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John Gosman Allwright (1927–1994)

by Tim Jetson

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John Gosman Allwright (1927–1994), farmer and primary industry leader, was born on 29 June 1927 in Hobart, second of three children of Sydney Harold Llewellyn Allwright (d. 1940), a Tasmanian-born farmer, and his New South Wales-born wife Ruth Everitt, née Gosman. The Allwrights were a pastoral family who had been farming in the Hamilton-Bothwell area of Tasmania since the 1830s. John’s immediate family ran Glen Quoin at Hollow Tree, and St Patrick’s Plains (later Penstock) on the central plateau. He attended Montacute State School and Clemes College, Hobart, where he was head prefect in 1944. The college headmaster, William Clemes, became a father figure to John. Moving to Victoria for his studies, he worked on trial poppy-growing plots and completed a diploma of agriculture (1947) at Dookie Agricultural College.

Afterwards Allwright returned to manage the family’s properties with his elder brother, Sydney. On 24 September 1958 he married Suzanne Elizabeth Shepley, a typist, at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Kensington, Adelaide. He was an agricultural visionary: at Penstock he became the first to establish broadacre pastures on the plateau. At his Westbury properties, Roxford and Exton House, he focused on livestock and intensive cropping—cereals, peas, and tick beans. His innovative approach was intertwined with entrepreneurship. By 1970 he was one of the first licensed poppy growers in the State. Soon after, he initiated contact with the pharmaceutical company Abbott Australasia Pty Ltd and facilitated the establishment of an alkaloid processing plant. He also started a produce company, a butchery, and a seed exporting firm—which helped foster such niche markets as tick beans for the horse-racing industry.

As one of the State’s leading primary producers, Allwright was to find his metier on the national and international stages. In 1980 he helped to unite the Tasmanian Farmers’ Federation and the Tasmanian Farmers’, Stockowners’, and Orchardists’ Association. He was elected inaugural president (1980–83) of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA), and president (1988–91) of the National Farmers’ Federation. In both roles he was able to meld disparate groups into cohesive bodies and steer them through times of political and economic turbulence, which he rightly described as the worst rural crisis since the 1890s drought-propelled slump. While at the NFF he repaired relationships with the government and the bureaucracy that had fractured under the confrontational policies of his predecessor. He also paid greater attention to socio-economic and conservation issues: calling for a more educated rural workforce, advocating the incorporation of scientific research into agricultural practices, and supporting schemes such as Landcare. Throughout his presidency he argued for economic reform, especially liberalisation of trade and tax reform. He was a member of Australian delegations (1988 and 1990) in the Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, a vice president of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (1990-92), and an advisor to the World Bank (from 1993).

Community and industry organisations sought the skills and knowledge of this ‘rural gentleman fighter’ (Clark 1994, 3) who was also a capable conciliator. At the University of Tasmania he was a councillor (from 1993), a member of the faculty of agricultural science, and chairman (1991-93) of the board of the Cooperative Research Centre for Temperate Hardwood Forestry. Among other roles, he chaired the Rural Development Task Force, Australian Special Rural Research Council, and Australian Rural Leadership Foundation. Tasmanian Farmer of the Year in 1981, he was appointed AO in 1982, and Tasmanian of the Year in 1992. He died on 6 March 1994 at Devon Hills, Launceston, and was survived by his wife, and their son and four daughters. A TFGA leadership award and an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research fellowship are named after him.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Advocate. ‘Award Stays at Westbury.’ 9 September 1981, 26
  • Allwright, James. Personal communication, 21 and 24 November 2014
  • Allwright, Jill. Personal communication, 5 January 2015
  • Clark, Nick. ‘Death of a Rural Gentleman Fighter.’ Mercury, 8 March 1994, 3
  • Duff, Craig. ‘Farming’s Tall Poppy.’ Examiner, 16 June 1988, 28
  • Limb, Ron. ‘John is Good Choice for a Tough Task.’ Tasmanian Country, 21 March 1980, 7
  • McErlane, Brian. ‘John Allwright—A Hands On Farmer.’ Rural Business Magazine, June 1988, 33
  • Reid, Professor J. Personal communication, 15 December 2014
  • Stevens, Tim. ‘Moderate Voice of Farm Lobby.’ Australian, 9 March 1994, 13
  • Tasmanian Country. ‘Award Stunned TFGA Leader.’ 18 June 1982, 3

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Citation details

Tim Jetson, 'Allwright, John Gosman (1927–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2018, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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