Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Cheyne Garran (1905–1976)

by C. C. Creswell

This article was published:

John Cheyne Garran (1905-1976), grazier and historian, was born on 21 September 1905 at Prahran, Melbourne, second of four sons of Sydney-born (Sir) Robert Randolph Garran, secretary to the Attorney-General's Department, and his wife Hilda, née Robson, from England. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, John studied arts for one year at the University of Melbourne. In 1925 he rowed in the Victorian VIII. That year he began work as a jackeroo on Mossgiel station, near Mossgiel, New South Wales, and rose to overseer before 1929 when he took up his own property, Bonshaw, in the Federal Capital Territory. He later added nearby Erindale to his holding.

On 26 September 1932, at the chapel of his old school, Garran married Elsie Pearl Chrisp; they were to have a daughter before being divorced in 1938. Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 June 1940, he was sent to Malaya in February 1941 as a corporal in the 8th Divisional Supply Column. He was captured in February 1942 and compelled to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway. Released in August 1945, he returned to Australia and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 3 December.

Garran had specialized in raising sheep for wool and mutton, but he also grew crops, ran some cattle and kept a number of pigs. Thoughtful and scientific in his approach, in 1937 and 1938 he was awarded master farmer certificates for 'skill and enterprise in diversified farming'. In 1948 he won the New South Wales Agricultural Bureau's progressive farmer competition. Next year he travelled overseas to study the latest methods of agriculture. On 7 December 1955 at St Paul's Anglican Church, Canterbury, Sydney, he married a 38-year-old dietician Winifred Ellen Wilson; they were to have two sons and a daughter.

Chairman of the board of Canberra Community Hospital in the late 1940s, Garran was also an executive-member of the Graziers' Association of New South Wales and of the Australian Capital Territory division of the Arts Council of Australia. He performed with and was president (1953-56) of the Canberra Repertory Society: 'because of his own deafness, he was always very conscious of the need to project clearly and this added weight to his utterances both on and off stage'.

From 1970 Garran contributed articles on the wool industry to the journals of the Canberra and District and the Royal Australian historical societies. With his knowledge of sheep-breeding, he became sceptical of previous interpretations of the development of the Australian merino and believed that John Macarthur's role in founding the industry had been overrated. He set out to write a thorough account of the historical and genetic development of the merino. His manuscript was to be completed by Leslie White and published as Merinos, Myths and Macarthurs (Canberra, 1985).

Six ft 4 ins (193 cm) tall and loose limbed, Garran had a subtle sense of humour and was unfailingly courteous. Despite suffering prolonged dysentery as a prisoner of war, 'honest John' had been a model of duty, self-sacrifice and devotion to his mates. He bore no lasting hatred towards the Japanese. As a historian he displayed practicality, common sense and perseverance. Survived by his wife and the children of both his marriages, he died on 5 January 1976 at Red Hill, Canberra, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. R. Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth (Syd, 1958)
  • A. Edgeworth, The Cost of Jazz Garters (Canb, 1992)
  • Canberra Historical Journal, Mar 1976
  • Country Life, 15 Mar 1946
  • Bulletin, 16 Apr 1947
  • Canberra Times, 7 Jan 1976
  • private information.

Citation details

C. C. Creswell, 'Garran, John Cheyne (1905–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 September, 1905
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


5 January, 1976 (aged 70)
Red Hill, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

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