The rise and fall of Sir Joh

Image: J. Bjelke-Petersen plane to spray grubs in linseed on "Antrim" at Norwin 1957 Source: M. Ferguson

Image: J. Bjelke-Petersen plane to spray grubs in linseed on “Antrim” at Norwin 1957
Source: M. Ferguson

You know that feeling you get when you’re flicking through old photograph albums and something in an old photo captures your eye that sets off a spark of excitement deep in your gut? No? Well that’s me this week. I’m hip deep in digitising old photos again and I came across this image of a crop duster out in the Norwin district. Now I’m not exactly a huge follower of politics but seeing the name J & A Bjelke-Petersen on the side of the plane I thought to myself “surely not!”, and so the hunt for this week’s conservative story begins.

The Bjelke-Petersen family moved to Australia in 1913, and established a farm near Kingaroy. By 1933, Sir Joh had begun to clear the family’s second farm for peanuts (growing them that is, not $0). By the time he was 30 he had obtained a pilot’s license, bought his own plane and later started an aerial spraying business.

Image: Refuelling on "Autrin" 1957 Source: M. Ferguson

Image: Refuelling on “Autrim” 1957
Source: M. Ferguson

“They always say wives spend all their husband’s money, but Joh went into aerial spraying planes. He’d made some money out of his bulldozers actually over the years. He’s a very hard worker, but we went into aerial spraying planes and in the eleven years we had the planes we had sixteen crashes. So if you have any money, I assure you, that you don’t go in for aerial spraying planes, especially if they crash the way they did and so I was never so grateful than when he finally decided that he would get out of it. His sister once said to him, ‘Joh, for goodness sake, put your planes in the hanger and leave them there. We’ll be better off if you do that’, but it … you know, that was just the way it worked out. Some people run aerial spraying businesses and do very well indeed, but you see the point is, a lot of people fly themselves in their business, whereas with Joh, he was Minister and Member of Parliament, and he had to employ people to do that work so that was just the difference…” – Flo Bjelke-Petersen

Image: Plane crashed while spraying grubs 1957 Source: M. Ferguson

Image: Plane crashed while spraying grubs 1957
Source: M. Ferguson

Image: Crash path 1957 Source: M. Ferguson

Image: Crash path 1957
Source: M. Ferguson

Sir Joh had was elected in 1946 to the Kingaroy Shire Council, which was where he developed his profile in the Country Party, so it would be highly unlikely that it was him flying the plane at the time of the crash. But hey it makes for a good story anyway.

See you all next week.

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