Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Leonard (Art) Collins (1896–1969)

by Charles Massy

This article was published:

Arthur Leonard (Art) Collins (1896-1969), pastoralist and sheep breeder, was born on 3 May 1896 at Mount Bryan, South Australia, seventh of nine children of John Collins (1859-1932), stud merino breeder, and his wife Catherine, née Simpson. Art's grandfather Henry Collings (Collins) (1833-1929) had purchased land (Lucerndale) in 1859 at Mount Bryan where he farmed wheat and lucerne and from 1884 bred merino sheep. In 1889 Art's father bought a 50,000-acre (20,243 ha) station in the colony's mid-north, across Goyder's line, which he named Collinsville; here in 1895 he founded a stud with ewes purchased from Koonoona. Art grew up in this dry, harsh environment where, with an eight-inch (200 mm) annual rainfall, sheep had to be tough to survive on saltbush.

Educated at home by a governess and as a boarder at Prince Alfred College, Adelaide (1912-15), he took over from his father and brother Melvin as stud-master in 1916. While remaining in partnership with his brothers Lindsay and Newton for many years, in 1924 he assumed management control of John Collins & Sons. He had enormous vigour, acute powers of observation, excellent management skills and an innate ability with stock. Despite financial difficulties in the Depression, by the mid-1930s Collins, by trial and error and by rigorous selection, had developed a strain that combined size and early maturity with a superior wool quality and density. He deliberately exposed his breeding ewes to harsh conditions. His new sheep type—the Collinsville—was a blend of the large, hardy but coarser-woolled South Australian strain with the finer-woolled Peppin variety from New South Wales. Within a few years Collinsville had emerged as a major merino stud, selling its bloodlines to pastoralists in all Australian States, particularly to those in the harsher environments.

After World War II the property comprised over 200,000 acres (80,972 ha) of dry country near Mount Hay and 6000 acres (2429 ha) in the rich, wetter region near Booborowie and Mount Bryan. Ram sales soared, reaching over 3000 annually in the 1960s. Many of these went to other studs, which in turn disseminated Collinsville blood.

On 9 January 1926 at Malvern Methodist Church Collins had married Ellen Lang, a farmer's daughter from Narridy. They had three daughters. He was a strict but loving father and loyal husband, with a vibrant sense of humour, although shy and reserved. A long-time asthmatic, he was gifted musically, capable at tennis, and passionate about cricket, captaining his local team, Mount Bryan, until into his sixties. He loved a flutter on the horses. To outsiders, he was dominating but not domineering. A big, well-built man, he had a powerful presence; in later life receding, grey hair and bushy, dark eyebrows reinforced his patrician air. He was of that old school who were never seen without a tie, even at work.

Collins died on 5 February 1969 in hospital in Adelaide and was buried in Burra cemetery. He was survived by his wife and daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at $84,720. At its peak, Collinsville was one of Australia's largest and most famous merino studs; by the late 1980s it was estimated to have a genetic influence in 30 per cent of the national merino flock of over 100 million sheep.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Richards, Hallett: A History of Town & District (Adel, 1977)
  • C. Massy, The Australian Merino (Melb, 1990), and for bibliography
  • Australian Stud Merino Flock Register, 1925-1990
  • Adelaide Stock & Station Journal, 18 Aug 1964.

Citation details

Charles Massy, 'Collins, Arthur Leonard (Art) (1896–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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