Australian Biography: Flo Bjelke-Peterson
Flo Bjelke-Peterson (1920–2017) was a National Party Senator for Queensland, and was also well known as the wife of former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
She was Deputy Leader of the National Party in the Senate from 1985 to 1990, before finally retiring from politics in 1993.
She was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1994.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: March 8, 1994
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Was there anything about the circumstances into which you were born, that would have led anybody to predict the extraordinary life you had later on as wife of Premier and as a Senator in your own right, for Queensland?
I doubt it very much indeed, because I grew up in a home in New Farm, with a loving mother and father and a sister and well, we probably weren't even involved in politics very much. Dad knew that he was Conservative and I suppose I knew eventually that I was a Conservative, but I never really had any active involvement in politics until I married Joh. And of course, I was over thirty when I married Joh, so I suppose for the first thirty years I didn't really get involved in the political scene, but certainly I knew about politics because I ended up by working for the Commissioner for Main Roads and he used to have visits to the Minister for Main Roads. He used to go once a week. I must say, he always seemed to me to be very glad when his interview with the Minister was over, but you know, that was just really the involvement that I had. And I used to read the papers fairly well so that was that. But, really from when I was a little girl I would have been absolutely amazed if you'd have told me that I would one day be married to the Premier of Queensland and become a Senator in my own right.
And in this suburb ... Brisbane suburb of New Farm, what did your Father do? Where did he work?
My Father was an accountant and he worked for a firm called William Collin and Son, that had their office down at the, suppose, Valley end of Adelaide Street, and he was a man who used to walk home at lunchtime, to New Farm. New Farm suburb is very close, of course, to the Valley and the city. He used to walk home at lunchtime and back again and walk home in the evening. I must say, good exercise. No wonder he lived until he was eighty five. And actually in the afternoon my sister and I would walk up to meet him as he was walking home and he loved to have us come and you know, meet him and then we would walk holding dad's hand. That's one of the memories I have of those very early days.
And what was your mother like?
Oh mum, she was a lovely mother and I guess I suppose, some of the way that I looked after my family I guess came from advise that mum gave me in those early days. But things weren't always very easy you know, during those early years, because in our growing up years we were in that first Depression that was there and my father's eyesight had failed and he left his work, and you just find it rather difficult to manage. He had shares and he had, you know, some private income. He never got the pension or anything like that. We just had to manage on what we had. These days, of course, I sometimes think that, you know, if you haven't got much income coming in you can always get a bit of Social Welfare help, but in those days, you had to manage yourself, and so of course, things perhaps, weren't very easy for us during some of those times.
So how old were you when he had to retire from work?
I would have been about fourteen, or thirteen I suppose - something like that. So you see, it wasn't just too easy.
It must have been a big blow to the family to have their bread winner lose his eyesight?
Well that's right. It certainly was. But I think he might have brought it on himself. He read the history of the French Revolution, and I think that that might have made his eyesight suffer. (laughs)
So he was a man who was interested in ideas?
Oh yes, yes. He was a very, very well educated man, and he had a good job and he met my mother actually. She was there as a secretary and she married him while she was working there, at William Collin and Son's office. So you might say that she met her husband in the office and I met my husband in the office of the Main Roads Commissioner, many years later.
Now in those days it was quite common to think that the education of girls wasn't that important. Was that the case in your house?
No it wasn't really because my mother and father made a very great sacrifice as far as I was concerned, to send me to the Girls' Grammar School, because they felt that that would help my education and, of course, things didn't improve financially and by the time I'd done two years at the Grammar School I could see it was quite a tight squeeze to keep paying the fees, not that they would be anything like they are these days of course, but nevertheless, relatively speaking it would have been difficult. And so, I said to mum, 'Oh look mum,' I said, 'I think I better get a job,' and she looked at me and said, 'Florence, where do you think you're going to get a job? You're not trained for anything'. 'Oh,' I said, 'I think I could be a clerk in an office, perhaps one of dad's friends might be able to get me work'. She said, 'No', she said, 'We'll just manage while you go to the Commercial High School,' and they had a special course at the Commercial High School. PSSC they called it: Public Service Special Course it was, and so I went to the State Commercial High School for twelve months and I really think that I struck me niche there, because I just love commercial work: shorthand, typing, bookkeeping ... And these days, of course, you don't find too many stenographers and I must say, that all these years later, I'm still using my shorthand, because Joh makes sure that I take shorthand from him. He has no secretary any more. He was deprived of his secretary, and, so he finds that it's very useful to have a wife who can take shorthand and who can type on the computer and bring out what he wants and so I was very grateful that I went there and of course, the training that I got there finally got me into the Public Service.
Was that what you had always wanted to do, or was it something that came up because it was practical for you to do? Had you had any other aspirations?
I often used to think that I'd liked to have been a school teacher. But that would have meant, you know, some years of further study and I think that you know, I felt that it was ... that I should get a job as soon as I could, so that we would help, you know, the financial situation. And I can still remember actually, that I got seventeen and six a week when I started work and out of that my mother expected me to pay her board. And I think that that is something that young people ought to always think about, that you try and help your family in return for what they've done for you, all those previous years. So I didn't have an awful lot but then of course it didn't cost much to go in a tram into town and [I] didn't have terribly many expenses so I suppose that was fair enough. And then of course, pay improved when I finally got into the Public Service and but even then, relatively speaking to today, of course I don't think the pay would have been very good really.
The expectation of what people would expect to own and have in those days was different too, wasn't it, against the background of the Depression?
Well it certainly was because I mean I can remember we had no refrigerator of course, you had an icebox and you had to wait for the ice man to come and deliver the ice. We only had a car just for a very limited time. You know, you used to use the tram. We had no other vehicle unless somebody came along, and, I can still remember in the early years when we wanted to go out to my mother's brother's farm out at The Gap, out at Ashgrove, we went out in a horse and sulky and of course, that was an exciting experience for young girls, who didn't really have much experience of farms or farm life and so we went out there, I suppose, perhaps once a year but it sticks in my mind that I can remember that very clearly. I can also remember actually going up while Uncle Rob was feeding the cattle and milking the cows because they had a milk supply for people in Ashgrove and we used to have to ... They said to us, 'Well look would you like to feed the cows?' and I must admit that even though I knew they couldn't attack me I was jolly scared of cows. And anyway, who would have thought eventually when I got married to Joh one of the first things he would say to me when I came up here was, 'Florence the first thing you have to do is learn to milk the house cow'. Oh my heart sank because I never did, you know, like cows from those early days, and I finally got used to it and I suppose my biggest disaster was the one occasion when I had the cow tied in and leg roped, and I undid the rope at the back and forgot I still had her leg roped. That was a nasty experience, but you get used to it and I learnt to milk the cow, although I must say, that in the years to come when I had a girl to help me and my children grew a bit older, I very lovingly gave them the opportunity of milking the house cow.
Did you do well at school, when you were at school?
Well I wouldn't have thought I did terribly well at the Grammar School. I had actually done very well at Primary School. I seemed to come near the top of the class all the time while I was at Primary School. But when I got to the Girls' Grammar I suppose you find that, you know, the top notch students go there and I always felt that some of the teachers I had ... I didn't seem to learn a terrible lot from them. I don't know whether it was me. It probably was. That's what the school would say anyhow, and I didn't feel that I did terribly well. I passed in every subject but they weren't terribly good passes. But when I went to the Commercial High, as I ... and I thought about it, I thought well, you know, that was a niche that I really enjoyed so I did very, very well when junior came and they used to rate you from one, you know, right through to a hundred or more. They would give you a list of how you came, and I managed to come twenty ninth out of Queensland, so I thought well that was a much better finish to my year down there, than perhaps my two years that I had at the Grammar School, and I was never a very sporty type, see and at the Grammar School they were very well into sport and, you know, you felt you're very much part of the school if you were able to do things, and I suppose I hadn't had that opportunity earlier on and so I was never very brilliant at anything like that. But I did know that when I got to the Commercial High that was the type of work I loved and of course, that was where I got my job and I did it for many years until I married Joh, and as I say, I am still doing part of it now.
What was wrong with your father's eyes?
He had what they called an opacity behind the eye. Now I just don't know what that is, but certainly it meant that his eyesight was very bad. And I can remember every morning having to go in and read the headlines of the paper to him. I used to think it was a bit of a burden actually, because I ... You know, it's easy enough to look at the paper headline and read it for yourself, but when you have got to read every little bit, perhaps it's not ... you don't feel quite so interested in it. But it was something that we did because we loved dad and we knew that he wanted to know what was going on. These days of course, you'd turn the television on, you'd turn the radio on. But, that wasn't perhaps in those days, quite so, affordable, shall we say. Well, certainly television wasn't there, even the radio of course wasn't quite so easy to come by and he used to like to know what was in the paper. And I suppose, maybe that's were I get my liking for reading the daily news in the paper every day these days. And, of course when you're a politician, people used to say to me, 'Why do you read the paper?' I said, 'Oh you have to read the papers to know what is going on in Australia, in particular, when you're in the Federal Parliament'.
It was probably a useful way for a young girl to be forced to become a little bit aware of current affairs.
It certainly was, there is no two doubts about that, and I believe that was very useful in the years to come.
And, in the household, what were the main values that you were taught? What were the things that you feel that your parents really wanted to get across to you about how to get along in life?
Well, I would say, one of the values that we were taught, of course, was obedience. And I think of course, no family is strong unless they have got love within the home and that was very evident in our home. I often think back to how my father so lovingly tucked me up in bed at night time. Now you know, that's ... until I was over twenty-one if you please. He'd come along, pull the net down, because we had mosquito's in Brisbane in those days and put the light out for me, and when I look back I think what a loving thing that was to do all those years, and his love was there and of course, Mum showed her love in a practical way. When you came home from school in the afternoon, there she was with nice fresh bread. We had a baker that came and called, you know, brought the bread down. You can't do that these days. And so she had fresh bread and honey and a nice drink of milk. These are some of the memories that you think about: the love that was there in the home and I think ... But it was never love without obedience and I think that they expected you do what you were told, and she wasn't short on a smack or two. And I was just watching on TV the other night, and they were just saying that there was nothing wrong with a smack and then some gentleman came along and said, 'No child should ever be chastised in any way'. Well I'm afraid I don't agree with that gentleman that I saw on TV. I certainly agree with the mother, because I think very often if children don't do what they are told first and second time, you have to make them see that you have to have obedience, because if you don't obey your parents when you're young, how are you going to obey the laws of the land, shall we say, as you get older. And I sometimes wonder whether that's what's gone wrong with society these days. If you not allowed to discipline in the home, certainly there is no discipline in the schools because otherwise the teachers get into trouble, so where does that leave young people growing up? That's my worry.
