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Ernest Francis Edward Sunners (1884–1948)

by Dawn May

This article was published:

Ernest Francis Edward Sunners (1884-1948), chairman of the Queensland Meat Industry Board, was born on 8 December 1884 at East Bundaberg, Queensland, third of six children of Edward James Sunners, an engineer from New South Wales, and his English-born wife Mary Ann, née Shaw. Educated at state schools and at Brisbane Grammar School, Ernest was employed as an accountant in North Queensland. In 1913 he took up a post in the Townsville office of the Australian Meat Export Co. Ltd (later Swift Australian Co. Ltd). At St Andrew's Church of England, Lutwyche, Brisbane, on 1 December 1914 he married Mary Sutherland. He worked for some time in the offices of Swift & Co. at Chicago, Illinois, and St Paul, Minnesota, United States of America. Returning to Brisbane about 1925, he became treasurer, secretary and a director of Swift's Australian branch, and manager of its meatworks at Cannon Hill. He served (1927-28) as a member of a commission on the Queensland beef cattle industry which recommended the establishment of public abattoirs in Brisbane.

In 1931 the Queensland government bought Swift's Cannon Hill facilities and converted them to a public abattoir. That year Sunners was appointed founding chairman of the Queensland Meat Industry Board (set up to administer the meatworks and sale-yards) and general manager of the abattoir. He was to hold both posts until his death. Australian processors struggled to find a means of exporting chilled (as distinct from frozen) meat to European markets. During the early 1930s the Q.M.I.B. co-operated with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in its experiments on the preparation and storage of chilled beef. In 1934, in conjunction with the C.S.I.R., Sunners helped to organize the first shipment of chilled beef from Brisbane in the Idomeneus.

A founding member (1936-46) of the Australian Meat Board, Sunners assisted in regulating the flow of meat to overseas markets and in exercising control over the vessels in which it was shipped. He sat on the A.M.B.'s executive-committee, beef committee and wartime meat supplies technical committee, and on the chilled beef shipping sub-committee. Deputy-controller of meat supplies in Queensland (1943-46), he also served on Commonwealth and State meat canning committees. H. H. Collins, Queensland's secretary for agriculture and stock, described him as 'one of the most competent authorities in Australia on the meat industry' and praised him for carrying out the Meat Board's operation 'with distinction'.

In 1945 Sunners chaired a royal commission which inquired into the construction of public abattoirs in towns outside Brisbane. At the University of Queensland, he served on the boards of the faculties of veterinary science (1936-47) and commerce (1937-47), and on the appointments board (1937-45). He enjoyed playing golf and belonged to the Royal Queensland Golf Club. Survived by his wife, and their son and daughter, he died of a coronary occlusion on 26 May 1948 at Woolloongabba and was cremated. The government accepted the recommendation of his commission and amended legislation in 1949 to allow for the establishment of public abattoirs at regional centres, using Cannon Hill as a model.

Select Bibliography

  • Queensland and Queenslanders (Brisb, 1936)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1948-49, p 2084
  • Brisbane Courier, 27 May 1948.

Citation details

Dawn May, 'Sunners, Ernest Francis Edward (1884–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 23 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 December, 1884
Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia


26 May, 1948 (aged 63)
Woolloongabba, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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