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Collins, Harold Henry (1887–1962)

by G. C. Bolton

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Harold Henry Collins (1887-1962), farmer and politician, was born on 9 August 1887 at Alexandra, Victoria, fourth child of native-born parents George William Collins, farmer, and his wife Mary Anne Sophia, née Coster. Harold was educated at Kings College, Clifton Hill, Melbourne. Having travelled in New South Wales and New Zealand, he arrived in Queensland in 1909 on horseback with all his belongings in a swag. He took various jobs, serving as overseer and book-keeper for the Queensland Federal Shearing Co. and as manager of a sheep station in the Hughenden district, before settling in 1913 as a dairy-farmer and maize-grower on the recently opened Atherton tableland. There, at Rowan Lodge, on 16 February 1915 Collins married with Presbyterian forms Barbara Catherine Annie McCraw (d.1958); they were to remain childless.

He rose through the usual rural cursus honorum. Elected to the Tinaroo Shire Council in 1916, he was president (1922-25) of the Atherton Agricultural Show Society, a member (from 1923) of the maize marketing board, president (1928-29) of the Atherton Hospital Board and a member (1932-35) of the Cairns Harbour Board. With this record Collins was just the sort of successful local identity whom the Forgan Smith government hoped to recruit as a parliamentary candidate. Endorsed by the Australian Labor Party, on 11 May 1935 he won the seat of Cook in the Queensland Legislative Assembly; following a redistribution in 1950, he held Tablelands until 1957. His speeches—thoughtful, well prepared and prolix—were mostly based on his farming experience. He was an advocate of co-operative societies and orderly marketing. Appointed secretary for agriculture and stock in 1946, he held the portfolio for what was then a record period of eleven years. Collins presided over the postwar expansion of Queensland's agriculture soundly, and on the whole efficiently, despite one or two failures—such as the British-funded Peak Downs project for raising sorghum and pigs, and the establishment of irrigated tobacco-growing at Clare, on the Lower Burdekin.

During his term of office the Department of Agriculture oversaw a largely successful soldier-settlement scheme, fostered increased grain production (especially of sorghum) and encouraged the bulk handling of sugar for export during a period of great expansion. His own constituency saw the construction of Queensland's second largest reservoir at Tinaroo in the mid-1950s, which brought temporary benefit to local tobacco-growers. A successful fighter in cabinet for departmental funding, Collins was a gentlemanly and popular member of parliament; described as 'a placid unruffled debater', he spoke slowly, 'in weighty, measured tones with a somewhat precise and pedantic manner'.

The even tenor of his career was eventually destroyed by the Labor 'split' of 1957. Like all but one of his cabinet colleagues, Collins sided with V. C. Gair in forming the Queensland Labor Party, and lost his seat in the election that year. He died on 12 July 1962 in Brisbane; after a state funeral, he was buried with Anglican rites in Hemmant cemetery. Tall and strapping when young, in his later life photographs show him as bald, bespectacled and burly, virtually a clone of half the Queensland cabinet ministers of that period.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (compiler), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • Queensland Agricultural Journal, Apr 1946
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 July 1962.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Collins, Harold Henry (1887–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-harold-henry-9793/text17309, accessed 24 September 2017.

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