When you were not obedient, what happened to you?
Well, you got a smack on your posterior but I never bothered about that. And I can even remember at the Primary State School, we had a teacher who used to say - if you haven't done your homework, you didn't know your spelling, you didn't know your mental - he would sort of say, after it was finished, 'What do you want? Do you want to be kept in or do you want the cane?' And there was half a dozen of us who would say we would have the cane and we would put out our hand. He'd give us a clout on the ... you know, with the cane on your hand and it was over. But, oh dear, did I get cross when at the end of the day he'd forgot to keep the rest of the class in. I felt I'd ... you know, I'd had punishment and they hadn't had it at all. But nevertheless, I mean, I didn't think there was anything wrong with that, and I never have thought there was anything wrong with it. I think that perhaps some teachers in the very early days could go overboard. Joh could tell you a story or two about some of his early teachers and what happened, you know, at his early school down at Tobing Village, but we never had anything like that. [INTERRUPTION]
How did you get on with your sister? Most little girls fight with each other. Did you?
Well I suppose we had spats from time to time. I think that's something that, you know, that you sort of learn to grow up with. I can remember when Margaret first came to school, at New Farm. I am about three and a half years older than she is you see, and I was sort of up the school a little bit, and for some reason or other, she used to cry when she came to school. I don't know why, she was in a class of over seventy children and at the end of the year she came top of the class, so she didn't have any problems really. But for some reason or another, I suppose whether she'd been, you know, mummy's little girl at home, and she used to cry and they used to send these messages over to me: Florence, your sister's crying over there, would you please go over and look after her. She would be under the school and I'd have to go over and I must admit, I probably wasn't a very nice sister, because I used to think it was a nuisance. And I don't know that I was terribly kind to her, whether I roused on her and told her she had to stop crying or not, I don't know. But, certainly, you know, I don't think perhaps I was the kindest of sisters in that regard. But, oh, as when you grow up you have differences of opinion and I used to think that she was a bit spoilt here and there, that you know I ... And I think that that often happens with older children. I think that if you asked some of my girls about my youngest daughter, Ruth, I think that they might say, 'Oh Ruth was spoilt when she was young. You know, we had to sort of do the work and she didn't have to do so much'. And of course I suppose, too, I had a girl helping me in the home from the time, well ... from the time Helen was little. But, permanent help in the home from the time that Joh became a Minister and then of course I guess, when you've got somebody else in the home, well perhaps not quite so much is required of you. But I must say that Elizabeth was very sensible and made sure that if she washed the dishes they had to come and wipe them, and I think that is something that you have to be careful about, that if you have help in the home that you don't spoil your children completely and make ... and they don't learn to do anything. Because I do believe that there is a certain things that you want to teach your children and that is that you have to take your share of work in the home. You don't want to let them grow up just sitting doing nothing.
Part of the reason why this has always been important for girls too, especially in your day, was the expectation was that girls main destiny in life was to get married and raise children. Did your mother make sure you knew how to cook and sew and clean for that reason?
Well I wouldn't say that she actually made sure that we knew how to cook. She did the cooking herself. As a matter of fact, when I got married, I had to say to mum, 'Well for goodness sake, now please mum, tell me all your helpful hints, because if you don't I'll be stranded'. See here was Joh living along side his mother and I thought to myself, if I didn't know how to cook him a decent meal, he'd toddle off to his mother and I'd be left stranded. I thought that wasn't any good. So I had to get advise from her, and she gave me all her helpful hints and so many of her helpful hints are included in my first cookery book, to be quite honest. Even how to make junket and things like that, that perhaps young people don't worry about even these days. And then it comes to sewing: well, she kept on saying to me, 'Florence, if you would spend less time doing church work and go to some courses about learning how to sew, that would be much better for you later on in life', thinking if I got married. But probably by the time I got to about, you know, in my late twenties, and there was no sign that I was going to get married, she probably didn't think that it was very necessary for me then. But I often did wish that I had spent a little bit more time learning to do all the domestic things. I finally ... after I got married, I did do a little bit of a course at the local high school, but then I became a Member of Parliament's wife and it was always jobs to do in relation to his work and his correspondence. I always have opened the mail, I have always done the accounts for the farm, and things like that, and there didn't seem to be very much time for - after you look after your children - for sewing and doing things like that. And, I had a mother who used to do my mending for me and I guess, I was a bit spoilt too really if you think about it, and I certainly missed mum when she died in 1971.
You also had a very, very close relationship with your father. You really loved your Father a lot. Do you think that that older man in your life meant that you were a bit slower to find a husband?
Well I think probably that you do think of your father and what he stood for, what he represents and you think that perhaps well, those are the sort of values that I would like to have in a husband. But, I think above all, I looked for somebody who had Christian faith like I have. I ... My sister and I we used to go off to Sunday School every Sunday, and even when mum and dad used to go out to see mum's mother out in Ashgrove, Margaret and I would still go to Sunday School and then we'd get on a tram, on our own, and go off out to Ashgrove and have Sunday dinner out there with mum's mother, Granny. And I suppose that put the idea into my head. I can always remember Granny Low's lovely Sunday baked dinners. So now, I like to think that my grandchildren will remember their granny's dinners that we have fairly regularly here, on a Sunday, after I go to early church I can come home and I can get dinner ready for them. And, I know that some of the children tell their mothers', 'When are we going to Granny's again?' So I think that that's really nice. Roast lamb and mint sauce and all the vegies and all the trimmings and a bit of sweets of some sort to follow, that's how we do it.
Did your mother and father place church-going as a very important part of life?
They certainly wanted us to do that, yes. They went, you know ... They came with us quite often and we ...
But it wasn't as important to them as it was to you?
No, well I grew up you know. Mum actually came quite often. She sang in the church choir and dad came too with us from time to time, as well. He had grown up in a family over in Scotland of course, that believed that you went to church twice on Sunday and then you went to Sunday School as well, so he'd had quite a lot of experience of going to church in his early days.
But there was something about church life and about religion that draw you particularly, was there?
Yes, I believe that it's something that's very, very important to my life and I believe that anybody who has no religion in their life has nothing to help them through in the future, and I have always believed that without God you've got no hope for a life that's to come at the end of this life, and that's been something that I've been very grateful that I have come to know Jesus as my saviour and that I like to speak about it whenever I get a chance, because I think that something that's very important. When I was in Parliament, I belonged to the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, and I believed that that was very important too and of course I have been involved ... I was a Presbyterian before I got married, and I did a lot of work with the young peoples' organisation there. But it doesn't matter how much work you do for the church, unless you have a real, personal realisation, of faith in your saviour. I believe that it ... It's not by works that you get to heaven it's by grace that you're saved, that's how I believe, and I have always believed that that's a good bulwark to my life here on this Earth and same with Joh as well.
So did that start for you in the Presbyterian church at New Farm?
Yes, in The Valley. It was the little church in The Valley behind McQuirter's there, where we went regularly. But of course, mind you in those days, you were able to walk around without any fear of being accosted. We used to go to meetings at night time, down behind McQuirter's there and you'd walk up and catch the tram home and you would never have to worry. I would never like any child of mine to have to do that these days when you read about what happens in The Valley part of Brisbane. There is just so many problems that I thank God that I was able to grow up in a relatively stable atmosphere. Even during war years, you know, you didn't really have to worry. You could walk around and you could go up and you could catch the tram and get home without any trouble, but these days I would not recommend it to anybody.
What do you think has changed? What the most important thing that's made that difference for young women?
Well, I just really wonder whether moral and spiritual values have become, you know, sort of lost somewhere along the line. I wonder whether that's had anything to do with it, and I sometimes wonder too whether all the Social Welfare that young people are able to claim. One thing that worries me of course, is that fact that young people leave home and they want, you know ... they want to get away from home and they find that they've ... They have people from Social Welfare Department will protect the children rather than let the parents have the children back. Loving parents want their children returned and it's a big worry as far as I can see, so I don't know whether that's a lot of cause of the problem too.
But the violence on the streets.
Well, that's something that seems to have grown and developed. I'll tell you what I do think adds to that and I hate to say it when I am doing an interview, but television has a lot, I think, to answer for in that regard. I sometimes wonder whether young people watching so much of violence on television - murder, rape - don't gradually by looking at television so much come to think that that is the norm, and they think that they can do the same thing that they see on television. It's a very sad state of affairs and it worries me, and I'm quite sure that it worries very many people. In the Year of The Family as this is, the International Year of The Family, I've been doing quite a bit of talking about that, and many's the time in Parliament I spoke about it, and I spoke about pornography on television, and I do really wonder whether those aren't some of the things that put ideas into young people's heads and certainly they must get the idea from somewhere that ... If the parents speak unkindly to them they up and can leave them and then social workers will give them financial assistance to sort of look after themselves and the parents go out looking for them and can't ... and often can't, you know, get them back home again, and it's a sad, I think it's very sad. And, I think to myself well, life in our young days was pretty good by comparison.
And now, when you started at the Main Roads Department and you were earning seventeen and six a week and paying board, what did you have to do to earn that money? What was your job?
