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Arthur Bassingthwaighte (1919–1998)

by Margaret Kowald

This article was published online in 2024

Arthur Bassingthwaighte, mid-1980s

Arthur Bassingthwaighte, mid-1980s

Are Media Pty Ltd

Arthur Bassingthwaighte (1919–1998), company executive and beef industry leader, was born on 11 June 1919 at Toowoomba, Queensland, youngest son and fourth of five surviving children of Queensland-born Chesleigh Oswald Bassingthwaighte, grazier, and his New South Wales-born wife Edith, née Greenup. The family lived at Cooranga North, near Bell, on the Darling Downs, occupying first a grazing property, Niagara, then a dairy farm, Dunromyn. Arthur attended Cooranga North and nearby Mount Mahen State schools. Chesleigh died in 1933, aged forty-six, and the following year Edith sold the farm and financed the purchase by her elder sons of Kroombit, a cattle property near Chinchilla. After boarding (1933–35) at The Southport School, Arthur briefly worked with his brothers.

In 1936, with dry conditions on Kroombit, Bassingthwaighte left. He worked on a property near Taroom and, between stints as a drover, on Auburn station, Chinchilla. At age eighteen, he accepted an offer by the owners of Auburn to be head stockman on another of their properties, Crystal Brook, a 450,000-acre (1,821 sq km) holding with 12,000 cattle, at the headwaters of the Maranoa River in the foothills of the Carnarvon Range. Volunteering for service in World War II, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 30 January 1941 and twelve months later was commissioned as a lieutenant. On 20 May 1942 at the Catholic Presbytery, Camp Hill, Brisbane, he married Kathleen Josephine Gross (1919–2013), a dressmaker. From August to November 1942, he served in Papua with the 2/6th Independent Company. Suffering from malaria, he was evacuated to Brisbane, where he occupied regimental and staff posts with the Australian Army Labour Service. He was promoted to temporary captain in March 1945 and demobilised on 19 June 1946.

Bassingthwaighte bought a small farm outside Brisbane and started a trucking business but could see little future in either venture and sold them in 1950. Having studied some accountancy at school, he joined the Charleville branch of the Queensland Primary Producers’ Co-operative Association Ltd as bookkeeper. In 1951 he became stock and property manager for ‘Primaries’ at Townsville, auctioning livestock in the city’s new saleyards. He was appointed in 1954 as local livestock manager for the Swift Australia Co. Pty Ltd, meat processors and exporters. Three years later, he moved to Gladstone as Swift’s livestock buyer for Queensland, and thence to Brisbane in the same role, procuring throughout Australia. He became a director of the company in 1960.

Two years later Bassingthwaighte guided Swift Australia into partnership with King Ranch (Australia) Pty Ltd; they established Swift Pastoral Development Pty Ltd as their operating company. After the partners’ joint takeover of the Queensland National Pastoral Co. Ltd in 1963, Swift Pastoral Development was renamed Queensland and Northern Territory Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd. Bassingthwaighte was the chairman and managing director of QNTP and Swift Australia from 1963. The QNTP properties included Lake Nash and Georgina Downs in the Northern Territory; and Barkly Downs, Roxborough Downs, Lucknow, Cork, and three coastal holdings in Queensland. In 1964 Swift took over Mayfair Hams Ltd, and in 1970, after F. J. Walker Ltd bought Swift’s meat division, Bassingthwaighte was appointed an executive director of that company.

From its headquarters in Texas, United States of America, King Ranch had expanded into Australia in 1951, purchasing rural properties and introducing the Santa Gertrudis breed of cattle (1952) and the quarter horse (1954). The 1962 partnership between Swift Australia and King Ranch (Australia) brought Bassingthwaighte onto the board of the latter company. When, in the mid-1970s, King Ranch decided that its international operations were to be self-supporting, he was appointed (1977) as chairman and managing director of the Australian subsidiary, based in Brisbane, while remaining head of QNTP. He sold uneconomic cattle stations, retaining Macquarie Downs, Barkly Downs, Lyndhurst, Carpentaria Downs, and Tully River in Queensland and Lake Nash and Georgina Downs in the Northern Territory. In 1978 he moved King Ranch’s Santa Gertrudis and quarter horse studs from Milton Park, near Bowral, New South Wales, to Macquarie Downs, near Pittsworth, where new facilities were built and an on-property sale was held annually. By 1980 the company was making a profit and its debt to the parent enterprise in the United States had been liquidated.

In 1987, following legislation that allowed the excision of living areas for Aboriginal communities from pastoral leases in the Northern Territory, Bassingthwaighte settled a long-running dispute between management and the Alyawarre people at Lake Nash over where on the station land should be excised. Both sides made concessions to achieve an agreement.

‘A cattleman to his bootstraps’ with ‘a superb eye for livestock’ and exceptional ‘knowledge of country’ and its stocking capacity (Kennedy 1990, 73), Bassingthwaighte ‘had a profound influence on meat processing and large pastoral land management in Australia’ (Queensland Country Life 1998, 25). He was president (1973–76) of the Santa Gertrudis Breeders’ (Australia) Association, during which time it hosted the first international conference of the world body (1975), in Brisbane. In 1976 he was appointed AO. Retiring in 1988, he operated the family property Yabba station, near Kilcoy, with his son, Owen, improving it and establishing a Santa Gertrudis stud.

Bassingthwaighte believed strongly in personal integrity, once stating:

You should never let anybody have anything on you. If you do, it is bound to catch up with you sooner or later and you will be forced into a position of weakness and compromise (Taylor 1984, 176).

He was nicknamed ‘Gaffer’; his height of six feet four inches (193 cm); strong, lean physique; and compelling personality gave him an imposing presence. Yet he was not gregarious and could be quiet and reflective. He died on 28 September 1998 at New Farm, Brisbane, and, following a Catholic funeral, was cremated. His wife and their daughters, Sandra and Annette, and son, Owen, survived him.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Austin, Nigel. Kings of the Cattle Country: The Epic Story of Australia’s Beef Empires. Sydney: Bay Books, 1986
  • Bassingthwaighte, Owen. Personal communication
  • Bassingthwaighte, Paula. Personal communication
  • Kennedy, Judy. ‘Darling Downs Cattle King Superb Judge of Character.’ Queensland Country Life, 2 August 1990, 73
  • Lyon, Pamela, and Michael Parsons. We Are Staying: The Alyawarre Struggle for Land at Lake Nash. Alice Springs, NT: I.A.D. Press, 1989
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX16626
  • Queensland Country Life. ‘Firm Link with Land.’ 27 June 1985, 30
  • Queensland Country Life. ‘Giant Achiever Passes On.’ 17 December 1998, 25
  • Taylor, Peter. Pastoral Properties of Australia. North Sydney: George Allen & Unwin Australia, 1984

Additional Resources

Citation details

Margaret Kowald, 'Bassingthwaighte, Arthur (1919–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bassingthwaighte-arthur-32362/text40111, published online 2024, accessed online 29 May 2024.

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Arthur Bassingthwaighte, mid-1980s

Arthur Bassingthwaighte, mid-1980s

Are Media Pty Ltd