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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bowmaker, Alfred Ernest (1895–1968)

by F. J. Ross

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Alfred Ernest Bowmaker (1895-1968), soldier and rice farmer, was born on 11 September 1895 at Glebe, Sydney, third son of native-born parents William Henry Bowmaker, fruiterer, and his wife Frances Jane, née Upton. Educated at Leichhardt Public School, Alf served in the cadets for four years and worked as a drapery salesman. Having been a staff sergeant-major (1915-16) in the Permanent Military Forces, on 15 February 1917 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He was posted in December as a sergeant to the 33rd Infantry Battalion on the Western Front. In April 1918 he was badly gassed; after months in hospital in France and England, he was discharged in Sydney on 23 March 1919.

Briefly employed in the public service, in 1921 Bowmaker took up a block near Leeton under the Returned Soldiers Settlement Act (1916). With his father's help, he built a house mainly from bush timber and cleared his block. On 15 February 1922 he married Irene Clara Goldie at the Methodist Church, Haberfield, Sydney. She arrived at the farm in the middle of a heatwave and cooked their first meals in a kerosene tin. Bowmaker's block, like much of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and most Australian closer settlement schemes, was too small to be viable. He supplemented his disability pension from the Department of Repatriation by working on the roads. When farm sizes were increased in the late 1920s, Bowmaker joined others in successful experiments with rice-farming. A founder in 1930 of the Ricegrowers' Association of Australia (president 1931 and 1952-64), he was also a member (1931-43) of the Rice Marketing Board.

The physical strain of the pioneering years affected his health; in 1936 he moved into Leeton and employed a share-farmer. Bowmaker became prominent in many community organizations, including the soldiers' and music clubs, the parent's and citizens' association, the Methodist Church and the Far West Children's Health Scheme. In 1940-45 he was captain and company commander of the Leeton unit of the Volunteer Defence Corps. As the rice industry rapidly expanded in the late 1940s, Bowmaker's involvement increased. With the assistance of others, he established the Ricegrowers' Co-operative Mills Ltd at Leeton in 1950, despite opposition in Sydney to 'Hill Billy farmers tampering with high finance'. The mill prospered from the outset, marketing its product as 'Sun White Rice' and initiating exports as the industry boomed in the 1950s and 1960s. Bowmaker remained a prominent figure and served on several government committees involved with the industry. In 1965 he was appointed M.B.E.

Lean and of middle height, with fair hair, grey eyes and spectacles, Bowmaker was a devout Methodist who often attended church twice on Sundays to fulfil his lay responsibilities. He dressed modestly. Capable of displaying both austerity and kindness, he had a reputation for humour in his public speeches and possessed a fine singing voice. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died suddenly on 5 September 1968 near Leeton and was buried in the local cemetery. His book, A Brief History of Leeton, was published posthumously that year.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Maguire, Living Memories (priv pub, Leeton, NSW, 1984)
  • Ricemill News, 6, no 1, Sept 1968
  • Murrumbidgee Irrigator, 11 Jan 1966
  • G. Bickford, funeral oration, Methodist Church, Leeton (1968, typescript, held by the family).

Citation details

F. J. Ross, 'Bowmaker, Alfred Ernest (1895–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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