Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen

Despotic premier of Queensland

Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a conservative maverick who ruled the Australian state of Queensland with an iron fist for 19 years. He left a legacy of bitterness and division, reflected in the mixed tributes that greeted his death. He had a profound influence on national politics, as well as dominating the stage in his home state for two decades.

Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, politician: born Dannevirke, New Zealand 13 January 1911; Member of the Legislative Assembly (National Party) for Nanango 1947-50, for Barambah 1950-87; Minister for Works and Housing, Queensland 1963-68, Premier 1968-87; KCMG 1984; married 1952 Florence Gilmour (one son, three daughters); died Kingaroy, Queensland 23 April 2005.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen was a conservative maverick who ruled the Australian state of Queensland with an iron fist for 19 years. He left a legacy of bitterness and division, reflected in the mixed tributes that greeted his death. He had a profound influence on national politics, as well as dominating the stage in his home state for two decades.

He helped topple the reformist Labour Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 and made an abortive run for high office in 1987, splitting the conservative vote and depriving the current Prime Minister, John Howard, of power. But it was on Queensland that the former peanut farmer stamped an indelible mark, transforming it from a tropical backwater into an economic powerhouse. He also enforced a law-and-order regime so rigid that the state became known as Australia's Deep North.

His reign - the longest of any Australian state premier - ended in ignominy in 1987, when he was forced to resign after an inquiry exposed rampant corruption among his ministers and in the police force. Four years later, he was tried for perjury as a result of evidence he gave to the inquiry, but the jury was hung and he escaped a retrial because of his age and declining health. For Bjelke- Petersen, there was no middle way. "If you're not with me, you're agin' me," he once said. Howard memorably said of him: "He doesn't have a vision for Australia; he has a power lust."

The son of two Danes who emigrated to the southern hemisphere, Johannes Bjelke-Petersen was born in New Zealand in 1911. His father was a teacher and Lutheran pastor. The family moved to Queensland when he was two, settling in Kingaroy, about 150 miles north-west of Brisbane, and establishing a farm on a property they called Bethany. It was a hard life; as a seven-year-old, Joh rose before dawn to help milk his parents' dairy herd, then walked four miles to school. He left school at 13, living a modest existence on the farm for the next 15 years.

The farm boy from an impoverished background became a pilot and earned a good income by seeding, spraying and land-clearing. He entered state parliament in 1947 and five years later married Florence Gilmour, the woman with whom - at the age of nearly 40 - he had his first date. "Lady Flo" - as she would be called after he was knighted in 1984 - was also absorbed by politics, and was in the Queensland senate for 12 years.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen became premier in 1968, beginning a reign that was as colourful as it was controversial. Idiosyncratic and despotic, Bjelke-Petersen was determined to turn Brisbane from a country town into a modern metropolis that would attract investment and tourists. He brought the Commonwealth Games to the state capital in 1982, followed by Expo '88. Waves of migrants from elsewhere in Australia settled in the state's rapidly developing beachside communities.

But the government spent little on social policies, and Bjelke-Petersen sparked outrage among progressive Australians by handing repressive powers to the police. He also cared little for the state's natural assets, pushing a highway through rainforest and bulldozing historic buildings. He proposed drilling for oil in the Great Barrier Reef.

A teetotaller, non-smoker and devout Lutheran who hated gambling, Bjelke-Petersen ran for national parliament in 1987 but gained little support outside Queensland. Later that year, the Fitzgerald Inquiry began hearing evidence of political and police corruption in the state. Forced to step down, Bjelke-Petersen withdrew to the family farm. Despite his spectacular fall from grace, he remained a well-loved figure in some quarters. As recently as 2001, he was voted the most popular Queenslander of all time.

Kathy Marks



PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker