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Charles Wilfred Russell (1907–1977)

by Elaine Brown

This article was published:

Charles Wilfred Russell (1907-1977), grazier and politician, was born on 24 April 1907 at Willambi, Manilla, New South Wales, fourth of five children and only surviving son of Australian-born parents Wilfred Adams Russell, grazier, and his wife Millicent, daughter of Charles Baldwin. In 1910 the family moved to Dalmally station, near Roma, Queensland. Thirteen years later Wilfred bought the Darling Downs property Jimbour with its large house that had been built by Sir Joshua Bell. Educated at Cranbrook School, Sydney, Charles jackerooed on his father's sheep stations in western Queensland before becoming manager of Nardoo station, Cunnamulla, in 1930.

After his father's death in 1932, Russell managed the family's pastoral properties. His practical knowledge made him a confident, if controversial, spokesman for the wool industry. Gaining political experience as a Wambo shire councillor (1933-41), he pushed for the construction of all-weather roads. In 1937 he joined the board of Sturmfels Primary Producers' Co-operative Association Ltd; in 1940 he helped to arrange its merger with Queensland Primary Producers' Co-operative Association Ltd. He was to remain a 'Primaries' board-member until 1975.

A man who enjoyed travelling, Russell had made in 1934 the first of many trips abroad. He learned to fly and returned from the United States of America in 1938 with his first aeroplane, a Beechcraft F17D. On 10 February 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as an airman pilot. Commissioned flight lieutenant in May, he served as an instructor at training schools in Queensland, Tasmania and New South Wales before being transferred to the R.A.A.F. Reserve on 28 February 1944. At St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane, on 27 July that year he married Hilary Maude, a 22-year-old mothercraft nurse and daughter of Frank Newton.

Russell had been a founder and guarantor of the Queensland Country Party in 1936. He stood unsuccessfully for the Legislative Assembly seats of Warrego (1938) and Dalby (1944). Assisted by his father's reputation—Wilfred had represented Dalby in 1926-32—and a campaign ably organized by (Sir) James Killen, Russell won Dalby in 1947. In parliament he spoke on the concerns which were to occupy him for the rest of his life: transport, land settlement, decentralization and rural industries. Although he found the atmosphere 'friendly', he was frustrated in Opposition and contested the House of Representatives seat of Maranoa at the 1949 election, winning it handsomely.

Idealistic about the Country Party's platform, Russell quickly grew critical of the party's inability to put its election promises into practice. On 7 October 1950 he resigned from the parliamentary party over the government's unwillingness to raise the exchange rate and its decision to impose a wool tax. Ostracized by the Liberal-Country Party coalition government led by (Sir) Robert Menzies and (Sir) Arthur Fadden, he sat on the cross-benches for the rest of his term and saw himself as the lone voice espousing correct policies. In the 1951 election he stood for Maranoa as an Independent, but was defeated. The Country Party expelled him shortly after the election, and his subsequent application to join the Liberal Party was turned down. He campaigned strongly, though unsuccessfully, for the Senate in 1953, for Maranoa in 1954 and 1955, and for the Legislative Assembly seat of Condamine in 1972, publishing his views in newspaper columns, on radio and finally on television.

Russell was a director of the Queensland National Pastoral Co. Ltd (1946-50), the Coca-Cola Export Corporation (1946-72) and Napier Bros Ltd (1953-62). He was also chairman (1951-77) of Barnes Milling Ltd, the company which built a new flour-mill at Dalby in 1958. A progressive farmer, he developed at Jimbour an irrigation system, a model dairy and piggery, and a feedlot. His wealth and connexions gave him the means to shrug off censure and maintain his firmly held beliefs. He criticized the Country Party trenchantly and was unafraid to challenge government policies. In 1965 he lost an appeal to the High Court of Australia against the validity of the Federal wool tax, but in 1977 he succeeded in having the Queensland government's stock assessment levy declared invalid.

Fiercely anti-socialist and intensely loyal to the British Empire, Russell stood on the extreme right of conservative politics. He united with other men who were disaffected with the major political parties, among them Sir Raphael Cilento, George Griffiths and the economist Colin Clark. During the 1950s he had helped to form the short-lived Australian Democratic Union and the Australian Democratic Party. In the 1960s he was a leader of the Basic Industries Group and a member of the Federal Inland Development Organization. He kept in contact with various fronts of Eric Butler's Australian League of Rights, but did not join the league because he disagreed with its Social Credit theories. In the 1970s he joined the right-wing Workers Party and the Progress Party.

With his wife, Russell was involved in the social and cultural life of the Dalby district. The restored Jimbour House, classified by the National Trust of Queensland, became a popular venue for fund-raising entertainment. Charles and Hilary expressed their love of their home in Jimbour: Its History and Development (1955). Flying remained an important part of his life, and in 1975 he flew a Beechcraft Baron home from the U.S.A., via Europe, the Middle East and Singapore. He belonged to the Queensland and United Service clubs, Brisbane, and Royal Sydney Golf Club. His autobiography, Country Crisis (1976), set out his opinions on economics, detailed his political associations, and showed his concern for the decrease in rural population and the erosion of rural prosperity.

Russell collapsed on 20 October 1977 while speaking at a meeting of the Maranoa branch of the Progress Party. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage on the following day in Dalby hospital and was cremated. His wife, and their daughter and four sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 24 Oct 1977
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Oct 1977
  • Queensland Country Life, 27 Oct 1977
  • Russell papers (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

Elaine Brown, 'Russell, Charles Wilfred (1907–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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