Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sheehy, Sir Christopher (1894–1960)

by L. R. Humphreys

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Sir Christopher Sheehy (1894-1960), dairy industry administrator, was born on Christmas Day 1894 at Gympie, Queensland, third of six children of Irish-born parents Jeremiah Sheehy, goldminer, and his wife Kate, née O'Driscoll. Educated at the Christian Brothers' College, Gympie, Christopher studied accountancy in Brisbane and joined the Department of Agriculture and Stock as a clerk on 9 January 1911. On 7 February 1920 at St Patrick's Catholic Church, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, he married Ruby Maria Bridget Barlow, a Sydney-born clerk. She was to be a powerful force in the family.

Sheehy worked with the Queensland Wheat Board (secretary from 1920) and the Queensland Council of Agriculture (secretary from December 1926 to December 1938), and commenced his long association with the dairy industry in 1923 when he was secretary to a special committee of investigation. Dairying was suited to land development and soldier settlement, but the smallholdings carried an average of only twenty-five cows in 1922; this figure was to double by 1956 (and to increase six-fold by 2000).

In 1928 Sheehy became secretary of the Queensland Butter Board, a position he combined with that of State secretary (1928–34) for the (Thomas) 'Paterson Plan', which levied butter production to pay a bounty on the exported product. In 1937 he became general manager of the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalisation Committee Ltd, retaining the post until his death. A voluntary arrangement, the scheme compensated butter factories with a favourable export ratio. The committee needed to accommodate the warring factions of producers from different regions and of processors, retailers, exporters and regulatory authorities. Its success rested greatly on Sheehy's personal skills—his instant empathy when making new acquaintances, fluency, diligence, grip of detail and tough negotiating stands—and on the support of chairmen such as James Purcell and Thomas Flood Plunkett. Sheehy suffered from headaches after the removal of an abscess and his medication exacerbated a duodenal ulcer; therefore, he abstained from alcohol and tobacco, but drank dry ginger ale into the night with his colleagues.

Manpower shortages and drought meant that dairy output decreased during World War II when Australia had special obligations to Britain and to feeding troops. The Commonwealth government appointed Sheehy controller of dairy products under the New Food Plan in 1943 and he worked to enhance production of powdered and condensed milk and cheese until the scheme terminated in 1946. For this he did not accept a salary. He helped to obtain substantial government subsidies and to maintain price support. As chairman of the Australian Dairy Produce Board from 1952 he continued an involvement in the British purchase of Australian surplus butter, the maintenance of quality control and the acquisition of new markets. He made several overseas trips to study the sale of dairy foods.

Sheehy was a kindly man and mentor to young dairy technologists. Appointed O.B.E. in January 1951 and knighted in June 1959, Sir Christopher was reappointed chairman of the A.D.P.B. in June 1960. He died of a ruptured duodenal ulcer on 31 August that year in hospital in Brisbane. After a requiem Mass in St Stephen's Catholic Cathedral, he was buried in Nudgee cemetery. His wife, son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • History of Queensland Dairying (Brisb, 1923)
  • 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)
  • Butter Fat and Solids, vol 2, no 4, Dec 1960, p 175
  • Queensland Country Life, 1 Sept 1960, p 4
  • Courier-Mail, 13 June 1959, p 1, 1 Sept 1960, p 7
  • private information.

Citation details

L. R. Humphreys, 'Sheehy, Sir Christopher (1894–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sheehy-sir-christopher-13192/text23883, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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