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Wright, Phillip Arundell (1889–1970)

by Jillian Oppenheimer

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

Phillip Arundell Wright (1889-1970), grazier and benefactor, was born on 20 July 1889 at Wongwibinda, Armidale, sixth child and youngest son of native-born parents Albert Andrew Wright, grazier, and his wife Charlotte May, née Mackenzie, grand-daughter of George Wyndham. Phillip's father died in 1890. His strong-willed mother quietly achieved much that her husband had tried to do. She purchased Wallamumbi in 1900 and Jeogla in 1901, creating a vast estate for her descendants whose name became associated with the 'Falls' country between the New England tableland and the Dorrigo plateau. Phillip's mother and sisters reared him on stories of the family's origins and his father's struggle to achieve a place on the land. Mostly educated at home by his eldest sister Weeta, in 1902 he had a few months at Bedford Grammar School during a visit to England with his mother. On his return, he attended Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore). From childhood he gained experience through hard work, riding, shooting and exploring the gorges of eastern New England.

In 1911 'P.A.', as Wright was known, visited Italy, France and Britain with a family party and returned through Canada. On 2 April 1913 he married with Anglican rites Ethel Mabel Bigg at All Saints Church, Thalgarrah. He was a member of Dumaresq Shire Council in 1917-20 and 1924-50. His family and properties, producing essential food supplies, were his first priority during World War I. In the 1917 transport strike, he volunteered to drive horse lorries in Sydney. Apart from Wallamumbi, which was always his headquarters, and Jeogla, he also owned, at different times Hernani, and in Queensland, Krui and Kindon. Ethel died in 1927 leaving three children. At All Saints Church of England, Murwillumbah, he married Dora Isabella Temperley on 21 November 1928.

From 1927 to 1967, apart from two years, Wright served as a councillor (president 1946-48) of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales. He was president of the Graziers' Federal Council of Australia in 1949-50. Well known as a cattle breeder, he was a committee-member (1926-65), president (1938-48) and treasurer (1955-61) of the Australian Hereford Society and president of the United Stud Beef Cattle Breeders' Association. He supported local enterprises: from 1928 he was a director of the New England North & North-West Producers Co. Ltd (which established wool auctions at Newcastle). Later he backed the establishment of D. M. Shand's East-West Airlines Ltd, and belonged to the Armidale Chamber of Commerce. He remained chairman of the family company, P. A. Wright & Sons Pty Ltd, until 1970.

Large in build and vision, Wright was a proud man. Perhaps his greatest love was for the natural beauty of the New England gorge country. Following his strong campaign, the New England National Park, 34,600 acres (14,002 ha) of State forest, was gazetted in 1934. He was foundation chairman (1933-59) of the trust that administered it. Wright had believed that a political party focussing on rural needs and development was required to counter the trend towards centralization. He was a member of the United Country Party's central council during World War II. From the 1920s he fought for a new State; in 1944-46 he was president of the New England New State Movement.

Although Wright had little formal education, he appreciated its value, particularly for young people isolated in rural areas. He was a board-member of The Armidale School. An original donor to New England University College, he was a foundation member (1938) and vice-chairman (1943-53) of its advisory council. When the college achieved independence in 1954, he was vice-chairman (deputy-chancellor from 1955) of the University of New England; in 1960 he succeeded Sir Earle Page as chancellor. Wright donated Laureldale to the university as a farm for rural research, contributed to the school of natural resources and to Wright College, and gave a mace to the university, as well as prizes. In 1957 the university had conferred on him an honorary D.Sc.; he was appointed C.M.G. in 1962.

Wright belonged to the Australian Club, Sydney, and the Armidale Club, and enjoyed playing tennis. He died on 30 August 1970 at Wallamumbi and was cremated. His wife, and their son and daughter survived him, as did the daughter and two sons of his first marriage. His eldest child Judith Wright became a distinguished poet. Wright's memoirs, Memories of a Bushwhacker (1972), were published posthumously. Two portraits (1963 and 1971) of Wright by W. E. Pidgeon are held by the University of New England, Armidale.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Wright, The Generations of Men (Melb, 1959)
  • J. Wright, Collected Poems, 1942-1970 (Syd, 1971)
  • J. Wright, The Cry for the Dead (Melb, 1981)
  • O. Wright, Wongwibinda (Armidale, NSW, 1985)
  • C. M. Wright, Memories of Far Off Days (Armidale, NSW, 1985)
  • J. Wright, Half a Lifetime (Melb, 1999)
  • Pastoral Review, 17 Sept 1970, p 769
  • Armidale and District Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, no 25, 1982, p 1
  • Wright family papers (University of New England Archives).

Citation details

Jillian Oppenheimer, 'Wright, Phillip Arundell (1889–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wright-phillip-arundell-12076/text21665, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 August 2019.

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

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