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John Armstrong England (1911–1985)

by Paul A. Rosenzweig

This article was published:

John Armstrong England (1911-1985), farmer and grazier, politician, and administrator of the Northern Territory, was born on 12 October 1911 at Clayfield, Brisbane, third of five children of New South Wales-born parents Sidney Willis England, accountant, and his wife Jane McLelland, née Fisher. Raised at Murwillumbah, New South Wales, John was educated at the local public school and at Brisbane Boys’ College. He worked (1928-35) for the Commercial Banking Co. of Australia Ltd, in Sydney and at Forbes. In 1936-41 he managed Wilga, a sheep and wheat farm near Grenfell. On 16 December 1939 at Holy Trinity Church of England, Grenfell, he married Polly Wills Wheatley.

From 1929 England was also a citizen-soldier, serving in Militia artillery and cavalry units and being commissioned in 1931. Called up for full-time duty on 23 June 1941, next year he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and placed in command of the 110th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. In August he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force. He commanded two composite anti-aircraft regiments: the 52nd (1943-45) at Merauke, Netherlands New Guinea, and the 2/3rd (1945-46) in north Borneo. As commander of North East Borneo Force in October 1945, he oversaw the surrender of Japanese in the region. He was transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 28 February 1946 and mentioned in despatches for his service in Borneo.

England returned to Wilga, and bought it in 1947. At a by-election in November 1960 he entered Federal parliament as the Country Party member for the formerly Liberal seat of Calare. Party whip in 1972-75, he did not contest the general election in December 1975. On 1 June 1976 he took up the appointment of administrator of the Northern Territory. Darwin was then recovering from the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Tracy in December 1974, and the Territory was pursuing political autonomy from Canberra. He assumed presidency of the Legislative Assembly, a fully elected body from 1974, and oversaw ceremonies marking the proclamation of self-government on 1 July 1978. Respected by local politicians, and using his contacts among Commonwealth ministers and senior public servants, he alleviated Darwin-Canberra tensions from behind the scenes. However, some, including the chief minister, Paul Everingham, saw him as a legacy of the Commonwealth era at a time when the Northern Territory was asserting its independence. In 1977 he was appointed commander brother of the Order of St John and made inaugural patron of the St John Council for the Northern Territory.

Appointed CMG in 1979, England retired in December 1980 and settled at Grenfell. Six ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall, he was naturally diplomatic and had a good sense of humour. He was remembered in the Territory for maintaining the dignity of his office. In 1981 he was elected secretary of the federal council of the National Country Party of Australia. Survived by his wife and their daughter and three sons, he died on 18 June 1985 at Grenfell and was cremated. At his funeral he was described as `a man of integrity … upright and forthright; who no doubt used his physical stature to good advantage. Yet he was humble of character and regarded duty as a privilege’.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Heatley, The Government of the Northern Territory (1979)
  • C. J. E. Rae et al, On Target (1987)
  • A. Heatley, Almost Australians (1990)
  • D. Carment and B. James (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 2 (1992)
  • P. A. Rosenzweig, The House of Seven Gables (1996).

Citation details

Paul A. Rosenzweig, 'England, John Armstrong (1911–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 October, 1911
Clayfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


18 June, 1985 (aged 73)
Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.