Aphorisms of death come in spades. One that sticks when remembering UQ alumnus, donor and former deputy prime minister the Right Honourable Doug Anthony AC CH is that we only truly die when we are forgotten.
The former Country/National Party leader and Primary Industry Minister passed away in December last year in Murwillumbah, in his former federal electorate of Richmond on the NSW Far North Coast.
As one of Australia’s political giants of the 20th century – and if the hundreds of mourners at his state funeral in January are anything to go by – his legacy will live on for years to come.
Mr Anthony grew up in Murwillumbah, a regional town in far north-eastern New South Wales. In 1948, he graduated from UQ’s Gatton College with a Queensland Diploma in Agriculture, after which he returned to Murwillumbah to take up dairy farming.
While Mr Anthony went on to be Australia’s longest-serving deputy prime minister, he only entered politics in 1957 after the sudden death of his father, Larry Anthony Sr., who had served as a minister under both the Fadden and Menzies governments.
Doug Anthony in 1958, a year after entering politics. Image: National Archives of Australia
Mr Anthony Sr. had also entered politics after other careers. After leaving home at 14, Larry enlisted in the military at 17 and served in active duty in Gallipoli. He returned home in 1916 and started a new life as a banana farmer in Murwillumbah, where he became the most successful banana grower in Australia and chairman of the Banana Growers Federation, establishing him as an influential political figure in the region. He won the seat of Richmond for the Country Party (now National Party) in 1937 and held it until his death 20 years later.
After Mr Anthony Sr.’s death triggered a by-election, Mr Anthony won his father’s seat, beginning a 27-year career in politics as one of the Country/National Party heavyweights – serving as the party’s youngest ever leader for 12 years and deputy prime minister for almost 10.
In the same year he won the by-election, he married his wife of Margot, with whom he had three children. They would have been married for 64 years one month after he died.
Politically, Mr Anthony is remembered for his staunch representation of rural and regional interests.
Doug Anthony (right) with Liberal Party politicians Billy Snedden (left) and Jim Forbes (centre) in 1963. Image: National Library of Australia
When Britain joined the Common Market in the 1970s, he openly condemned the Commonwealth for abandoning Australian rural exports. With the UK’s admission to the European Union, the ‘special’ trade relationship with the UK – which was founded on the original Imperial Preference for products with Commonwealth countries – ended abruptly, and Australian exports were instead met with tariffs and quotas.
In a statement, current National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, credited Mr Anthony as the then-Trade Minister with expanding trade with China and Japan, as well as fostering new trade opportunities in South East Asia and the Middle East.
Other key achievements include his introduction of wheat quotas and a wool reserve price scheme, reconstruction of the dairy industry, the Australian Wool Commission, and the upgrading of Australian export abattoirs to US standards to maintain the beef trade.
He was also known for refusing to run from a political fight.
Mr Anthony and his National Country Party colleagues Peter Nixon and Ian Sinclair formed what was colloquially referred to as the ‘Troika’, renowned for their unyielding front against Liberal policies they believed went against rural and regional interests.
It was a front first tested in the early 1970s, when then-prime minister Billy McMahon was pressing for revaluation of the Australian currency. The Troika – believing the move would hurt rural exports – stormed out of cabinet three times and considered leaving the Coalition until the suggestion was dropped.
Doug Anthony (second from left) during the opening of Ranger Uranium Mine in 1979 at Kakadu National Park. Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Gumatj leader of the Yolngu people, is speaking. Image: PictureNT
He also supported Malcolm Fraser in his federal election win in 1975, resulting in a landslide victory.
He retired from politics in 1984 to spend time with his wife, Margot, on the family farm.
Serving under six prime ministers, his time in Australian politics earned him the title of Father of the House of Representatives – an unofficial title referring to the longest continuously serving member.
His son, Larry, was elected to the seat of Richmond in 1996 until his defeat in the 2004 election, forming the only three-generation dynasty in the House of Representatives.
Doug Anthony and his wife, Margot, at their farm.
Doug Anthony and his wife, Margot, at their farm.
Beyond his political career, Mr Anthony will be remembered for his character and his generosity in supporting the next generation of farmers.
At his state funeral in January, former prime minister John Howard remembered Mr Anthony for his “strength and decency”. His son, Larry, recognised his father’s “enormous capacity, enthusiasm, energy and wisdom”.
He was also famously (and in a quintessentially Australian manner) known for running the country at Christmas as acting prime minister from a caravan on the East coast, as well as being the namesake of popular musical comedy group the Doug Anthony All Stars.
At UQ, he will also be remembered for his and Margot’s 2018 gift to establish the Rt Hon Doug Anthony AC, CH, FTSE Scholarship for UQ Skills, which supports Gatton-based students undertaking innovative, applied, rural-educational programs and courses through UQ Skills.
His wife, Margot, said the gift was inspired by Mr Anthony’s own experiences at UQ’s Gatton campus, as well as his passion for farming.
“The freedom and the practical skills of learning to be a farmer were intoxicating to Doug,” Margot said.
“He believes the foundations for life that he gained at Gatton are immense – particularly from the combination of practical skills and theoretical knowledge.”
“Doug very much wants to encourage the breadth and quality of skills and research coming out of UQ Gatton.”
“In donating, Doug’s hopes are that agriculture will survive and prosper in a fraught global environment, where Australia must compete with countries that continue to subsidise their agricultural production.”