Australian Dictionary of Biography

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von Bibra, Sir Donald Dean (1905–1982)

by John Taylor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Donald Dean Von Bibra (1905-1982), grazier and wool industry leader, was born on 10 January 1905 at Launceston, Tasmania, elder son of Tasmanian-born parents William von Bibra, pastoralist, and his wife Kate, née Dean. Don was educated at Launceston Church Grammar School. When his father died in 1926 he took over the management of Beaufront, the family’s pastoral property at Ross, and their other holdings in Tasmania. On 9 January 1930 at St John’s Church of England, Launceston, he married Barbara Mollie Winsome Reed, sister of Henry and John Reed and Cynthia Nolan. Von Bibra’s mother had married Henry Reed senior, a widower, in 1929.

Enlisting in the 12/50th Infantry Battalion, Citizen Military Forces, in May 1939, von Bibra was appointed a probationary lieutenant in May 1940 and transferred to Tasmanian Force Headquarters in December 1941. In September 1942 he rose to captain and volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force. He rejoined the 12/50th Battalion in March 1943 and from February to July 1944 served with Northern Territory Force, Darwin. Promoted to temporary major on 29 March 1944, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 23 September with the honorary rank of major.

From the late 1940s von Bibra was active in a number of community and industry associations. He was president (1947-49) of the National Agricultural and Pastoral Society (the Launceston show society), vice-president of the Tasmanian Farmers’, Stockowners’ and Orchardists’ Association, a board-member (1954-78) and chairman (1973-78) of the Equity Trustees Co. of Tasmania Ltd, foundation chairman (1957-59) of the Fairbridge Society, Tasmania, and vice-president (1973-76) of the Asthma Foundation of Tasmania. A councillor (1948-79) and warden (1979-82) of Ross Municipal Council, and active in the Midlands group of the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania), he worked tirelessly, raising funds and generating publicity for the preservation and restoration of historic buildings and other structures, including the Ross Bridge.

Von Bibra took a deep interest in the improvement of wool quality and pastures. In the 1930s he pioneered the introduction of subterranean clover and the spreading of phosphate fertiliser in Tasmania. He worked closely with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture to develop sheep breeds and played a prominent role in successive wool industry bodies. A member of the Australian Wool Bureau (1959-63) and of the Australian Wool Board (1963-72), he was chairman of the Australian Wool Industry Conference (1973-78) and of the Joint Wool Selling Organisation (1973-77). He played a major role in industry negotiations leading to the introduction in 1974 of the floor-price scheme. A member (1970-75) of the Australian (Coastal) Shipping Commission, he resigned in protest in July 1975 when the Federal minister for transport, C. K. Jones, failed to consult members before imposing a 40 per cent increase in freight charges.

Appointed OBE in 1970 and CMG in 1978, von Bibra was knighted on 12 June 1982. On 23 June, returning home from a meeting in Launceston to discuss raising funds for the national headquarters of the National Farmers’ Federation, he died in a head-on collision on the Midland Highway. He was cremated. His wife and their two sons survived him. Sir William Vines observed that Sir Donald, an outstanding figure in Australian rural industry, would be remembered by those who worked with him as a ‘wonderful, affectionate and understanding friend, and as a man whose integrity was an example to us all’.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Ives, The Australian Wool Corporation (1994)
  • L. Nyman and G. von Bibra, The von Bibra Story (1996)
  • T. Jetson, In Trust for the Nation (2000)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 25 July 1975, p 1, 12 June 1982, p 1, 24 June 1982, p 1, 25 June 1982, p 4, 8 Dec 1985, p 5
  • Tasmanian Country, 25 June 1982, p 1
  • Mercury (Hobart), 22 Sept 1982, p 2
  • B883, item TX 6385 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information and personal knowledge

Citation details

John Taylor, 'von Bibra, Sir Donald Dean (1905–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/von-bibra-sir-donald-dean-15885/text27086, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 26 April 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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