Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Truman, John (1884–1965)

by Rica Erickson

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

John Truman (1884-1965), barley-grower, was born on 25 October 1884 at Combe Fields, Warwickshire, England, son of James Truman, farm labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Over. John left school at the age of 9 to work in a coal-mine, but later joined the British Army, serving in India and France, and attaining the rank of sergeant major. He won the Belgian Croix de Guerre in World War I. On 1 May 1906 he had married Eva Dow, tailoress, in the register office, Colchester. With his wife and daughter, he migrated to Western Australia and in 1923 bought land at Calingiri in the Victoria Plains district where he established a flourishing farm. He became active in local organizations.

Short, stout and rosy-cheeked, with an authoritative military bearing, Truman was respected for his integrity, but was considered biased at times. He was well-known as an ardent member of the Primary Producers' Association and, through it, as a promoter of the Country Party. Early in the Depression a coalition between the Country and Nationalist parties was mooted in an effort to win a better deal for farmers. Country Party members with Labor leanings favoured withholding grain from sale and broke from the P.P.A. to form the Wheatgrowers' Union. There were fiery debates at conference where Truman was dubbed 'Dynamite Jack' for supporting the P.P.A.; differences were finally resolved in 1944 when the two bodies united as the Farmers' Union of Western Australia. Truman had grown barley from the early 1930s and promoted it in the State. He conducted trial plots and in 1934 inaugurated a local barley-growing competition. After three consecutively successful years as an exhibitor, in 1936 he won the Swan Cup at Perth's Royal Agricultural Show for his barley. By criticizing the Australian Barley Board in 1942-46 for policies that favoured maltsters and growers in eastern Australia, Truman eventually won greater representation for growers on that board.

During World War II he had been a recruiting officer for the 2nd Australian Imperial Force and for the Volunteer Defence Corps; he subsequently served on the local rehabilitation committee which settled soldiers on the land. Truman endeavoured to revive the Victoria Plains Agricultural Show: having established Kanoona stud in 1949, he successfully exhibited his wool. He also reconstituted the local football association: as its president, he donated the Truman Shield and enjoyed its repeated presentation to his own Calingiri club. He helped, as well, to organize the Victoria Plains Junior Football Association and his barracking for Calingiri teams became legendary.

Failing health led Truman to resign from the Farmers' Union in 1953, with a record of having attended every one of its conferences (and those of the P.P.A.) and every zone council meeting; he had also served for twenty-five years on the wool executive. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died at Subiaco on 5 January 1965 and was buried in the Anglican section of Toodyay cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at $40,089.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Erickson, The Victoria Plains (Perth, 1971)
  • Countryman (Perth), 21 Jan 1965.

Citation details

Rica Erickson, 'Truman, John (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/truman-john-8859/text15551, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 December 2014.

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

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