Well, when I first started in the Main Roads, I worked in [the] Registration Branch. Actually, you know, they weren't really part of the Public Service in those days, and I said to mum ... well they're not really ... They were sort of a subsidiary of the Public Service you might say. And I said to mum, 'Well perhaps I better wait for a job in the real Public Service', and her catch phrase was, 'Florence, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and you take that job'. So we ... I took the job and I ended up in [the] Registration Branch hauling files around: pulling out files and pushing in files, and people would come to the counter and they'd want the file for the registration of their car and you'd have to find the file and pull it out and bring it down, and I didn't think it was a very nice job for girls to be quite honest. I thought it was a job boys' ought to be doing. But, I found out about a different side of life when I was in the Registration Branch actually. Found out that my Father didn't drink and he didn't swear, but I'm afraid in [the] Registration Branch in those days and probably there today too, we had very good swearers. They swore about all sorts of things, and now and again they'd come in and, you know, [they'd] had too much to drink the night before and they'd be sleeping it off in the strong room, and you'd have to go into the strong room to get files down and oh dear, I must admit, that, you know, if you haven't seen anything of the seamy side of life before when you're young, you know, it's a little bit worrying, but anyway I got used to it, put it like that after a while. And after six months they must have decided that I was worthy of promotion because then they sent me upstairs to the Engineering Branch where I got onto doing shorthand and typing and I ... The engineers were really nice fellows and I loved my work for them and I worked with the engineers, I suppose, for the rest of my working days in the Main Roads. Although during the war years we did quite a bit of work for the Allied Works Council. The Allied Works Council did work for the Americans and the Australian Armed Forces and we had to do the estimates and an awful lot of work for them because our draftsmen were engaged in doing that work and I had been transferred to the Drafting Room and I did a lot of estimates and they weren't very exciting sort of work, but I liked it. I was there for a number of years and then I went back to working for the engineers and I used my skills in that regard.
You worked at the Main Roads Department from when you left your school until you got married, which was quite a long stretch of time. Did you ever think about going somewhere else for a change?
No I can't say that that thought ever did go through my mind because I really did enjoy my work. And I think in those years perhaps you didn't sort of think, well, if you don't like it that you go somewhere else. f you have a job you are very grateful that you got one, and I stayed there and I put my skills that I'd learnt at school into very good use. I could ... learnt to work a dictaphone and I did shorthand and the engineers must have liked me because at the ... when we had a change of Commissioner, then the edict went out from the Secretary of the department that the Commissioner should have a woman in his office. Now Mr. Crawford became Main Roads Commissioner. I had worked for him as Chief Engineer, when he was Chief Engineer, and he said, 'If I've got to have to have a girl I want Florence', and I thought, well, that was quite a compliment, but I don't think he really wanted a girl. I think he was happy with the man that he'd been having in his department, in his office, and the Secretary said, 'No you've got to have a girl in your office'. So he said ...
Why was that, why did they want to have a girl there? He had a male secretary before?
Yes, but I don't think he did shorthand, and things like that and you see the Commissioner had deputations and really when you deputations you have to be able to take shorthand. And so of course, I used to have all these deputations coming in from various local authorities to the Commissioner, and I must say that when they told me that I had to go and work for him, I wasn't very excited about the prospect. I was happy working in the typing pool, working for my engineers, and I had quite a lot of them and, of course, I always think that variety was the spice of life you see, and [it] was very pleasant and very nice, and I had very good friends who worked in the pool. But anyway, they said, 'No Florence you've been asked for and you go so ...' I remember I was very nervous about it. I really didn't know how we'd go and I think the Commissioner himself was very nervous, to be quite honest, because I will never forget the end of the first day. He came past me and he said, 'Well it wasn't so bad was it?' And I think he and I both felt the same way, but then of course, I gradually got into the swing of things and I certainly was kept very busy and that was how I met Joh. I was working in the Commissioners office. He bought delegations and deputations in from the local authorities in this area. One or two of them both claim responsibility for the fact that they brought Joh in and that he met me there, and of course, I got to know Joh. The first ... When he plucked up enough courage to talk to me ... You see, he'd been a bachelor for a long time. He was about forty when he got married, and he sort of, I think, had decided perhaps that he wouldn't ever find anybody to get married to. His father, in his growing up years, had said to him, 'You know Joh, you be very careful who you marry'. He said, 'You take your time. Don't rush into it', and then finally his father got to the stage where he said to Joh, 'Look Joh, you know, I really think it would be good if you did get married'. See, so I don't ... Joh was between, you know, the devil and the deep blue sea as they say. So he saw me and he must have thought, you know, I looked all right and he might have thought I was efficient. I often say, 'Well I hope he didn't marry me just because he thought he might get a good secretary'. I liked to think that he married me for me. But I do believe that we ... When we got to know one another, we ... our marriage was based on love and Christian faith and I think that that was something that was very important indeed, and he said that. Actually the engineers ... After he had spoken to me that day and asked me had I ever been to Parliament, and I said, 'No I hadn't,' and that's where we went on our first date I might say. The engineer said to me, 'Florence, if he asks you to go out you go, 'cause he's not married and he's got lots of money'. Well that sounded rather fun, but I always rushed to tell people that I didn't get rid of the money. They always say wives spend all their husband's money, but Joh went into aerial spraying planes. He'd made some money out of his bulldozers actually over the years. He's a very hard worker, but we went into aerial spraying planes and in the eleven years we had the planes we had sixteen crashes. So if you have any money, I assure you, that you don't go in for aerial spraying planes, especially if they crash the way they did and so I was never so grateful than when he finally decided that he would get out of it. His sister once said to him, 'Joh, for goodness sake, put your planes in the hanger and leave them there. We'll be better off if you do that', but it ... you know, that was just the way it worked out. Some people run aerial spraying businesses and do very well indeed, but you see the point is, a lot of people fly themselves in their business, whereas with Joh, he was Minister and Member of Parliament, and he had to employ people to do that work so that was just the difference.
Where any of the pilots hurt in these crashes?
Well actually one pilot had trouble with his eyes a little later on. Another one hurt his back but nobody was killed we're happy to say, so that was something for which we can be grateful.
Now going back to the Main Roads Department and this Representative of the Kingaroy district arriving in the office, do you actually remember that day? Do you actually remember the exact time, the first time you laid eyes on him?
Well I did actually, but I must say, for all my reading of the papers and my knowledge I really didn't know very much about him. But, of course, he came in then a few times with deputations and I got to gradually, you know, be interested, especially when these employers told me about him and I thought, oh well, you know ... looked him over and he seemed very nice and ...
Why do you think they told you that? Did they notice him looking at you or ...
Well, they might have done that but then I think probably they thought to themselves that I was on the shelf and they probably thought that if there was a bachelor within my sight maybe it might be somebody that I might be interested in. And of course, I must say, that I had always been interested in politics, you know, although I hadn't taken an active interest in it. But I guess, over the years since I've been a politician I realise that politics plays a very important part in our live and I believe that everybody really ought to take an interest in the way the government is, you know, running the country.
How old were you when you met Joh?
Oh, close on thirty.
And had you had many boyfriends?
Oh no, I couldn't say I had. I had one, one or two, but not a lot. No.
Why do you think that was, because you were a pretty girl and you were going to a church group where you would met a lot of young people who were, you know, fairly suitable. Why do you think you didn't have many boyfriends?
Well, I don't know. Probably I was brought up in a fairly, you know, strict home, but then again I mean, there was a lot of other girls who were there too and maybe I just didn't take the fellows eyes. That might have been what was wrong. They might have had somebody else beforehand. But I never let it worry me. I just sort of ... I must admit that I thought, oh well, if I didn't get married soon I probably wouldn't get married at all. But I think it is better to wait rather than to just take the first person that might come along and who might sort of, you know ... you might end up not having a very happy marriage at all. Now I think that this is something that is very important. Although I really can't say that about my own daughters. They were all married before they were twenty-one so, you know, that's just the difference, isn't it - whether Mister Right comes along at that particular time.
Why do you think Joh had waited so long? He was being obedient to his Father?
It looked as though he might have been. But then again, of course, he was fairly busy too and I think perhaps his father's admonition may of, sort of, had something to do with it. I don't know, but certainly he was a man who believed in doing things, you see. He'd grown up in a very difficult time. He was a young man, who had to ... before he went to school everyday ... had to go off in the morning, find the cows, bring them home to be milked, then take them away again, then walk a couple of miles down the road to school, and things like that. Life hadn't been very easy, and then as he grew up his father wasn't well, and he had to help his mother to do the ploughing on the farm, and it was really something that was ... Life was pretty hard. There's no two doubts about that. And then when he became a young man he went out to the other property that they had out at Inverlaw, about eight miles away from home, and he lived and camped out there and cleared this land: he and some other men who were there helping him. And eventually he came to growing peanuts. Of course he always said that in those early days when they grew corn, if they had a lot of corn then they couldn't sell it because there was an abundance of corn anyway, and otherwise there was a drought and you didn't have any corn, and it was a very, very difficult time. Life wasn't easy, you know, on the land and I suppose the same applies to people on the land these days. I mean, either you've got too much rain or you haven't got enough and things aren't very easy at all. But he did that work out there at Inverlaw and then he decided that ... he started to grow peanuts and he could see there was a future for harvesting peanuts. So this is how he got going. A friend of his offered him a peanut thrasher to go out and do contract harvesting for the neighbours. And so he went out and he did that, and then he could see that he could improve the peanut thrasher. I think his friend wanted his own peanut thrasher back after twelve months, and so Joh turned round and with Harry Stolzenberg, one of the engineers in town, he built his own peanut thrasher. So of course, he was busy going all round the countryside thrashing people's peanuts and getting organised like that. And then as the years past, at the end of the war, then he had initiative and go again. This is before he got into Parliament. He thought that he could perhaps get some war ... you know, they had machinery that was available for sale. They had these sales of machinery and they were wanting to sell what had been used, that they had available, and Joh went off down to Brisbane looking for where he could find a bulldozer, so that he could go out and gradually learn how to get, you know, [clear] some land with ... with bulldozers. He thought there was a future for that and sure enough of course, there was. Not only did he ... Well he had a lot of trouble when he first bought the first bulldozer up, getting it over the dirt roads and things like that, but he gradually got to the stage where they were able to get enough money from the first bulldozer. He said his neighbours worried him stiff too. When he first got a machine to use - how they told him he would never be able to make it pay. But he did and it was wonderful the way he was able to, well shall we say, enlarge his horizons and do a lot of bulldozing. He went out west and finally he did quite well. He had quite a lot of bulldozers and a lot of men working for him. But as he became Premier ... or Minister and Premier, he found that you had to rely on the men. He didn't have enough time to look after them himself, so ... and then he got this brain wave about aerial spraying. Between it all it was quite a busy life that he led, and when I came onto the scene ... I came onto the scene before he got his aerial spraying planes so I must say he had bulldozers at that time, and he got me, of course, when he had the plane and he couldn't send parts out by train. He used to take me up in his aeroplane and I'd have to open the door and push on the door and send out the parts down for the men down below, out of the aeroplane. That was how he used to send the parts out to the men with ... you know, with his planes.
