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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Courtice, Benjamin (1885–1972)

by Elaine Brown

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

Benjamin Courtice (1885-1972), by C. J. Ross

Benjamin Courtice (1885-1972), by C. J. Ross

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24172750

Benjamin Courtice (1885-1972), farmer, sugar-industry leader and politician, was born on 28 March 1885 at Bundaberg, Queensland, sixth of twelve children of English immigrants Francis Courtice, labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hamilton. Francis's difficulties in finding employment during the 1890s depression left a deep impression on Ben. Educated at Bundaberg South State School, at the age of 12 he began work as a 'juice boy' in the laboratory of the Millaquin sugar refinery; he also cut cane on local farms and was active in the labour movement. With his elder brother Frederick, in 1905 he helped to form the Bundaberg and District Workers' Union; it later merged with the Australian Workers' Union.

Employed in Henry Axelsen's bakery at Maryborough, Courtice met William Demaine, whose daughter Bertha (d.1925) he married with Methodist forms on 31 August 1910 in her father's Maryborough home; they were to have four children. Handsome, well built and a fine athlete, Courtice had recently won a professional footrace at Bundaberg and with the £90 prize-money bought a sugar-farm, Hillside, which he developed in partnership with Fred. They subsequently moved to a property at Barolin Road; with a younger brother Sydney, Ben acquired another farm, Sunnyside. A founder of the United Cane Growers' Association, in 1926 Ben was elected to the Millaquin Mill Suppliers' Committee and to the Bundaberg District Cane Growers' Executive. In 1930 he became chairman of the executive and a member of the Queensland Cane Growers' Council; he was also a member (1933-37) of the Sugar Experiment Stations Advisory Board.

On 13 June 1936 Courtice married a 44-year-old nurse Elsie Dora Maud Joyner (d.1966) at St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane; they had met through his involvement with the Bundaberg Hospitals Board. In September 1937 the Queensland government selected him to fill a casual vacancy in the Senate; he was to be re-elected five times as an Australian Labor Party candidate. Throughout his parliamentary career he maintained his commitment to the sugar industry. He was Opposition whip (1937-41), a member of the Senate standing committee on regulations and ordinances (1937-38 and 1940-43), and chairman of committees (1943-46). Making it known that he wanted a man of undoubted honesty for the job, in late 1946 Prime Minister J. B. Chifley chose Courtice to be minister for trade and customs; he held the portfolio from 1 November 1946 until 19 December 1949. As a Labor representative, he visited London in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He retired on 30 June 1962, and thereafter lived in Brisbane and at Bundaberg.

Described as 'one of the original Labor men', 'a good unionist of the old school' and 'one of Labor's elder statesmen', Courtice was respected for his intelligence, integrity, courtesy and capacity for hard work. He kept himself well informed and had the ability to see all sides of an issue. Survived by the son and three daughters of his first marriage, he died on 7 January 1972 at Bundaberg; after a state funeral, he was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Kerr, Southern Sugar Saga (Bundaberg, Qld, 1983)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 22 Feb 1972, p 3
  • Australian Sugar Journal, Jan 1972
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 8, 12 Jan 1972
  • private information.

Citation details

Elaine Brown, 'Courtice, Benjamin (1885–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 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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