated a national social insurance scheme and share-farming, and looked towards an Australian population of fifty million, bolstered by British immigration. He comfortably defeated the sitting Labor member in the May 1913 election.

A skilled debater, Rodgers soon attracted notice and was described by Melbourne Punch as a 'serious-minded, thoughtful man' who sought to bring 'reason and fair play' into parliament. In 1919 he devised 'Rodgers' Repatriation Scheme' which raised £100,000 to assist soldier settlement in the Wannon district. Under Billy Hughes he was an honorary minister and assistant minister for repatriation (1920-21) and minister for trade and customs from 1921. A capable minister, he set up advisory bodies to improve export standards for meat, fruit and dairy produce.

Narrowly beaten at the election of December 1922, Rodgers regained Wannon in 1925. After his return, with his reputation for independent thinking reinforced, he 'constituted a link between the Nationalists and the Country Party'. He moved a motion against 'excessive' prices charged for superphosphates and refused to support proposals by the Bruce government to extend Federal powers over road construction, the control of essential services and compulsory arbitration.

Rodgers was defeated again in 1929, but remained publicly active, seeking ways to alleviate the effect of the Depression on primary industry. Always a keen practitioner of experimental farming and a supporter of decentralization, he proposed the development of thousands of mixed farms in good rainfall belts. In 1931 he unsuccessfully contested Wannon as a Country Party candidate. Next year, together with (Sir) Eugene Gorman, K.C., he founded the Primary Producers' Restoration League, and as its manager was especially concerned with debt adjustment for farmers and graziers. At his death he was general manager of the Western Wimmera Land and Pasture Development Pty Ltd. In 1916 he had been president of the Old Xaverians' Association.

A diabetic, Rodgers died suddenly of coronary vascular disease in Melbourne on 4 October 1936 and was buried in Springvale cemetery with Catholic rites. His wife, a son and three daughters survived him. John Curtin paid tribute to Rodgers as 'fearless, deeply conscientious, and extremely strong-minded'.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1936, p 786, 840
  • Horsham Times, 22 Apr, 9, 30 May 1913, 6 Oct 1936
  • Punch (Melbourne), 18 Sept 1913
  • Hamilton Spectator, 3 May 1917
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18, 19 Dec 1930
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Oct 1936
  • West Wimmera Mail, 9 Oct 1936
  • L. G. Lomas, The Western District Farmer 1914-27 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1979).

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Rodgers, Arthur Stanislaus (1876–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rodgers-arthur-stanislaus-8250/text14447, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 October 2014.

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

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