So this was a little, little plane?
Yes, a little, small plane: an Austin.
Well, I must say I was glad I was sort of you know, in with the ... with our ... seat belt type ... yes and so I was sort of safely secure there. But it wasn't very pleasant and I didn't really like it.
Well, it was exciting enough, but it wasn't my type of excitement to be quite honest. and I was very thankful when he ... I came back one day in a terribly high westerly wind and I said, 'Look I think I've had enough of this'. And so one of his friends went out with him after that so ... See the Queensland Government, at that time, had the rule that you couldn't send parts or take parts ... carry parts in your own motor cars. You had to send them on the train. Their theory was: you own the railways you use them. And of course, the railways were pretty slow in getting parts and getting the materials they needed for the aerial spraying out to the various places and so, as I say, Joh wanted to get the parts there quickly so he used to use his own aircraft and they never stopped him doing that, so that was all right.
Had he had girlfriends before he met you?
He says he hadn't, and I take his word for that. (laugh) He must have been too busy doing work I think. I think he had quite a few girls who would have liked to have been his girlfriend, put it like that. But he didn't sort of seem to accept the invitations there so I was just a bit lucky. He saved ... he saved and waited for me.
Did it worry you a bit about marrying someone who was a bachelor of forty, who'd never had anything to do with girls? Did you think gee, what am I taking on here?
Well it didn't cross my mind really. He you know ... The point was of course that he was living next to his mother and I sort of thought, well, that I'd have to do a pretty good job because if I didn't he might ... it would be a bit too easy to go home to mum. He had a very good sister too, that helped him over all the years, and I think probably he found that in his sister he had somebody who was really very close to him and very helpful to him. But she had got married a few years before, you see, so that might have put the idea into his head: well, maybe if I see somebody nice I might sort of be attracted to her. So I was very fortunate.
But as he hadn't had a lot of practice with girls, was he a little bit awkward at the beginning? Was he ... Did he find it difficult to ask you out?
Oh, I suppose, it needed a little bit of courage I think. I remember, you know, one or two occasions when ... even the first time we went to Parliament House, I think he was a little bit nervous about it, because I can still remember the late Jim Sparkes, who was a Member of Parliament, coming along past the private dining room where ... There were a few other people in the dining room having dinner that night and Jim Sparkes went like this. [GESTURES SPECTACLES AROUND HER EYES] You know: what am I seeing? And of course that was the way it was. And I remember even ...
Yes, yes. Oh I often laugh about that.
Oh well, what did he say. You mean, when he asked me to come?
... When he asked you. I mean it's an odd place - not a 'Will you go to the movies?'
No. No. [He asked] had I ever been to Parliament. And of course I hadn't. Even though State Commercial High School was next door to Parliament House, I'd never sort of bothered to go in to have a look to see what happened in there. And of course I said, 'No I haven't'. Well I'd be quite interested to go, especially encouraged by the engineers who told me, you know, 'If he asks you to go out you go'. So I thought, oh well, I'll go and see, and of course ... Anyway I remember once too, we'd been down south - my sister and a couple of friends - and when we came back to Sydney, the railway station, who should I see on the railway station but Joh. He'd been down to Adelaide to meetings see. Oh he was quite surprised to see me, and low and behold, I still remember he knew that one of the Members of Parliament was in Sydney and he was still a little bit nervous about being seen with a girl. But anyway he got over that, and let's say he got over it in a period of time, and finally we got married after about a couple of years or so. We were married in 1952.
What did your parents think of him?
Oh I think they thought he was a very nice young man. Oh he wasn't quite so young, put it like that, but relatively speaking to them he was. (laugh)
And what did they feel about you going away to live in the country?
Well, I suppose they got used to the idea. I guess that I sort of came up here, and Joh flew me up and I met people up here, and I didn't quite know how I'd take to life in the country to be quite honest.
Especially with your mother-in-law right next door.
Ha, well - Karen might say the same thing about me, mightn't she? Except that she's had a number of years now up on her own, up at the Ten Mile, but she's come back here to Kingaroy now. But I had very, very lovely mother-in-law. She was a really very lovely lady and she was a very fine Christian person and we got on very well indeed, and I think that she loved having her grandchildren growing up beside her, and I think that's a beautiful way to be. I've been very fortunate too, myself, in so far that I have ... Well I've had six of my grandchildren grow up here and now Karen and John are back with their three little boys, so I've got nine grandchildren within the area. And I think she was probably you know, very happy. I don't think she minded at all. But as far as mum and dad were concerned, of course, that meant that I got married and went away. They still had Margaret at home. She didn't get married, and of course she was still there. But my father didn't live very long after I got married. I got married in '52. He died at the end of 1954, but he did live to see his first grand daughter, Mar, Mar, Mar. We call my daughter Margaret, but she changed her name to Meg because she was continually being sort of misunderstood for Aunty Margaret, so I suppose as a result, my sister now becomes Aunt to all the children instead of Margaret, but anyway, that's just by the way.
So when you decided to marry Joh, did you appreciate just what a big change it was going to make in your life, do you think? Or were you just young and ... not so young, quite a mature bride?
Yes, yes, that's right. But you see, when I think about it, I thought, well he was a Member of Parliament and I thought, well, I'd sort of go ... being married to a Member of Parliament meant going with him and listening to him make speeches and things like that, but I soon found out it didn't take long before I started making speeches. Now I had never really done this before I got married. I'd been secretary of church, of my, you know, young people's organisation in the Presbyterian church and I'd always make sure I was a secretary, never a president or a vice president in case I made a speech ... I had to make a speech. Well you'd never believe it, but we were on our honeymoon in New Zealand, when my first invitation came to open a fete. My heart sank. I thought, Oh no, what will I do? and I said to Joh, 'Look what on earth will I do'. 'Oh Florence', he said, 'You go', and I think he had the idea in his mind that if I went he mightn't have to. And then of course, gradually you know, as soon as [you] start one, then people get the idea, oh well now he's got a wife now, we can ask her to come and do things. And of course, then I gradually got into the habit of going places and doing things because I was asked to go and do them and I, I suppose really, I liked people. I'd always liked people. I'd always had lots of friends and I really enjoyed people and I loved meeting people and I've always that, and I suppose that's a bit of an asset if you're either a politician in your own right, or a politician's wife, because I think that's something that's really very important. So I married a politician and mum and dad got used to the idea that I came up here to live, and I got used to living in the country. And now of course, I wouldn't want to go back and live in the city. But I was fortunate in so far as, in those first years, Joh travelled backwards and forwards down to Brisbane and I had no reason to stay at home, so I used to go backwards and forwards with him, so they didn't really lose me completely. They saw me quite often when the parliament was sitting because we stayed with mum and dad, and that was how, you know, I suppose, I gradually got weaned from Brisbane and I came to love life in the country, and let's face it, we only live about five miles, or eight kilometres, out of Kingaroy. You hop in a car and you get in there in less than ten minutes. You get a bit spoilt actually. I've noticed Karen, who is used to living way out - two and a half hours drive from Rockhampton, she'll always go into town and buy for a fortnight, because she is used to doing that, whereas I sort of am a bit inclined to ... I like to get the paper daily and I like to, you know, sort of keep the things going and I seem to have over the years ... Of course as a Member of Parliament's wife I had so many appointments and things like that that. I have never felt that there was any great loss from living in Kingaroy, and it's really a lovely country town and it's, oh well, I suppose different from Brisbane of course. You don't have quite so many shops, but it's lovely. And I think, let's face it, it's lovely when you live in a country town and you know so many people. You go to Brisbane and you could walk for hours and never see anybody you know. So, you know, I mean, I like it and I've really always enjoyed living here.
So you really took to this new life, as something very welcome to you, something that you really enjoyed?
Well I did actually, although of course, as the little ones came along ... I had four children between 1952 and 1960 and I was kept fairly busy with them. Although after I had the first two I had help in the home, which was very, very good, because, particularly if you were going out and doing jobs to help Joh. I always adopted the attitude too, about being a Member of Parliament, even when Joh was Premier: if you didn't look after your electorate and get back into power, there was no way in the world that you could be a Minister or a Premier. You have to look after your electorate first. And so I did quite a lot of work for Joh in the electorate, particularly after he became a Minister and he was busy going around Queensland, and then even as Premier ... so much so that when I used to go down to Murgan Shire, which is about thirty miles away from here, I'd go down representing Joh. And then when Joh and I both went together the Shire Chairman used to say, 'The Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the Member for Barambah, Mrs. Bjelke-Petersen'. So there you were you see. And I kept on saying to Joh, you know, at election time, 'We have to work the electorate. We've got to work to make sure that you get back because if you don't get back as a Member you won't be Premier'. But nevertheless, I mean he did have a wonderfully safe seat here and Barambah: Inanga first and then Barambah, and we worked the electorate well and I liked it. All the people liked us for what we were and certainly I can say this to you very happily, that Joh was never beaten by the people. And even when he was Premier he was never beaten, although I used to worry about it. I ... you know, in every election that came along, even in the early days, I was always concerned that he mightn't get back but he used to take it very casually and think everything would be all right. And even when the media was so ... in '83 and '86 saying, 'You won't win, no way you'll win', he won both times. Well he ... That wasn't the first time. I think it was seven times he had elections as Premier, but you know, when the media was ... the media through television, gets a fair bit of say in what's going on and sometimes I think that some of the people who interview think they ought to be the politicians, rather than the people that they are interviewing. But that's just by the way. And so of course he had a lot ... he had all that to contend with, but he was never beaten by the people. He was only just beaten by his own party, who now, of course, realise the stupidity of their action, but they didn't do that at the time so that's the way it ended up.
Now he wasn't beaten by the people, but the people also had two of you. Do you think that it is fair of the country to expect the wives of politicians to work as hard as they do? They got two for the price of one with you and Joh, didn't they?
