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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Johnston, Frederick Austin (Fred) (1909–1990)

by Jeremy Buxton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Frederick Austin (Fred) Johnston (1909-1990), smallgoods manufacturer, meat exporter and political party organiser, was born on 9 October 1909 at Blaydon, Durham, England, son of William Oliver Johnston, master butcher, and his wife Elizabeth Florence, née Johnston. Educated at Wallsend-on-Tyne secondary school, Fred migrated in 1926 with his family to Perth. He joined his father and two brothers in opening a butcher’s shop in Barrack Street; in 1929 they moved to larger premises in Beaufort Street. On 23 March 1935 at St Mary’s Church of England, West Perth, he married Nance Jessie Dethridge.

From about 1932 the family business traded as W. O. Johnston & Sons; Fred Johnston became managing director in 1942. The company developed into one of Western Australia’s biggest meat-processing firms and was a member of the State division of the Meat and Allied Trades Federation of Australia. Representing that organisation, Johnston was president of the Western Australian Employers’ Federation (1948-53) and of the Australian Council of Employers’ Federations (1953-55). He was a council-member (1949-57) of the West Australia Chamber of Manufactures. During the 1950s the firm rapidly expanded its export trade and in 1960 Johnston helped to form the Western Australian Meat Exporters’ Association.

A founding member (1945) of the State division of the Liberal Party of Australia, Johnston took a leading role in mobilising business support in the campaign leading up to the State election in March 1947. The Liberal Party and Country and Democratic League coalition unexpectedly won and the Liberal leader (Sir) Ross McLarty became premier. Labor regained power in 1953; next year Johnston, elected State president of the Liberal Party, undertook a thorough reorganisation of the party’s structure. Vivian Ockerby was engaged as general secretary of the Liberal and Country League.

Business commitments obliged Johnston to stand down in 1955 but he returned to the presidency in 1957-61. During his term he pressed the views of the Liberal organisation and the business community on the parlia­mentary party. Blaming Albert Hawke’s Labor government for the relative economic stagnation of Western Australia, Johnston rallied business support in the 1959 election campaign. Electoral success saw (Sir) David Brand, who had replaced McLarty in 1957, commence a record twelve years as premier with (Sir) Charles Court as minister for industrial development. After Brand retired in 1972, Johnston’s influence behind the scenes ensured Court’s succession to the leadership. Before the 1974 election he vigorously supported an advertising campaign by business interests that helped to defeat John Tonkin’s Labor government. Maintaining an active interest in party affairs until the end of his life, he never failed to attend crucial meetings of the Liberal Party State council. He was appointed CBE in 1956 and CMG in 1963.

In 1964 W. O. Johnston & Sons Pty Ltd was declared insolvent and in 1967 it was taken over by Talloman Holdings Pty Ltd. Johnston retained directorships of several companies. Active in community groups, he had been charter president (1949-50) of the Rotary Club of Mount Lawley and in 1955-56 district governor. In 1950-52 he was president of the Western Australian Golf Club, Mount Yokine. A former champion badminton player and president of the Badminton Association of Western Australia, he was chairman of the finance committee for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Perth in 1962. He was a Perth city councillor in 1963-65. A councillor (1971-82) of the Tuberculosis and Chest Association of Western Australia, he was chairman (1974-82) of the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Board and president (1978-84) of the Cancer Council of Western Australia (from 1983 the Cancer Foundation of Western Australia). Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died on 19 May 1990 at Subiaco and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Leading Personalities of Western Australia (1950)
  • C. Riedel, Rotary in Western Australia (1983)
  • Australian Exporter, Nov 1963, p 23, Sept 1964, p 31
  • West Australian, 21 May 1990, p 20
  • private information.

Citation details

Jeremy Buxton, 'Johnston, Frederick Austin (Fred) (1909–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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