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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pennington, John Warburton (Jack) (1870–1945)

by Geoff Browne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Warburton (Jack) Pennington (1870-1945), storekeeper, grazier and politician, was born on 29 August 1870 at Navarre, near St Arnaud, Victoria, third son and sixth child of Daniel Pennington, hotelkeeper, and his wife Helen, née Creamer, both Lancashire born. John was educated at Queen's College, St Kilda, Melbourne, and returned to St Arnaud to take up a position with the general merchandising firm of James Bell & Co. At 21 he set up on his own account as a merchant at Bealiba. He later became part-owner with his brother Thomas of Holcombe Park, a wool-growing and grazing property at Paradise near St Arnaud. On 10 October 1894, at St Arnaud, he married Ellen Sara Tantau with Presbyterian forms. Pennington suffered the usual hazards of a country storekeeper: in 1924 he stated that soldier-settler indebtedness was threatening his business. Next year he turned the firm over to one of his sons and moved to Holcombe Park.

Pennington served on the Bet Bet Shire Council in 1900-07 (president, 1906-07), was a justice of the peace and a government land-valuer. In March 1913, standing as a supporter of the Watt government, he won a by-election for the Legislative Assembly seat of Kara Kara. In parliament Pennington was not a frequent or lengthy speaker. When he did speak, he reflected local concerns such as wheat-marketing, preservation of timber reserves and the establishment of secondary schools and community hospitals in country districts. Although he was a conscientious local member, Kara Kara was always a marginal seat. In 1917 the Victorian Farmers' Union candidate, J. J. Hall, led him by four votes, but Pennington held his seat on a recount. In 1926 his task was made harder when the electorate was expanded to become Kara Kara-Borung. He complained that it took him two days to traverse the new seat.

Genial and reliable, Pennington was well suited to his role as Nationalist whip in the Lawson government of 1918-23 and he tempered the often strained relations between the Nationalists and V.F.U. members. He served as assistant minister of agriculture with responsibility for fruit-marketing in 1920-21 and 1921-23. Victorian government representative at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, England, in 1924, he was appointed C.B.E. in 1926. Pennington was a member of the committee of public accounts in 1925-27. He held the portfolios of forests, agriculture, markets and immigration in the McPherson government of November 1928–December 1929 and was vice-president of the Board of Land and Works.

From May 1932 to March 1935 Pennington was minister of public instruction in the Argyle government. Retrenchment was the order of the day and Argyle was particularly keen to prune the education budget. Pennington presided over increases in high-school fees, the cutting of allowances for student teachers and the freezing of teachers' promotions. The Victorian Teachers' Union accused him of a 'lack of interest'. He would later say that having responsibility for education at a time of retrenchment was 'one of the regrets' of his political life. At the 1935 elections he was defeated by a Country Party candidate.

Tall, moustachioed and with a high forehead, Jack Pennington was a good raconteur 'with the happy knack of making friends in all parties'. Like most Victorian politicians of the period his talents were unexceptional. His contemporaries described his best qualities as loyalty, honesty, diligence and common sense. An active Anglican and Freemason, Pennington died at his Paradise home on 5 April 1945 and was buried in Bealiba cemetery. His wife, three sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, vol 1, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Victoria), 1944-45, p 2919
  • St Arnaud Mercury, 4 Dec 1935, 13 Apr 1945
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 July 1926
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 June 1932, 8 Mar 1935.

Citation details

Geoff Browne, 'Pennington, John Warburton (Jack) (1870–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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