Well they did. That's what I often say as a matter of fact. But not all wives like doing it. There's a lot of wives who don't really want to ... to do this. And I must say that a lot of wives don't know that their husbands are going to become politicians. They marry them when they are in other jobs and then all of a sudden they get the bug that they think that they would like to go into politics and their wives are always terribly happy about this. But I was in a different situation. I knew Joh was a politician when I married him, and if I didn't want to, you know, do anything like that, I should have said, 'No I don't want to marry you. I'm not interested'. But I ... As I say, I liked people, I liked ... you know, I'd be very involved with a lot of people through the Presbyterian church and I'd had a lot of, you know, time with people. I worked with a lot of people in the Main Roads and I liked my people and I think that that's something that's very important. And so, I was in a different situation, perhaps, from a lot of wives, but some wives do work very hard to help their husbands and I think ... I think men who are politicians want to be truly grateful to their wives who are willing to assist them. And, I guess, the people whom they represent ought to be grateful, as you said, they get two for the price of one. I think that's something that's important. But, then again, wives can never actually make the decisions. I mean, the people who are elected by the people are the ones who are responsible to the people. The wives are just a little bit extra that they get thrown in for good measure.
But some people think it was your judgement, your understanding of people and what they wanted and what they needed, that was the really crucial factor in Joh's success.
Well, perhaps dealing with people might be all right, but he actually, himself, has got tremendous political nous as far as I'm concerned. I think it was proved time and time again during the time that he was Premier. I look back to the Gair Affair to when, you know, Mr. Whitlam decided he was going to send Mr. Gair to be Ambassador to Ireland, and at the time Joh took action through, you know, [the] Queensland Government to call nominations for all the Senate vacancies and he sort of, shall you say, cut the ground from under Mr. Whitlam's feet. See Mr. Whitlam never thought there was any likelihood that Queensland would be able to do what Joh did, and Joh fired ahead and called these nominations against the advice, I might say, of his Under Secretary at the time, but he ... Joh went ahead and said, 'No we're going to do this', and of course, I mean it ...
Yes, that was so the Labor Government could get the majority in the Senate and as Queensland were able to do this, call nominations, and of course it thwarted Mr. Whitlam at that particular time. So that's part of Joh's political nous. I believe he had that, and then of course people said when he put Albert Field in to the Senate of course ... And of course Joh said, 'Well,' he said, 'I asked for three nominations from the Labor Party. They wouldn't give them to me, and so when they wouldn't give me three nominations, I chose a man who was a Labor man himself'. But anyway, it didn't last all that long before, of course, the final thing came around where Malcolm Fraser finally got back into power. But, the thing that of course, annoyed me about all that nonsense about John Kerr and how terrible everybody said it was ... People forget that it wasn't very long after Malcolm Fraser took over and they had this awful ... Mr. Whitlam had this terrible who-hah about Sir John Kerr, [but] the people of Australia spoke and they gave Malcolm Fraser the most tremendous majority. If they hadn't liked what was done, and hadn't thought that it was right, they would never have given him that tremendous majority. The only thing that I feel sorry for was that Mr Fraser didn't go ahead and change a whole lot of things that Mr. Whitlam had done, but anyway that's past history and it's not for me to say so.
I'd also like to talk about some of these things too later, but now going back to when you first married Joh, he was an Opposition Back Bencher.
He was indeed yes.
So you didn't know that an Opposition Back Bencher of the Country Party would necessarily end up as Premier. How long had you been married to him before he became a Minister?
Well, he became a Minister in 1963 and we were married in 1952, so that was about eleven years. But you see, from 1952 to 1957, he was a Back Bench Member of the Opposition, and being a Back Bench Member of the Opposition with a nice electorate meant that, you know, life wasn't too hard and he was home quite a bit with the children, growing up. See he had young John. I can still remember occasion when they were burning some old tree stumps down on the far corner of our property, and John was with his father, and he got a hot coal, young John did, in his rubber boot, and I can still see Joh rushing back here with young John, you know, and we had to take him ... He had this terrible burn on his foot. But that was ... you know, he was here and he was able to really enjoy the early years of the children. As a matter of fact, Meg was only five when we transplanted ... Joh transplanted, with the help from one of the aerial spraying pilots I might mention, a scrub tree to the corner of our house, and the scrub tree is just an enormous tree now. But those are the sort of things Joh was able to do and be interested in the property, and still serve his people of the electorate well, aided by his dear wife of course. Nevertheless, in 1957 - that was when the Labor split came when, you know, Mr. Gair stood up to the unions and very bravely I thought, and he said ... and you know, they had the argument and John Duggan then took over the Labor Party and Mr. Gair formed the DLP and that, of course, then split the Labor Party and in walked the Coalition. In the same way, we had a repeat performance when they knifed Joh in the back and it split the National Party and in walked the Labor Party. So it doesn't pay very well to do those sort of things in politics. But Joh was then a Back Bench Member of the Government for quite a long period of time. He and I both thought he should have been made a Minister a lot earlier. But, he'd been what they call a 'naughty boy'.
Well, actually when we got into power in 1957 ... [END OF TAPE]
Some think that Joh was a little slow to become a Minister once the Coalition got into power in Queensland. Why did it take him a while to get from the Back Bench?
Well he was a bit of a naughty boy actually, at least that's what they told him. Because not long ... When they were wanting to get into power they promised that they would do away with all the lease hold land, that people would be able to free hold their land, and then also with the transport of goods around Queensland, they ... if you, you know, they ... you own the railways, you use them and you were supposed to transport everything by rail and our fellows had promised that they would free up the transport laws. When they got into power, Tom Hiley, I think it was, who was the Treasurer, convinced Frank Nicklin that they couldn't afford to do this and so they said, 'We're sorry we can't keep our word', and Joh said he'd gone all round the countryside promising these things to rural Queensland and so he ... they arranged big meetings out in the west, [in] Dolby and Roma. They had huge meetings of all the people saying, 'But you've got to keep your word. You've got to promise ... You promised that ...' About three-quarters of Queensland was lease hold land and they wanted to get free hold ownership, and so the [politicians] said, 'No'. They were sorry they couldn't do it. So they organised these meetings and Joh went along, and he was the chief spokesman at [these meetings], and said, 'I promised all these things. You've got to keep your word'. And so, of course, then Frank Nicklin and Gordon Chalk, the Minister for Transport, had to come out and speak at these meetings. And who was the chief one, who was there representing the people, who got up and sort of took their part? That was Joh. And so of course, Frank Nicklin got very scotty with him and he said he just, you know, couldn't have ... wouldn't make him a Minister because he had been so naughty supporting these people against, you know, what the Government wanted to do. And the funny part about it was that these meetings were so big and so volatile that the government then had to say, 'Well we will go ahead with what we promised'. But that didn't stop Frank Nicklin from being very cross with Joh and saying that, you know, he wouldn't make him a Minister. Because when his next door neighbour, who was in the next door electorate - the late Sir Jamie Heading - [when] he retired from politics ... See Joh actually had worked very hard to get him in as a Member of the Ministry and I think he thought that when Jim said that he only wanted just three years to finish off his life and, you know, it would be a wonderful conclusion to his life, Joh thought that if he helped Jim to get in, Jim would help him, but Jim wouldn't help. He said, 'No Joh, you've been a naughty boy. I can't support you and help you to get into the Ministry'. So there Joh languished on the Back Bench a little longer, but he still maintains to this very day that he couldn't have become a Minister at a better time than he actually did. Because at that time there was a vacancy for the Minister for Works and Housing. Now, that's a Ministry where if you do your job well and if you promise, you know, a Member and [not] just [from] his own party, but if he promised the Labor people even, that he would do something for him. He wrote it down and followed it through. He's a great organiser. I must say that about Joh. Some time I think he's too well organised, you know. If you're going anywhere you've always got to be ready quarter of an hour before you're supposed to. But he did all that. He wrote these things down and he carried them through to fruition. And so, you know, the boys then really were very, very glad that he got that job as Minister for Works and Housing. He was able to do things to help them and when Frank Nicklin retired the boys voted for him first up. There was no need for a second ballot. They voted for him as the new Deputy of the Party, because they said you could rely on Joh. If Joh said he was going to do things, he did it. And the same thing applied when Jack Pizzey died about six, seven months after he became Premier, and Joh got in on the first ballot as the new Premier. And so although it took him a while to get there, because he had become the Minister for Works and Housing, he really had proved to the boys that he was somebody that they could rely on, and I believe that was what they felt when the vote came for Premier.
Now, what was your role in all of this? I mean you were going out and opening fetes and speaking and generally making people feel good about the fact that you were the wife of their local member, but what were you doing in helping Joh to make his decisions? How did he use you? Were you a sounding board for him?
Well I don't know that I'd really say that. I really don't know. A lot of people have said that that's the case. I mean, he would come home and we'd talk politics but, I mean, I have never felt that I needed to tell Joh what to do in the realm of politics or policies. He was his own man and I believe that he was a very, very ... had a very good political nous and I don't believe it was up to me to tell him what to do. I believe that he knew what to do himself without coming home and getting advice from me about different things.
Did you every disagree with him?
Not as far as political points were concerned. I suppose if there's one time that I wasn't 100 per cent behind him, that was when he decided that he'd, you know, make this trip to Canberra. Because, well I was down there, I mean, at that particular time and I knew just, you know, what the feeling was there. But that didn't have anything to do with it. I believe ...
Yes that's right. Yes, but that wasn't his idea: Joh for PM. That was a ridiculous arrangement of a publicity man from the National Party in Queensland. Joh was trying to go to Canberra because people everywhere were saying that he ought to be there. See what had happened was, in 1986 he'd had this tremendous win - win in our own right here in Queensland. The National Party was up at the top of the tree you might say, and people everywhere were saying, 'That's what we need in Canberra Joh'. They were tired of being in the Opposition and [they were saying], 'We need someone like you to take the lead and to, you know ...
In what capacity did he imagine himself in Canberra?
