Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Death of David Wright

As my mother grew older, she used to say "it's getting very draughty, dear." By this she simply meant the number of people she knew who had died. I have a strong fellow feeling for her.

In an earlier post I reported the death of Alex Buzo. Now I have to report the death of David Wright at the age of 73. I did not know David so well. For reasons I will explain in a moment, there was a strong family connection. But David was much older than me and we mainly met at meetings, functions or at the airport. Often at the airport, because he was always travelling and so was I.

Judith Wright, David's sister, described the early days of the Wyndham and Wright families in Generations of Men. I spoke of the part played by George Wyndham in establishing the Australian wine industry in my posts on wine in the Hunter and on the New England Tablelands.

The Wrights were one of the pastoral dynasties that played a major role in New England history. Unlike Victoria where, I think, the pastoral dynasties were simply absorbed into the Melbourne establishment, New England families like the Wrights saw their public role in local and regional terms.

David's dad, Philip (PA) Wright, was born on 20 July 1889. As he grew older and took over control of Wallamumbi he extended the pastoral interests established by his mother Charlotte May. But his focus extended well beyond the properties, playing an active role in the evolution of the vision of a broader New England. Among other things, PA:


  • played the key role in the establishment of the New England National Park, I think the second National Park in NSW
  • played a major role in the establishment of wool selling at Newcastle in the face of determined opposition from the Sydney wool brokers
  • played an active role from the twenties in the New England New State Movement
  • actively supported Don Shand in the establishment of East-West Airlines.
  • was a major benefactor to the University of New England from its establishment as a College of Sydney University in 1938 and was a member of the College's advisory committee and then of Council, succeeding Earle Page as Chancellor in 1960. Wright College was named after him.

My grandfather David Drummond came to Armidale as a farm labourer in 1907. He and PA became friends after Fah entered State Parliament in 1920. They shared a common vision for New England including separation and each helped the other. As I remember it, and I cannot easily check this following the death of my aunts, David Wright was in fact named after my grandfather who was also his god-father.

It is no easy task growing up in a well-known family, seeking to carve out your own position. David had a passion for the development of the beef industry, a belief in the importance of the underpinning role of science, a passion he shared with other Wright family members. He built up the V2V herd and brand, looking for new ways of selling including objective measurement.

According to Professor Bernie Bindon, David was one of the pioneers of the scientific research which underpins today's beef industry.

"I can't think of a beef industry person who's made a bigger contribution to not only the growth of the beef industry but the science that underpins the beef business," Professor Bindon said.

David also pursued broader business interests , but with much less success. Finally, and after a long-running and bitter legal battle with the banks, his cattle empire was dismantled with debts of $50 million. The blow was enormous.

Foreglen, the property that my grandfather had finally purchased in pursuit of his own dream of a place of his own but then had to sell because he could not manage it and his parliamentary career, had later become one of David's properties, was the home of David's son and was lost with the rest.

In 2002, the ABC Dynasties TV program looked at the Wright family story including the loss of Wallamumbi.

David soldiered on, maintaining his local involvements. The last time I saw him, quite recently and by accident, was on television attending an Armidale dinner. Our thoughts are with the family.

5 comments:

Neil said...

I am a great fan of Judith Wright's poetry. Now here is an anecdote for you. My mother spent part of her childhood at Braefield near Quirindi, where my grandfather was teaching. She used to submit pieces to the children's page of the Sydney Mail, and I have one mouldering copy which features my mother, and a poem by one Judith Wright (aged 12)!

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, that's absolutely fascinating and at two levels.

Your mum and grandad first. I am always looking for material, anecdotes etc, that can be used to illustrate or illuminate historical themes.Where did your grandad teach? Where was he from? How did he go into teaching?

Now Judith and your mum. Is there any way that you can scan the poems? I thnk that this must be the oldest JW poem. The earliest I have found, not that I can access it at the moment with so much in storage, is a JW poem published in the fourties in a New England University College student publication. Because I have not looked at the material for many years, not since we came to Sydney in 96, I cannot remember the details of the poem.

As an aside, do you know if anyone is writing a biography of her? She may be in danger of being forgotten. I asked my eldest daughter (18 just turning 19) if she knew who Judith Wright was. She said the name was familiar!

Neil said...

About that poem: I wrote to Judith Wright about this during the 1960s, and she acknowledged how helpful the Sydney Mail children's page had been to her, but also said the mature poet often found her juvenilia (the poem is all about fairies) embarrassing. I don't have a scanner, but I will see what I can do; I can probably get it scanned at Sydney High. I corresponded with Judith Wright several times over the years; she was also a regular reader of the poetry magazine I once edited. Second, Judith Wright (1915-2000) leads you to more information on her, including a reference to South of my days: a biography of Judith Wright by Veronica Brady (1998)which I am told is excellent, though I have not read it. Finally, my grandfather, Roy Christison, was at Braefield School in the 1920s, having previously been at Spencer on the Hawkesbury River, where my mother was born. From Braefield he went to Milton, then Shellharbour (where my mother and father met), then during World War II Caringbah, whence he retired. On my blog you will find under "My Sites" on the right a family history labelled "My Ancestry".

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, thank you for this. Almost too much to absorb, at least in one hit. You have obviously had a fascinating life. One of the beauties of blogging for those who want to share is that it allows just that, sharing.

I had not seen the lead on JW that you referred to, nor had I read Brady's book. I have put it on my list.

Juvenilia is an issue,I don't attempt to write poetry any more because some of my earlier efforts were just so cringe making,but it would still be interesting to see. Rather than scanning, would a simple photo copy work?

I will check out your family material. In writing a biography of my grandfather (D H Drummond) I had to do a fair bit on NSW Ed because he was a minister for such a long period including a fairly large slab of your grandad's life.

Did you get any feedback on his teaching experiences?

Jessica said...

Hi Jim,

I am researching the history of Mr Wright's time at the 'Forglen' property in relation to current court proceedings. I wondered if it is possible to contact you to ask you questions on this point?

Please let me know if I can email you directly and on what address.Thank you.
Jessica