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John Charles Mullaly (1895–1973)

by Patricia W. Hopper

This article was published:

John Charles Mullaly (1895-1973), planter, was born on 3 September 1895 at Richmond, Melbourne, second of fourteen children of John Henry Mullaly, clerk, and his wife Cecelia Eleanor, née Needham. Educated at Christian Brothers' College, East Melbourne, in 1902-12, he entered the Department of External Affairs in May 1913. In October 1914 he enlisted in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, Australian Imperial Force, and sailed with the 1st reinforcement on 2 February 1915. He served in Egypt, London, France and Belgium, where he was transferred to the 43rd Infantry Battalion in September 1917; wounded next month, he was promoted sergeant in May 1918 and commissioned lieutenant in April 1919. He returned in October to Australia where his A.I.F. appointment was terminated in February 1920.

Appointed Commonwealth audit inspector to the Expropriation Board in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea in 1921, Mullaly became an inspector in the Department of Native Affairs in 1924 and district officer and magistrate in New Ireland in 1925. He soon resigned when he acquired Natava plantation, New Britain, one of the German properties expropriated by the Australian government after the war. In 1926 he became a foundation member of the New Guinea Planters' Association, formed to look after the planters' interests as they had no political representation. Mullaly served as vice-president of the association in 1929-32 and 1938-40 and as president in 1932-38 and 1940-41. He played a major role in the planters' efforts to break the oligopoly in the copra industry of the big trading companies, Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd. and W. R. Carpenter & Co. Ltd. Because of low world market prices for copra, many of the Australian ex-servicemen on expropriated properties were in financial difficulties. After the association's appeal to the Federal government, they were granted a moratorium and payments were suspended from July 1930 to June 1936.

When the New Guinea Legislative Council was established Mullaly was appointed one of the non-official members (1933-45) and the non-official member of the Executive Council (1933-39). In the Legislative Council in 1940 he pressed for government control and marketing of copra through a statutory authority. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1937.

On the outbreak of war in 1939 Mullaly served as lieutenant and adjutant (1940) of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles. Transferred to the Australian Intelligence Corps in 1941, he was seconded to Allied General Headquarters, South-West Pacific Area, in 1942 and directed its Combined Operations Intelligence Centre in 1943-44. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1945, he commanded the Training Battalion, Pacific Islands Regiment, until his retirement in July 1946. He settled in Sydney about 1949.

Slightly built, 5 ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, with brown hair and eyes, Mullaly married a nurse, Ruth Saunders, of Singleton, New South Wales, on 9 February 1926 at Kavieng, New Guinea. He was always a keen sportsman: his recreations included cricket, golf, tennis and riding. He belonged to the Papua, Rabaul, Imperial Service, Australasian Pioneers' and Melbourne Cricket clubs. He died at Mosman, Sydney, on 25 March 1973 and was cremated. His wife (d.1977) and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Legislative Council, New Guinea), 12th Session, meeting 1, Apr 1940
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, June 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Dec 1935, 2, 4, 27 Mar 1936, 2 May, 15 Dec 1937
  • P. W. Hopper, Kicking out the Hun (M.A. thesis, University of Papua New Guinea, 1981)
  • private information.

Citation details

Patricia W. Hopper, 'Mullaly, John Charles (1895–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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