Well, I don't know. I think he sort of thought that if he could take the ... not as Prime Minister. He said he never, sort of, pushed to be Prime Minster. But if he could have a role where he could perhaps be able to lead and, you know, direct what they ought to be doing down there ... But of course, John Howard and Ian Sinclair said, 'No way. We don't want any one else butting in on our territory, no'. And then of course I think where it all fouled up, of course, was the fact that ... that Bob Sparkes, who was President of the Party ... He could see that it was gaining momentum this 'Joh for Canberra'. It was gaining momentum and so he said now was the time for him and the National Party to take over the whole cause and they even went down and picked out a building in Melbourne that they were going to have as the Headquarters and run it from there. And of course no sooner did that happen, then all the men that said they'd give money, you know ... A lot of Liberal people [who] said that they would give money to support it, said, 'Oh no'. They withdrew and a lot of the people who said they were willing to be candidates withdrew and so the thing fell flat, mainly because of National Party Queensland ... National Party interference you might say. But, I believe, that Joh had just become Premier of the state again with a tremendous majority and a role to play, and I suppose if I didn't agree with him about anything, perhaps, it was about the fact that, you know, he followed these people's advice and decided that he would try, you know, to go to Canberra. Well then of course it fell flat after this interference, and he went back and by that time his own Party seemed to be at six's and seven's and I think that, perhaps, that might have had the ... been the first sort of little chink in the armour, you might say.
His focus was moved away from Queensland?
But was that ... Did your disagreement with him over that have to do the fact that you sort of predicted that it wouldn't take off, and there would be problems with it, because of your perspective that you were in Canberra at the time and you could see that?
Well, I don't know. I just sort of ... My attitude was that he had just been elected to Queensland and I felt that his job was there. And I know that he would have done a wonderful job and people everywhere are still telling me that if only he'd got to Canberra, things would be different now. You know, he ... It really was getting a tremendous roll on. He had candidates, you know, in Western Australia and South Australia, but then it all became, you know ... It all sort of collapsed you might say, as a result of interference. And I do believe that this 'Joh for PM' was such a silly statement. It was ... In my opinion it was 'Joh for Canberra'. But anyway, that's just past history now and I just, sort of, felt myself that it would have been better if he had just continued to concentrate on Queensland. But that's just the way it went, and I accept the fact that probably my intuition at that time might have been better than his was, but oh, on the whole, I've always said that Joh has got good political nous and I supported him very strongly in the decisions that he made.
During those years, all those many years in Queensland politics, where you were a wife and not an independent Senator, if you had disagreed with him, would you think it would be the role of the wife to do anything other than support her husband?
No, well, I think if you felt strongly about things I think it would be your place to tell him what you thought. But whether they did what you said, is another matter, because the ones who are elected are the ones that have the responsibility, not the wife, no the one ... But that doesn't say that you shouldn't say what you think, and tell them what you think.
So you wouldn't be one of the women who would think that the real job of a wife would be to be just a help mate to her husband and do what she could to support his line, whether or not in her heart she might have a little bit of a disagreement with him or felt ... wondered about what he was up to?
Well, I suppose you can still, you know, wonder and you probably could give advice if you thought you know they were doing wrong, but as I say, if you're there and you've been elected, you're the one who has to make the final decision, and whether husbands are strong enough to take advice from their wives is another matter again, isn't it? I mean sometimes, some men don't like to be told that they are wrong. And you can sometimes see that when you are down in Parliament. That's where it comes out quite distinctly at times.
Apart from politics, have you ever had occasion to tell Joh that he was wrong?
Oh, well, I don't know when it comes to, you know, life in the home I think that I, sort of, think that mums have a great control over the family. I know there were times when Joh has come home when the children were small and he used to say to me, 'Don't you think that they should have a smack Florence?' and I think to myself now, why didn't I say to him, 'Well if you think they should have a smack, you give it to them'. But he was just like my father. My dad never smacked us. It was always left to mum to be the disciplinarian, and I still remember the time on television when Helen, my middle daughter, was once asked on a television interview ... and I think if she'd have known they were going to interview her she probably wouldn't have come over here that day, but they sat her down in front of the TV and they said, 'And what's it like to have a dictator as a father?' And Helen looked at them and said, 'Oh', she said, 'Dad's the soft one in our family. Mum's the hard one'. So I often wonder whether that made me a dictator or not. But nevertheless, I mean that was, you know ... I was the disciplinarian and I think that, you know ... Well Joh ... Joh was away a lot and I think that that sort of leaves you to be mum and dad and I think if you want your children to grow up the right way, you try and keep them on the right track, and I've done the best I could for the children and I'm very happy to say, that I ... Well we always had family devotions in our home as the children grew up, and I'm very happy to say that they are Christians themselves, and they are bringing their children up that way too.
Yes, and I think that's a lovely feeling to know that that has happened in our home and I ... That is why I do believe that if parents set a good example of the children, so often it helps them in the future, you know, and the way they act. I can't say that it happens always because I know of some fine Christian parents who haven't had, you know, that success rate, shall you say, that their children are followed their Christian example but, I think it certainly helps very much indeed.
Now, when the children where growing up and Joh was a Minister and then Premier and you were being such a support to him, you were talking care of the electorate, you were still taking care of the books and the management of the farm, and you were also occasionally acting as his secretary when he needed it, how did you manage to do it all?
Well, I think God gives you health and strength, and I was very lucky that I always kept healthy. I think that's one, you know, angle to it. I was also very fortunate in so far that up until, I suppose, Ruth the youngest was about fourteen or fifteen, I had a lovely girl helping me in the home. Elizabeth came when Ruth was about three years old, and she was in my home working for me for five and a half years, and then after that she got married and we were very fortunate at the time. We had a small little home on our place and we asked Elizabeth, you know, would she like to get married and when she got married would she like to live there. She wasn't too sure about living so close, you know, but her husband thought it was a wonderful idea so together they came and lived on our place for another five and a half years and during that ... That's eleven years you see, and Ruth was about fourteen by that time, and so I had somebody that if I had to go away for a few days, I didn't go away for long periods, but if I had to go away for a few days, Elizabeth and John would come and live in. They had one or two little boys then, by the end of the time, and they came and lived in here and acted like mum. She was like a big sister to the children. And I've been very grateful over all those years for the eleven years that Elizabeth was willing to help me so that I could do a good job. I gave her, you know, like she was ... We paid her but nevertheless, I mean she was just so lovely and she was just so part of the family that it was marvellous.
You've sometimes spoken about your concern about the expansion of child care and the fact that that takes mothers away from their children, encourages them to be away yet you had rather a good child care around you yourself. Do you ever see there might be a bit of a tension between your position on that and your own experience?
Well, I don't think so because it was rather a different situation in that case. My children were a lot older. I mean I wasn't away very much from home when my children were young and they were going to school. I did quite a lot of work. I mean I became ... I did tuck shop duty for the children, I was secretary to the local ... to our women's auxiliary at the school. When they went to high school I went and did high school tuck shop duty. I was a real mum and I was able to play my part in that way. I mean it is not everybody these days that's able to sort of do those [things] if you're so busy, you know, that you have to have your children in child care. And probably parents circumstances these days are somewhat different from mine. I mean Joh had a very good job. I wasn't paid for anything I did. I was just going out, you know, doing little jobs around the community and I was, as I often said ... When I became a Senator when they said, 'What's the difference between being a Senator and a Premier's wife?' I said, 'I get paid now for what I used to do for nothing'. And see, but my children had grown up. By the time I sort of went off to Parliament my three girls were all married, and John was up in Central Queensland, and I didn't have that problem, but even when they were smaller, I suppose I had a mother-in-law that lived next door, and a sister-in-law who was there part of the time and they had like a second home, but most of the time I didn't have to worry about having any problem, and of course I had ... As I say, Elizabeth was in the home as, sort of, part of the home situation, but I wasn't away for long periods of time. I might now and again have been away for a week here and there, but that was because I was trying to be helpful, particularly I suppose 'round about election time. That was when you, sort of, had to leave them for a little while, but I was secure in the knowledge that I had Elizabeth and her husband, John, here in those later years, and a mother-in-law who was living close by. So I didn't have quite that problem of having to deliver children to a child carer. I've got daughters who - one daughter anyway, who's needed to have somebody to help look after her little fellow, but circumstances are different these days, and I think a lot of people find that they need two incomes to help keep things going, which I don't think says too much about the government that is in power at the present time. [laughs]
So has that changed your feeling a little bit about, you know, because you have spoken out sometimes, about government assisted child care in the sense that you feel concerned that it is contributing to the break up of the family values. You feel perhaps a little bit that maybe things are changing in that regard, or what is your position now?
About child care?
Well, I think that where women have to work ... I think child care where you can have a carer who's in her own home looking after children is my ultimate for child care, and I just feel sad that there are mums, who when their babies are very tiny, feel that they have to leave children with other people. I think that the first five years of life are really the time mums want to set ... you know, be there and, you know, direct the children themselves if it is at all possible. But I accept the fact that in these days it's not always possible and that there are many, many women who go to work, not because they want to go to work, but because they feel they have to go to work. And this becomes, of course, a necessity then, that you have to have somebody to help you look after your children. That doesn't say that they love them any the less. I'd say that about it, but provided you can do it and still have your own home and show love for your children, and look after them when you, you know, are at home, I suppose that that's the best way they seem to be able to do it. But I certainly think ... I know that my daughter who has, you know, put her little boy into care now and again ... He's at kindergarten as well now, but if you can find a mum in her own home that's willing to do this, it's a bonus as far as I'm concerned, and I think that the child care people certainly go through the mums who offer with a fine tooth comb to make sure that, you know, they're suitable for looking after children.
Do you remember the day that Joh became Premier of Queensland?
Well, yes I suppose I do.
Do you remember your reaction, what you thought about how life would be now that you had this responsibility?
