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Joseph Palmer (Joe) Abbott (1891–1965)

by Kosmas Tsokhas

This article was published:

Joseph Palmer Abbott, c.1940

Joseph Palmer Abbott, c.1940

National Library of Australia, 22455021

Joseph Palmer (Joe) Abbott (1891-1965), grazier and politician, was born on 18 October 1891 in North Sydney, fourth child of (Sir) Joseph Palmer Abbott, solicitor and politician, and his native-born wife Edith, née Solomon. Educated at The Armidale School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1913), young Joseph enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 8 February 1915. He served in the 1st Field Ambulance on Gallipoli from July to September. Invalided to England next month, he was discharged from the A.I.F. prior to taking a commission in the Royal Field Artillery Special Reserve on 14 December. While serving on the Western Front, he leapt into a burning gun-pit and extinguished a fire started by enemy shelling; for this action he was awarded the Military Cross in September 1918.  

After the war he acquired Murrulla, a property near Wingen, New South Wales, formerly owned by his uncle W. E. Abbott. On 26 February 1924 in St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, Joe married Katherine Bliss Wilkinson. Having expanded his involvement in the affairs of the wool industry, he was elected president of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales in 1935. He opposed the creation of a price-support scheme for wool, fearing that the measure would lead to greater use of synthetics. In 1936-37 he headed his industry's campaign against the imposition of restrictions on imports of Japanese textiles. Japan's retaliatory boycott of Australian wool auctions concerned Abbott, but he was also worried that Japan might be tempted to pursue economic power by means of war, were she to be denied access to British Empire markets. A member (1935-37) of the royal commission on monetary and banking systems, Abbott was deputy-chairman (1936-51) of the Australian Wool Board which administered wool publicity and research funds. His twelve months in office as president of the Graziers' Federal Council of Australia began in June 1937.

Before the outbreak of World War II, the Australian and British governments agreed that Britain would buy all of Australia's wool, at a guaranteed price, during the period of hostilities; as a member (1939-40) of the Central Wool Committee, Abbott helped to counter criticism of the arrangement. He had been a Country Party organizer during the 1930s and won the House of Representatives seat of New England in 1940. Minister for home security (June to August 1941) in the government of (Sir) Robert Menzies, he was responsible for civil defence. At Prime Minister John Curtin's request, in 1942 Abbott became chairman of the Administrative Planning Committee which was set up to expedite logistics support for forces of the United States of America stationed in Australia. In the immediate postwar years Abbott was quick to warn politicians of communist espionage and of the party's influence within the trade unions and the scientific community. Ill health obliged him to retire from parliament in 1949; he was appointed O.B.E. in 1951.

Strong minded, hearty and forthright, Abbott was a tall, powerfully-built man, said to have 'the voice of a bull'. He belonged to the Australian Club, was a prominent lay Anglican in the Diocese of Newcastle and vented in public his views on all manner of subjects. The 1951 proposal to establish a reserve-price scheme for wool attracted his strenuous opposition. Survived by his wife and son, he died on 7 May 1965 at Camperdown, Sydney, and was buried in the private cemetery at Murrulla.

Select Bibliography

  • S. J. Butlin, War Economy 1939-1942 (Canb, 1955)
  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1942-1945 (Canb, 1970)
  • K. Tsokhas, Markets, Money and Empire (Melb, 1990)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 July 1935, 8 June 1937, 8 Aug 1951, 8 May 1965
  • Abbott papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Kosmas Tsokhas, 'Abbott, Joseph Palmer (Joe) (1891–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 10 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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