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Treflé, John Louis (1865–1915)

by Bede Nairn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

John Louis Treflé (1865-1915), politician, farmer and newspaper proprietor, was born on 4 December 1865 at Penshurst, near Hamilton, Victoria, son of John Treflé, sheep-farmer, and his Scottish-born wife Mary, formerly Tyrer, née McKenzie. The father was a French Canadian whose original name was John Treflé Etue; in 1876 he was one of the first to select land at Temora, New South Wales. John Louis was educated at a convent at Hamilton and in 1876-79 as a boarder at St Patrick's College, Goulburn. Failing to realize his hopes of becoming a priest, in the 1880s he worked with his father and brother Charles on their Temora farm. He became an expert ploughman; in 1888-95 he was undefeated in triple-furrow matches and lost only one double-furrow contest—to his brother.

Combining his practical experience with organizing and public-speaking skills, Treflé was responsive to the needs of farmers as agriculture grew in importance in the rural economy in the late 1880s and 1890s. A chief founder of the Farmers and Settlers' Association in 1893, he was its secretary (1893-98) and vice-president (1902-04 and 1905-06).

He toured the colony and became known as an articulate, informed and radical publicist for country people. He was a member of the Cootamundra land boards and influenced the drafting of the Reid government's Crown Lands Act of 1895.

In 1895 Treflé bought the Temora Independent and edited it; in 1906 he took J. H. Bradley as a partner and passed control of the paper to him. Treflé became a versatile and accomplished newspaper man. In 1902 he helped to form the New South Wales Country Press Co-operative Co. Ltd, and was president of the New South Wales Country Press Association in 1902-04 and 1910-12. He was director of the Independent Cable Association of Australasia Ltd in 1910-15.

Devout and upright, Treflé reflected his family background in his abhorrence of sectarianism. Dark-complexioned, he was austerely handsome and dressed well. On 23 April 1902 in Manly Catholic Church he married Kathleen Shelly of County Kilkenny, Ireland; they made their home at Waverley. His marriage brought him closer to the majority Irish-Australian Catholics and he became a supporter of Home Rule. He helped P. J. Minahan to found the Catholic Club in Sydney in 1910; chairman of its building fund, he promoted the erection of a fine club building in Castlereagh Street. Treflé's denominational impartiality was unaffected, and in 1914 he was rebuked by the zealous P. S. Cleary for his coolness toward the Catholic Federation.

Politics had attracted Treflé from the early 1890s. He became a friend of W. A. Holman who in 1895 contested the seat of Grenfell (which included Temora) for the Labor Party. Treflé was sympathetic to Labor's agricultural policy and to its plan for a national bank. He hoped that the F.A.S.A. would form a radical country political group, but he failed in his attempt to link the association with the Labor Party. His mother and brother Charles joined Labor in the 1890s and became prominent in the party. Treflé, however, stayed with the F.A.S.A. and in 1904 ran for the Legislative Assembly seat of Upper Hunter with its support: his defeat finally influenced him to join the Labor Party. As its candidate in 1906 he won Castlereagh, a north-west country electorate. With N. R. W. Nielsen, he promoted the revision of Labor's land policy, refining its emphasis on land taxation and leaseholding.

When Labor won government under J. S. T. McGowen in 1910, Treflé became a minister without portfolio. On 11 September 1911, during the illness of Donald Macdonell, he took over the department of agriculture and became minister on 7 November. He immediately initiated important reforms, stressing the need to combine the experience of farmers with the knowledge of experts: farming methods were improved and a new system of keeping farm accounts was introduced. Treflé retained the agriculture portfolio with the secretaryship of land from 10 December 1912 until 29 January 1914; he continued in the lands portfolio until his death.

Treflé's ministerial work helped to consolidate Labor's strong support in rural electorates. His wide range of experience and skills was complemented by his reforming zeal and rapport with country people. Without a trace of condescension or pomposity, he tempered popularity with personal integrity. His repute was an important factor in showing that the Labor Party could produce efficient and progressive managers of economic growth and social improvement. At the height of his powers, he died suddenly of acute appendicitis and its complications on 11 January 1915 in St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, he was buried in Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. D. Graham, The Formation of the Australian Country Parties (Canb, 1966)
  • Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, 2 Feb 1915
  • Catholic Press, 3 Aug 1901, 19 Dec 1918
  • Town and Country Journal, 27 May 1908, 13 Oct 1915
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15 July, 23 Aug 1910, 17 June 1914, 12 Jan 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Mar, 18 Apr 1911, 31 May 1912, 24 June 1913, 22 Jan 1914, 11 Jan 1915
  • Temora Star, 11 Jan 1915
  • Warren Herald, 16 Jan 1915
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 14 Jan 1918
  • Treflé papers (held in ADB file).

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Treflé, John Louis (1865–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trefle-john-louis-8844/text15519, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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