Yes, well I think, I was delighted that he was able to achieve the fact that he had become Premier of the state. I believe that that was really something wonderful because you just never know. When people are voting for you, you don't know how the other Members of Parliament are going to vote for your husband. There's not doubt about that. But at the time he felt that he had done a good job as a Minister and he thought the boys would support him, but of course, a lot of the Members ... a lot of the Members put their name into the hat, and some of them ... They all had to be Ministers, of course, who were going to be Premier. But Joh got it on the first ballot, and I was very pleased for him. I thought that that was a real achievement, that he was able to do this. I wasn't really quite so worried about that vote as I was about the vote that occurred a couple of years later, after the first election. Joh had run an election and they'd won their election, but for some reason or other there was disquiet about this Karoola Sands issue - environmental issues - and they sort of ... Some of the boys felt that things weren't going as well. See, Joh was probably the first Premier that had a lot of television. See prior to that, the television hadn't been used very much. Even Jack Pizzey I don't think had had a lot of television. Certainly Frank Nicklin hadn't, and Joh struck the first flush of television and you're fairly, you know ... need to be fairly experienced to be able to cope with television, don't you? I've sort of found out over the years. And so it ... it just wasn't perhaps quite so easy, and with these problems ... Blow me down, you know, the ... I think it was his own President who was sort of saying things, you know, that it was ... that he didn't know that Joh was doing too well and of course, that gave these Members of Parliament the idea that they'd have another vote to try and get rid of Joh. The only thing was - I find out so often, how God leads and guides in different things - the night before ... They were going to have the vote the next morning [and] they told Joh. Now if they hadn't told Joh that they were going to have a vote, and try and toss him out as Premier, and he would have been one of the shortest, you know, shortest Premiers of all time ... If they hadn't told him that he wouldn't have been organised and ready, but they told him the night before. So I tell you, Joh and I had a lot of talk about that, the night ... during the evening where Joh ... We were at one of the motels. I was there staying with him because Joh had been to this dinner, and blow me down, he worked and he worked and he got in touch with people the next morning and he managed to get in by two votes, I think it was, and that was a ... that was a real worry because I knew he was doing a good job but you see, you get people who run you down in public and it doesn't take long for it to sink in and Members of ... And as Joh said they said, 'Oh we're not doing very well', and Joh said, 'Well that's as much your fault as it is mine. You can't hold me responsible for everything that's been done', and so, there you were.
If it were Joh he probably would have been shrewd enough not to tell him the night before, if he'd been in charge of all of that?
Exactly yes. Exactly. That's right. He wouldn't have. No.
So he was always a master tactician like that: never let the enemy know what he was up to?
Well I think you could say that about it. I mean I think he always did try to. But he ... but see, you know I often think when I think of things that happened and even in my day when I cross the floor to vote against the Government, our own Government, mind you, about a tax on essential commodities a lot of the fellows said to me afterwards, 'But Florence, Joh would never have let his Members do a thing like that. He expected his Members always to vote the way he said so'. And when I told Joh this he just laughed, he said, 'I'd never had brought in such silly legislation so that you would have had to vote against it'. And that's how he ... you know, he always had an answer for things like that.
But the fact was that he did expect people to vote his way.
He certainly did. That's right yes. But he always said they were doing a good job and there was no need to be, you know, sort of, crossing the floor and doing things like that.
He always had great confidence that he was right. He had great confidence about his view. Was that something that you always shared? Did you always feel that he was pretty right too?
I did. I believe that as far as politics went, I believe he had great political nous, and I ... I've always adopted the attitude that he did a wonderful job and when I look at politics in Queensland now, when I hear so many people saying as you move around, how wonderful Queensland was in the days when Joh was Premier ... I certainly believe that the decisions that he made so often ... You just look at the decisions he made about the Commonwealth Games. They went ahead with the Commonwealth Games. You look at the decision he made about Expo and I must say this to you, that he did not have any support at the time in Cabinet. The Cabinet said, 'It's too big, we'll never cope. If New South Wales can't do it and Victoria won't do it, how can we expect to do Expo?' And Joh said, 'We'll do it'. Someone said to him, 'Did you really do it without Cabinet approval?' 'Oh well', he said, 'It eventually went to Cabinet', but he made the decision and told Malcolm Fraser, 'Yes they'd do it'. And look what a wonderful job Expo was. I mean, that all proved to my way of thinking of course, that his decisions in the main were the right decisions. The unions, of course, never thought that he made the right decisions, but the people of Queensland thought that he made the right decisions when he controlled the unions, when we had this electrical ... you know the strike of electricity workers and so, you know ... And I always know how long ago that was by our dog Sparky, because we called him Sparky. He came at that right time. So there you are and, I mean, I believe that Queensland was a great place, and it really progressed wonderfully, and people used to laugh at him because he ... he counted cranes on the skyline and said that that was the sign of progress in Queensland. Well I'll tell you this, the cranes went down certainly to a very few in number over recent times. I think there might be a few in the skyline now. I think things are starting to pick up a little bit, but he did a good job and that's my opinion about it and I think a lot of people feel the same way.
Who made the decision that you should go to Canberra as Senator?
Well I made the final decision. I couldn't have gone to Canberra if I hadn't made the final decision to go. But I can still remember the time that the paper ... see there was ... They needed somebody, the Liberals. I would never have gone to Canberra if the Liberals hadn't decided to have a separate Senate ticket, it is as simple as all that. For some reason or other when this election was coming up there was three vacancies and the Nationals had two of them, and the Liberals thought that they could take one of those seats. And of course, the Nationals didn't want to lose one of the seats, and they said they had to find somebody to head our Senate ticket that people knew. And, anyway, there was a great talk about this in the papers and one day in The Australian Hugh Lunn wrote an article to the effect that Joh was going to leave Queensland and become a Senator. He was going to lead the ticket and of course Joh laughed his head off and said, 'Oh that's ridiculous. Of course I'm not going to do that'. And the next week out came the paper: 'Sorry, we've made a mistake. It's not Joh that's going to go for Canberra, it's Flo'. Now that's where the first ... In my memory, the first thing that happened, because I can still remember I was over at the Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba that day when this heading came out on The Australian paper and I nearly died of fright. I thought, oh no! It was a very, nice feeling to be the Premier's wife. I didn't have any responsibility really. Joh had the responsibility. I just helped where ever I could and I went around the state and I ... When things were bad for the women of the west, I went round there and I'd been around with my friend, Lady Logan, and we'd done tremendous amount of touring around Queensland, meeting the women and knowing their problems. And low and behold, here they were suggesting that I should go and be a Senator. And as soon as Joh read it in the paper, he said, 'What a wonderful idea. Oh that's marvellous. We'll, you know ... What about it?' and I thought, Oh, I don't know, you know. My heart was in my mouth and I thought, Oh. I didn't know how I'd go. But anyway ...
Why were you afraid? What were you afraid of?
Oh well, I don't know. I think, you know, it was ... I still had, you know, plenty of opportunities, plenty of ... as a Premier's wife - plenty of opportunities to move around, talk to people, meet people, but here I felt, well now, I would be a politician in my own right and I wasn't just too sure whether I believed that there should be two politicians in the one family. Especially when one of them was going to go to Canberra, and Joh had had so many fights with Canberra over the years, I just wasn't quite sure. I thought that the time would come when I would be like ... Joh often used to say he felt like he had ... you know, you were sitting on the barbed wire fence with one leg on one side and one on the other, and I thought that might be what would happen to me. You know, because I might find myself having to do things in Canberra that the Queensland Government mightn't like, and I thought, Oh dear how would this go. But anyway, suffice it to say that the Party then themselves thought that I would be one who would be able to perhaps take the, you know ... sort of win the seat and stop the Liberals from gaining the second seat. The only thing I regret to say is that one of our candidates was ... who had been number three, went round telling everybody to vote number one for him and go up the ticket, so it sort of split the ticket up somewhat, and it meant that Glen Shiel who was number two on the ticket didn't get enough votes to get him in as well, and it left the way open for the Democrats to get in in Queensland, and they've been there ever since. So that was rather one of the sad things as I saw it about that, but I ... Once I finally decided well, you know, the Nationals thought it was all right, Joh thought it was all right, I decided, well, I was willing to go and we'd see how it went, because I could see there was a great need for somebody that people knew to head the ticket. And I must say that, although I only got myself in on that occasion, due to this, you know, vote one for me as number three and go up the ticket, and we got the Democrat in, I must say that the next time we had an election we had ten Senators to get up and I led the ticket on a double dissolution and we got three up, and the following election when we had a double dissolution, out of twelve, we got four up as Nationals, so I sort of felt that I had tried to do the best I could for the Nationals in Queensland and I believed that, you know ... that spoke for the fact that people knew me and were willing to support me.
In deciding to go to the Senate were you a little bit worried that without a wife to help you, as a politician in your own right, you'd find it pretty hard?
Well that being right, having had lots of experience at being the wife of a politician, realising that there are lots of, you know, things you have to do: you have to be away, you have to work and then you have to come home and you have to, sort of, as a woman, you roll the two into one. So my attitude has always been, and I've said it many times, that men politicians come home and everything is ready at home for them. They bring their dirty clothes home, their wife does them and irons them and gets them ready to go off again, but when you're a woman politician that's a different story, because you come home, you do the washing at home, bring your own clothes home, you cook the meals and you do all your chores over a weekend and be ready to go again the next week. And it's quite a different matter and I sometimes wonder whether the men politicians really appreciate what the women politicians have to do to keep their end up you might say.
Well perhaps they'd feel quite happy if they were at home doing the washing and not there in Parliament at all? Did you fell welcome as a women in Canberra when you went as a politician on your own?
Well, I think that the other women politicians, you know, made me feel quite welcome, but the point of course was at the time, that I had replaced a sitting Senator and perhaps it wasn't quite so easy for me to go there because I think some of them felt how sad it was that here a sitting Senator was replaced, and by a women at that too, but nevertheless, it wasn't very long before I found my niche and I think people realised that I wasn't there just to do Joh's bidding as you might say. I think that's what they really thought: that he'd sent me off down here, down to Canberra, to do what he wanted me to. What they seemed to forget was that it wasn't Joh who sent me, it was the people of Queensland who voted to send me down to Canberra. And I was there representing them and I tried to do the job to the very best of my ability - put 100 per cent effort into it, and I think that's something that was very important.
How did you convince them that you weren't there just to do Joh's bidding?
Well probably, I'd say, one of the first things I did when I got there, not very long after I got there, was to vote against the government that was in power, our own government actually. And they were bringing in a Bill, at that particular time, to put a tax on essential commodities and I didn't believe that that was right for the families of Queensland. I believe that I was there representing the family unit and so I stood up and was counted and voted against it. It's hard enough to vote against the Opposition Government, you know, when like the Government that's in power now, when you're the Opposition. It's hard enough to vote against them, but to vote against your own Party people sort of look askance at you, particularly Members of your own Party.
