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Arthur Edward Earle (1913–1998)

by Sandy Thorne

This article was published online in 2023

Arthur Edward Earle (1913–1998), pastoralist, real estate developer, and philanthropist, was born on 12 August 1913 at Goombungee, Darling Downs, Queensland, third of six children of New South Wales-born Charles Eden Earle, farmer, and his Western Australian-born wife Jeannette Maud, née Clifton. From early childhood, Arthur was a resourceful, confident, and likeable leader, whom his elder as well as younger siblings called `Boss.’ He attended nearby Highland Plains and then Moola State schools, as his parents occupied successive farms, and Dalby State School, when his father sold out and bought a garage in the town. Hating school, he left at age fourteen. His first paid work, at Bon Accord station, outside Dalby, was ‘collecting wool from dead sheep in a drought—a terrible job’ (Earle 1998, 4). The manager, impressed with his speed and dedication, offered him a permanent stockman’s position, and kept him on when most staff were put off.

Keen to acquire more skills, Earle applied, at sixteen, for a boilermaker’s apprenticeship at the Yargullan cheese factory, Oakey. After two years there, he decided to go into business. He invested his savings in a share of a tobacco plantation at Yelarbon, near Goondiwindi, and joined the group developing the property. Despite their hard work and good yields from early crops, they were destitute by 1934 because of lack of capital and a reduction in the tariff on imported leaf.

Earle returned to Moola and worked in the local cheese factory for a year. With members of his family, he started a dairy on land that had belonged to his mother (d. 1933) and contract-cleared scrub in the nearby Bunya Mountains. In 1936 he was successful in a land ballot, taking up a brigalow block of 2,250 acres (910 ha) near Moura, then a railway siding in the Dawson Valley. With the help of his brother Phil for the first two years, he cleared the thick scrub with an axe and gradually developed a profitable dairy, beef, and crop-growing enterprise. He also dealt in cattle and share-farmed sections of the block to make extra money. On 23 April 1938 at St John’s Church of England, Dalby, he married Joyce Vivian Dun, a farmer’s daughter from Irvingdale, near Moola.

Predicting, accurately, that the time was right to move back to Dalby and grow wheat, Earle bought a farm, Montrose, in 1947 and began dealing in farm machinery as well. In the late 1940s he started two enterprises that would make him wealthy: sheep dealing and subdividing local grazing properties into smaller farms for grain growing. By 1955 he owned more than 40,000 acres (16,000 ha) around Dalby. The next year he left Joyce for Lorna Flora Fry, née Allen, a local woman with whom he had formed a close and enduring relationship. He provided fairly for his wife and their two sons but did not see the boys again until they were young adults. Arthur and Lorna, both divorcees, were married on 22 April 1958 in a Presbyterian ceremony at Norman Park, Brisbane.

With his remaining capital, Earle had purchased a drought-stricken western property, Merrigang, near Charleville. He survived financially until the drought broke in 1964 by buying and selling mobs of sheep. Astute and brave, he became the biggest dealer in Queensland, with up to 40,000 sheep at a time, which he pastured in the care of drovers on stock routes for the free feed, while waiting for buyers. In 1964 he sold Merrigang and bought a farm near Nerang, in the Gold Coast hinterland, to run beef cattle.

 Earle was soon purchasing neighbouring farms and subdividing and developing them into acreage or home site blocks, as the Gold Coast boomed. By the early 1970s he was a multimillionaire. A contributor to his wealth was the disused Nerang quarry he had bought for $500 from Queensland Railways in 1966. Over the next thirty years, blue metal mined from the quarry returned him more than $50 million. His foresight—seeing opportunities others missed—was a talent formal education could not have given him.

Finding himself the reluctant owner of a lawn cemetery when the owner became insolvent, Earle diversified into the funeral business, creating the Allambe Garden of Memories (Memorial Park) and crematorium at Nerang. His largest development was the master-planned Gold Coast suburb of Robina, including the main campus of Bond University, built on land he had jointly owned with Robin Loh, a Singaporean businessman. One of his projects of which he was most proud was the gracious Earle Haven retirement village at Nerang. His reputation for integrity, together with his impressive bearing and the dignified manner of a country gentleman—dressed in a fine-wool suit or jacket, elastic-sided boots, and broad-brimmed hat—gave people confidence in dealing with him. In 1995 his wealth was estimated to be $90 million.

Having achieved his lifelong ambition to become rich, Earle engaged in philanthropy. The charities to which he made substantial donations included the Save Sight Foundation, the Nerang Police-Citizens Youth Club, and the Life Education and Rehabilitation Centre at Broadbeach. He devoted much time to speaking to and motivating students and unemployed young people. In talks and lectures at schools and colleges, he gave practical advice about life and business and encouraged students to become entrepreneurs. A community leader wherever he lived, in the 1950s he had been president of the Dalby branch of the New Settlers’ League of Queensland. He was awarded the OAM in 1986 and made a Paul Harris fellow of Rotary International in 1998 for his community service, especially to youth.

In 1967 Earle had been a founder (president 1975; life member 1977) of the Gold Coast Polocrosse Club, lending horses to competitors who could not afford to buy them; he was also patron (1977) of the Queensland Polocrosse Association. Australia’s rural heritage was another of his interests. He instigated the Great Australian Camel Race from Uluru in the Northern Territory to the Gold Coast, to honour the contribution of camels to outback settlement. To ensure the event’s success, he managed it during its three-year preparation and then its running during the bicentennial celebrations in 1988.

Aged 81 and, in his words, ‘frustrated by Greenies, and by bureaucracies incapable of making decisions,’ Earle decided to go ‘back to the land’ (Lake 1994, 10); his exasperation stemmed partly from his belief that his projects had always been environmentally responsible. He sold all his land held for development on the coastal strip and began buying pastoral stations in a (Sir Sidney) Kidman-like strategy across Queensland, spending over $35 million in three years. Physically fit, he envisaged at least a decade of enjoyment from these properties, but he developed leukaemia. Six months after the death of his wife, he died on 26 February 1998 at Benowa, Gold Coast, and was cremated; the two sons of his first marriage, Colin and Ronald, survived him. With characteristic attention to detail, he had spent his last weeks organising his funeral and the future of his businesses and properties.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Deiley, Russell. ‘Back to the Land.’ Gold Coast Bulletin, 31 January 1996, 9
  • Earle, Arthur E. ‘My Foreword.’ In On the Shake of a Hand: The Story of Arthur E. Earle, O.A.M., by Sandy Thorne, 4–5. Nerang, Qld: Arthur Earle Pty Ltd, 1998
  • Earle Papers. Private collection
  • Johnston, Elizabeth. ‘Gold Coast Capital Will Become a Real Paradise on Earth.’ Weekend Australian Magazine, 78 July 1984, 5
  • Lake, Bob. ‘Arthur Earle Finely Balances a Parcel of Livestock Operations.’ Queensland Country Life, 22 December 1994, 10–11
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Thorne, Sandy. On the Shake of a Hand: The Story of Arthur E. Earle, O.A.M. Nerang, Qld: Arthur Earle Pty Ltd, 1998
  • Zwar, Desmond. ‘Secrets of a $90M Man.’ Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 4 June 1995, 65–66

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sandy Thorne, 'Earle, Arthur Edward (1913–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/earle-arthur-edward-28999/text36271, published online 2023, accessed online 6 December 2023.

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