Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Rankin (1865–1936)

by L. Lomas

This article was published:

John Rankin (1865-1936), dairy farmer, was born on 8 July 1865 at Quambatook station, Victoria, second son of Scottish migrants Malcolm Rankin (1837-1914), labourer, and his wife Mary, née Mackenzie (1846-1926). In 1867 the family returned to the Colac area to pioneer a selection in the Irrewillipe district. John left the local school at 14 and with his elder brother Dugald found employment with the Robertson brothers, sons of William Robertson, on the rich volcanic land of the western shores of Lake Colac. From the Robertsons, famous for their Shorthorn cattle, Rankin learned all that was then known about animal breeding and management.

The opening of the railway to Colac (1877), the introduction of cream separating and improved refrigeration techniques stimulated a strong demand for onion, potato and dairy farms. When the Robertson property, The Hill, was subdivided in 1888 John and Dugald, assisted by the Robertsons, bought the homestead allotment. Rankin began a lifelong commitment to his local butter factory and to promoting the interests of dairy farmers. On 19 September 1892 at the Presbyterian manse, Hawthorn, he married Mary Jane Monkivitch of Colac.

The Colac Co-operative Dairying Co., with which the fortunes of the district were so intimately linked, began in a very modest and uncertain way in 1893 but by 1914 the company managed factories at Colac and Cororooke and operated seven creameries. Rankin was a director of the company in 1909-36, and chairman of directors for more than twenty years. He was dedicated to the principle that co-operation in production, transportation and marketing, particularly of dairy produce, was the way to improve the farmer's lot. As chairman of the Western District Co-operative Produce & Insurance Co. Ltd, and with its manager H. W. Osborne as friend and ally, he promoted co-operation in every aspect of farming.

Personal qualities, often attributed to his Scottish Highland ancestry, contributed to Rankin's long and successful leadership of the industry. Physically a big man, over six feet (183 cm) tall and sixteen stone (102 kg), he was an all-round athlete, being a first-class runner, an excellent axeman and an enthusiastic tug-of-war man. Particularly when the subject was butter, he was a fluent and forcible speaker; natural shrewdness, tenacity and business acumen were tempered by honesty and an infectious spirit of merriment.

As chairman of the largest dairy company in Victoria, Rankin was constantly pressed to represent the industry at State and Federal levels. He was the first chairman of the Australian Dairy Council formed in 1922 to advise the Federal government. As the foundation chairman of the Colac Dairymen's Association, with Osborne's support he helped to engineer acceptance of the Thomas Paterson plan to stabilize export butter prices that saved the industry during the depressed 1930s. He was a member of the Commonwealth Dairy Produce Equalisation Committee which managed stabilization after 1934. In 1924 he was a member of the State royal commission inquiring into soldier settlement. Looking to science as well as politics, he chaired the Pasture Improvement League of Victoria, fostered herd-testing associations, Better Farming trains and leagues, and in 1929 travelled Australia with the Federal Dairy Investigation Committee.

Rankin was secretary and elder of the Cororooke Presbyterian Church, a member of the Colac Caledonian Society and a Freemason. His enthusiasm for sport was lifelong: as a youth he had been first secretary of the Irrewillipe Athletic Club; later he was president of the Corangamite Football League and, after he retired at Colac, a jovial and popular president of the bowling club.

He died on 10 November 1936 (only weeks after Osborne) and was buried in Colac cemetery, survived by four sons and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Colac Reformer, 17 Nov 1914
  • Colac Herald, 15 Nov 1914, 11 Nov 1936
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12 Nov 1936
  • L. G. Lomas, The Western District Farmer 1914-27 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1980)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. Lomas, 'Rankin, John (1865–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 July, 1865
Quambatook, Victoria, Australia


10 November, 1936 (aged 71)

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