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John Henry (Jack) Maxwell (1885–1954)

by Matthew Higgins

This article was published:

John Henry (Jack) Maxwell (1885-1954), ranger, stockman and horseman, was born on 27 January 1885 at Tuggeranong, New South Wales, son of Thomas Philip Maxwell, station hand, and Mary Wall. Jack grew up in the Queanbeyan area and was later employed by Thomas Franklin to help to manage Brindabella station, where Maxwell developed his skills as cattleman and horseman. Here, too, he met Ivy Violet Franklin, a cousin of the author Miles Franklin. Ivy and Jack married with Presbyterian forms on 16 August 1911 at Queanbeyan. Following Thomas Franklin's death in 1925, the Maxwells moved to Queanbeyan.

About 1927 Maxwell was appointed by the Commonwealth government to be its first ranger in the rugged upper Cotter River valley, to help safeguard Canberra's water supply catchment. Responsible for an area of 98,842 acres (40,000 ha), he patrolled on horseback, policing the prohibition on grazing (though travelling stock were allowed through), trapping rabbits, poisoning foxes, controlling the wild horse population and burning off to reduce the bushfire threat to the developing national capital. Working mostly alone, he was joined occasionally by other mountain men.

Described by contemporaries as 'a wiry bushman' and 'a bit of a loner', Maxwell lived for two to three months at a time at the slab-walled Cotter hut, which, though basic, was comfortable by the standards of bush huts of the era. He returned to Queanbeyan and his family for only a week before setting out again. Ivy and some of their boys joined him during the summer. His attitude to the responsible position of ranger was reflected by the fact that he always wore a coat and tie when riding into and out of the catchment.

For several decades Maxwell led the summertime brumby-running forays in the mountain catchment: joined by his family and many friends, he helped to build trapyards and caught numbers of wild horses; some brumbies were sold or broken-in, others were shot. Miles Franklin's letters revealed that she occasionally joined Jack and Ivy for rides in the Brindabellas. In addition to his ranger duties, Maxwell had grazing leases in the mountains west of the Australian Capital Territory, where at Little Leura and Hardys Lease he grazed stock with other landowners. He ceased to work as upper Cotter ranger in 1953.

In many ways Maxwell was the archetypal Australian bushman. At home in the saddle, he held a store of knowledge about the mountain bushland, welcomed passing stockmen to his hut and regaled visitors with yarns. He died on 29 October 1954 at Queanbeyan and was buried in the Catholic section of Canberra cemetery. His wife and their three sons survived him. The area patrolled by Maxwell became a key element of the chain of Australian Alps national parks.

Maxwell's eldest son Douglas (1911-1958), a stockman, became inaugural ranger at Bulls Head (on the western edge of the catchment) and his third son Lachlan (1918-2001) also worked at Bulls Head before taking up a property at Yaouk. His second son Jock (1913-1985), who like Lachlan served in World War II, became a stock and station agent and auctioneer at Queanbeyan and was a close friend and inspiration to the poets David Campbell and Douglas Stewart.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Higgins, Voices from the Hills (Canb, 1990)
  • M. Higgins, Brumby Running in Namadgi (Canb, 1993)
  • Canberra Times, 31 Aug 2000, p 11.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Matthew Higgins, 'Maxwell, John Henry (Jack) (1885–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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