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Seiffert, John Wesley (1905–1965)

by John N. Molony

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

John Wesley Seiffert (1905-1965), prison warder and politician, was born on 9 September 1905 at Goulburn, New South Wales, third son of locally born parents Frederick Emil Seiffert, gardener, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Walker. Jack attended Goulburn Superior Public School and began work as a storekeeper. At St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Goulburn, on 8 September 1928 he married Ada Fedoris Brown, a typiste. Intensely sport-minded and gifted with considerable prowess, he excelled at hockey and Rugby League, but injuries cut short his career as a representative footballer. He was the one-mile (1.6 km) Australian amateur track cycling champion in 1926 and treasurer (1935-38) of the New South Wales Country Rugby League.

Seiffert worked as a warder (1931-41) at Goulburn gaol, and served as an alderman (1934-37) on Goulburn Municipal Council. In May 1941 he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Monaro as a Labor candidate. His electorate, based on Queanbeyan, had been a Country Party stronghold, but he increased his majority in each election and held the seat until his death.

Although more at home in his electorate than the inner circles of State Labor politics, Seiffert was a vigorous debater with an impressive command of language acquired by persistent effort. Tall and well built, he never hesitated to speak his mind, even to the extent of criticizing his colleagues: he was loyal to the party and its principles rather than to its personalities. Often in conflict with the State executive, he lost endorsement in 1950, held his seat as an Independent and was soon afterwards readmitted to party ranks. His temperament and outspokenness caused him to be known as the 'Gladiator' and the 'Man from Snowy River'. Perhaps his best known prank in parliament was to exchange the false teeth of two sleeping members.

Resenting privilege in any sphere, Seiffert called the Chalet at Charlotte Pass a 'breeding ground for snobocracy'. By public criticism he obtained a reduced bus fare to the area, thus opening the snowfields to those of lesser means. He was a trustee of Kosciusko State Park from 1948. In July 1956 he demanded an inquiry into the strength and position of the ski-lodges, following the death of a girl in an avalanche. A founder (1961) and director of the Queanbeyan Leagues Club, he was one of the first to call for the legalization of poker machines and the introduction of late-night trading on Fridays. After visiting Europe in 1961, he suggested the construction of a monorail in Sydney. Mindful of his experience as a warder, he insisted on an independent inquiry into an alleged bashing by police at Cooma in 1963. The Labor premier Robert Heffron, stung by this attack on his government, offered to present Seiffert to any political party willing to accept him. No offers were forthcoming.

Seiffert was devoted to the underprivileged and gifted with an intense love for children; he befriended everyone he met, including his political opponents. He died of cancer on 10 January 1965 at his Queanbeyan home and was buried in Riverside cemetery; his wife, their son and two of their three daughters survived him. Many people credited him with the remarkable development of the Monaro electorate during his twenty-three years as its member. The Queanbeyan Rugby League ground, Seiffert Oval, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 11 Sept 1963, p 4885, 26 May 1965, p 19
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Mar, 15, 18, 26 June 1950, 5 Jan, 26 July 1956, 11 Sept 1959, 7 July 1961, 5, 7, 12 Sept 1963, 11, 14 Jan, 14 Oct 1965
  • Sun (Sydney), 2 Sept 1960, 11, 12 Sept 1963, 11 Jan 1965
  • Canberra Times, 11, 14 Jan 1965.

Citation details

John N. Molony, 'Seiffert, John Wesley (1905–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seiffert-john-wesley-11651/text20813, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 September 2014.

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

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