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Sir Walter Beresford James Gordon Sparkes (1889–1974)

by Kieran McConville and Simon Paton

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Sir Walter Beresford James Gordon Sparkes (1889-1974), cattle breeder and politician, was born on 26 April 1889 at Murrumbidgerie, near Dubbo, New South Wales, youngest of ten children of native-born parents James Sparkes, station-manager, and his wife Mary Jane, née Yates. Educated at St Joseph's College, Sydney, young James worked on stations in the north-west of the State before buying a property near Jandowae, Queensland, in 1910. Within two years he had established the Lyndley Hereford stud. On 28 February 1912 at Scots Church, Melbourne, he married Jessie Elizabeth Lang. They had a daughter and a son, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1917. On 16 April 1919 Sparkes married Kathleen ‘Kitty’ Yeomans at Holy Trinity Church, Grenfell, New South Wales. Kitty died just three months later, and on 15 December 1920 he married Alice Goongarry Scott at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Brisbane.

Conscious of the importance of registering pedigree stock, Sparkes had been a founding member of the Australian Hereford Society in 1918. He was to be a councillor of the A.H.S. for forty-six years, and its vice-president (1923-24 and 1970-73) and patron (1974). Following the example of other Queensland breeders, among them William Beak, he began to import poll Herefords from the United States of America in 1932. An inaugural member (1933) of the Australian Poll Hereford Society, he served on its council and became its patron.

Sparkes sat on the council (1949-74) of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland; he was a trustee (from 1957) and chairman (1953-73) of its beef-cattle committee. For many years he exhibited and judged cattle at shows in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Taking a practical approach to cattle-breeding, he held that 'length is weight . . . the butcher wants meat and the grazier wants money'. He was also a board-member (1952-69) of the Queensland Primary Producers' Co-operative Association Ltd.

In 1916 Sparkes had been elected to the Wambo Shire Council. As well as being its chairman (1922-50), he was president (1930-32) of the Local Government Association of Queensland. Representing the Country and Progressive National Party, he won the Legislative Assembly seat of Dalby in 1932, but did not seek re-election in 1935 or 1938. He won Aubigny for the Country Party in 1941 and held that seat for nineteen years, during which he was Opposition whip (1950-57). In the 1960 election he was defeated by the Queensland Labor Party candidate.

By the 1960s Lyndley was one of the oldest and largest Hereford studs in Australia. Sparkes was knighted in 1970. Tennis was his major recreation. He died on 15 June 1974 at St Vincent's Hospital, Toowoomba, and was cremated with Anglican rites; his wife and their three sons survived him, as did the daughter of his first marriage. Premier (Sir) Johannes Bjelke-Petersen told members of parliament that Sparkes 'spoke almost daily in this Chamber on behalf of the working man and the man on the land. He always fought their case, and fought it hard'. Sir Gordon Chalk, leader of the Queensland Liberal Party, said that Sir James never lost 'the spirit of the bush'. Sparkes's son, (Sir) Robert, presided (1970-90) over the Queensland branch of the Country (National) Party.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1975, p 15
  • Chronicle (Toowoomba), 17 June 1974
  • Australian Hereford Society Ltd archives, Brisbane.

Citation details

Kieran McConville and Simon Paton, 'Sparkes, Sir Walter Beresford James Gordon (1889–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 April, 1889
Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia


15 June, 1974 (aged 85)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

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