Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ernest Field (1875–1947)

by S. W. Dyer

This article was published:

Ernest Field (1875-1947), agrarian activist, was born probably on 17 September 1875 at Canowindra, New South Wales, son of Albert Thomas Field and his wife Susannah, née Gordon. Educated briefly at Canowindra Public School, he worked as a farm labourer before joining his brother working on a station near Carcoar in 1888. After some years he took to the road, working and shearing in New South Wales and Queensland and gathered sufficient skill to 'ring' the Burra Burra shed in 1897.

After two years in New Zealand Field returned to Australia and took up a leasehold property near Orange. There he met a schoolteacher, Mary Ann Maneary; in accordance with his Plymouth Brethren upbringing, they eschewed a church marriage, and were wed at the Orange registry office on 7 September 1899.

After the expiry of Field's lease and the arrival of rabbits, he worked as a railway navvy for a year until he drew a closer settlement block near Marrar in 1906. Now a bona fide farmer on his own land, Wave Hill, he joined the Marrar branch of the Farmers and Settlers' Association. In 1907-23 he was secretary of the branch. For over a decade from 1912 he was on the council of the Murrumbidgee Pastoral and Agricultural Society and served twice as its vice-president.

During World War I he worked on the Wheat Pool, and by 1919 he was a member of the executive of the F.S.A. and the Wagga Wagga Pastures Protection Board. Next year he was elected to Coolamon Shire Council. He was involved in drafting the Progressive Party's constitution and in 1921 protested against it joining in the coalition with the National Party. With his wife's counselling and assistance, he stood as a Progressive for the Legislative Assembly but was defeated for Murray in 1922 and Cootamundra in 1925.

Following the death of 'Mum', his wife, in 1931 Field farmed at Forbes in partnership with H. K. Nock. After disagreements he bought out Nock's share of Tarlemara and succeeded him as president of the F.S.A. in 1933-36. In 1934 in evidence before the royal commission on the wheat industry, he argued against bounties and for the equitable treatment of the wheatgrowing industry. In 1936 he joined the board of the association's newspaper, the Land. He was appointed to the Farmers' Relief Board in January 1935 and was in a position to see that the thousands of farmers who applied for government relief got a fair deal. He was regarded as a 'particularly good bloke, but inclined to be a bit heavy handed'.

On the outbreak of World War II Field was appointed to the Australian Wheat Board in his capacity as president of the Australian Wheatgrowers' Federation and served for eight years. His position on the Wheat Board was the culmination of his lifelong dedication to the belief that the farmer could only benefit from orderly marketing. While his experiences in farming, and his single-minded approach to issues led him to expect the same effort in his associates, he thought that farmers collectively should be given assistance they failed to demand.

Field died in hospital at Forbes from coronary vascular disease on 24 July 1947 and was survived by his daughter. He was cremated alter a Presbyterian service.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Nov 1921, 26 Oct 1926, 10 Aug 1933, 1 Mar 1934, 1 Jan, 8 Aug 1935, 14 Sept 1939, 11, 25 July 1947
  • Land (Sydney), 3 Mar 1922, 19 Aug 1932, 1 Aug 1947.

Citation details

S. W. Dyer, 'Field, Ernest (1875–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 September, 1875
Canowindra, New South Wales, Australia


24 July, 1947 (aged 71)
Forbes, 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.