Well Joh wouldn't like it much if his people voted against his legislation would he? What did he think of you doing that?
Well I certainly was told that many times, that if I'd have been in the State House and done that, I would have been, well, really chastised very much indeed. And I came home and I said to Joh, 'You know what they say down there now that I've done this? They said if I'd have been in your Parliament I would never have been able to do that. I, you know, would have been excommunicated you might say'. And he just laughed and said, 'Well look, if you'd have been in my parliament you wouldn't have had to have that worry because we wouldn't have brought in such silly legislation'. So there you are, where do you go from there?
Well, yes, except that he would have been cross with anybody who voted against his legislation even if that was against their conscience, wouldn't he?
He certainly would have, but, you know, it's not the only time that I've voted against the, you know, the present government on quite a number of occasions. In fact, somebody once said to me, 'What, you know ... What was the difference between being in Opposition and being in the Government?' and I said, 'When you're in Opposition it is easier to vote against the Government, than it is when you're a Member of a government'. But we also had a lot of times that we voted against the Government on retrospectivity, but you see, I was with others doing that. It's when you do it on your own that it's very difficult. But if you believe very strongly in something I believe you have to take a stand, and there were very many of us in Malcolm Fraser's government at the time, that did not believe in retrospectivity. We believed that if a law is made, the law is law from today onwards, not from today backwards, and so we were very strong on that and there was quite a number of us, but I must say that I was the only National who did it. But that's just by the way. But I think that you are there to do the best you can, to represent the people that, you know ... that put you there, and so I've always tried to do that. And as National Party Senators, quite a number of us have crossed the floor on a number of occasions against Government legislation but our Opposition was voting with the Government, but we didn't believe in what they were doing so we crossed the floor to vote against it, for rural issues mainly: sugar, wool, wheat and things like that. So that's what you have to do if you're firm and strong, because it's easier actually, to go along with the crowd, but if you believe in something very strongly you want to be strong and positive and take the step that you think is right.
But you were representing the people of Queensland, and specifically the country people of Queensland had voted for you to be there, and yet you're also in the National Parliament with national issues to consider. Did you ever find a conflict between a situation where you felt the country as a whole would benefit, say, from having certain rural subsidies lifted and yet [for] your particular constituency, that is the Country Party voters or the National Party voters of Queensland, it was against their interest? Did you ever have a conflict over that?
I didn't believe I did because I didn't believe that the tariff should be lifted. I felt very strongly that they shouldn't be lifted, that they should be left there. But you see, you have the Liberal section of the Coalition who don't agree with tariffs, and so that you see that you've got the National Party on one side and the Liberal on the other. And this is where it is, I think, sometimes quite difficult to be in Coalition in Opposition but that's what they voted for and that's where we were. And so you have to take a stand and you have to decide to do what you think is right for the constituency of Queensland that you represent. The Senate is meant to be a States' House. Unfortunately it doesn't always act like that. It is very politically motivated just the same as the House of Representatives but it is meant to be, and I always adopted that attitude and tried to look at it from a States' House point of view.
Do you feel generally that what's good for the country people in Australia is good for Australia as a whole?
Well I think that one thing that you have to remember, of course, is that the country vote people play a very, very important role as far as our export earnings are concerned. I think a lot of people forget that. Admittedly they haven't got so many people in that part of the area but when you look at, you know, the money raised from exported wool and wheat and all these other different rural commodities - the sugar industry, they all play a very important role in our export earnings, and I think that these are some of the things that have to be recognised when they say, 'Oh, you know, that's rural Australia again wanting this or that', but unfortunately we have a Government in power who believes that you do the best you can for where the most people are and they forget ... they're inclined to forget about rural Australia and that I believe is a rather a sad thing.
For quite a long time, when Joh was Premier, with a relatively small part of the vote - 28 per cent of the vote - he was able to have about 38 per cent of the seats in the House because they were these rural seats. Do you think that that really gave a, sort of, corrected a little bit the fact that the country voice tends to get left out because it's not so populated?
Well what I think you have to remember is that the vote eventually was more than 50 per cent because you add the Liberal vote as well to it. The preferences that the Liberals give ... so that you end up with ... you've got more than 50 per cent and, you know, the Labor Party in Queensland just was never able to beat them, that was the reason why. Might have only been 28 per cent of the vote, but when you look at the amount of the export earnings that they produce, it is well in excess of what the people in the cities do. I mean, the people in the cities most of the time are just, you know, are the ones who are using up the money from ... that are more or less provided from the export earnings by the country people. So you've got to sort of balance it both out, and as far as I am concerned Queensland was governed by the Party that obtained the most votes in addition to getting preferences from the other side, and I think that that is something ... And that is, of course, why the Labor Party was so very cross with Joh and wanted to get rid of him because they felt that, you know, he shouldn't have been there. They, you know, didn't like what he was doing and they reckoned that he didn't treat the workers correctly, but when I look at what happened to Queensland under his Government and the tremendous success it was, I believe he did a wonderful job.
What did you feel when the people used to call it a gerrymander?
Well, I thought it was quite ... It was really quite wrong. And I mean, you just look at it. How could it be gerrymandered if eventually without any redistribution at all, the Labor Party was able to win? Now where does that leave you? I mean, you know, if you look at it like that. I mean, that's the right answer to it, that you sort of ... they were able to win so it couldn't have been very gerrymandered, could it?
Well unless they had such an overwhelming support?
Oh well that could have had something, been, certainly was, was certainly ... They were voting very much at that particular ... on that particular election, against the fact that the National Party was divided over what they had done to Joh. I guess that had something to do with it. But nevertheless, I mean all this talk about [a] gerrymander, I mean it's ... I think if you look right throughout the world - you look in Britain: they have electorates that are, sort of, given a little bit extra. Down in Britain. Down ... Up in Scotland, the electorates away up in Scotland are electorally sort of loaded, you might say, so that they've got the opportunity of having a reasonably equal vote with the people in the electorates around London. It's done the whole time. I mean you're just trying to organise the people [to] have a better chance to have a say. See there aren't very many people out in the west, and if they were only going to be counted as one vote - one value, they'd never have a chance, and the more that they talk about one vote - one value, the bigger the electorates become, and I mean, some of those Members who represent those far flung electorates in Queensland, even in Western Australia, why they have a great proportion. There's ... In the Federal sphere, Bob Catter and Bruce Scott have tremendous areas of Queensland that they have to represent, and I mean, how can you ... the people that they represent expect to be properly represented if they are unable to get to see them or talk with them.
Now as a Senator you felt you were representing the whole of Queensland. How did you manage that? How did you manage to feel that you were in touch with the whole state?
Well, when I first became a Senator I travelled. I travelled by small plane quite a lot and actually [on] many occasions I went out with some of Joh's Ministers when they ... see Bill Glasson represented a great part of the west in his state electorate and he was going out visiting his electorate, [and] I was able to go along with him too. And I used to, sort of, really try and do what I could to help the people who lived out there. I suppose the women, sort of, felt a bit of, you know, a feeling towards me that I ... I was, you know, a woman there representing them and they used to love to come along to meetings and tell me their problems and what they thought, but I tried to do that on a fairly regular basis, particularly over the first number of years that I was there. Then I felt that the people got to know me. They could write to me and I was quite willing to do what I could to help them with any problem that they might have had.
Now that was your traditional constituency. Those were people that you knew and were associated with. What did you do as a Senator for the whole of Queensland about getting in touch with the people in the city?
Well, I must say that during state elections I worked in the city as well as I did in the country. I met lots and lots of people right throughout the city areas. Of course, I mean not everyone wants to talk to you. Not everybody. If you're a very strong Labor person, I don't suppose you feel a great desire to have Flo come in and talk to you, and work for you. But I always adopted the attitude that I represented the whole - everybody in the State - and anybody who wanted me could ... I had a phone, my phone [number] was in the phone book, and actually that's one thing I must say about Joh, that all the time that he was the Premier, our phone number was listed so that anyone could ring up at any time. I can assure you we had many calls in the middle of the night - people making prank calls more often than not. But I mean, we were there, we were available and people were able to contact us if they felt any need. And as a matter of fact, I still get letters from people who want me to help try and solve problems. I don't know whether they don't know that I am not a Senator any more, but certainly I still have letters coming from people who have problems, don't seem to be able to solve them and they still seem to think I can do a little bit of a miracle job and help them solve their problems for them.
During the time that you were campaigning as a Senator, as a politician in your own right, did you have anybody do anything nasty to you? Were you heckled or jostled or have any unpleasant incidents?
No, I don't recall any in particular. I think I've had people, you know, yell out and scream out, you know, when they haven't liked what you're saying. You got to shopping centres and you have talks there and you are quite likely to have somebody yell and shout out at you but, of course, you know, if you're a good politician you don't really mind things like that. I recall one story about Sir Robert Menzies. [A woman] yelled out she wouldn't vote for him if he was the Angel Gabriel', to which he replied, 'If I was the Angel Gabriel you wouldn't be in my electorate Madam'. So you see you can sort of, you know, have things like that happen and, I mean, if you are clever at repartee you're able to get your own back on them.
Did you get good at that? Did you get good at handling ...
I wouldn't say that I had enough of it really to bother, but I know Joh's had many, many times that he's, sort of, been able to answer people back on street corners when they were yelling and screaming out at him about different things, 'cause they didn't like him too much so they really just, sort of, took it out on him at the meetings.
Now, you were working as a Senator and you were having to look after yourself without any back up, but for some of this time Joh was still Premier. What did you do about being the Premier's wife at the same time as you were an active Senator in Canberra?
Actually I believed that the two jobs complimented one another because as a Premier's wife I travelled the state. On one occasion I went out working, you know, as the Premier's wife. It was in 1974, I think it was, when Mr. Whitlam was in power, and things were pretty bad for the people of the west, and I went out and I did a great big tour with my friend, Lady Logan, from up ... out in Richmond, and she said, 'Florence it's time you came out and talked to the women. They are having a terrible time'. So I went out with her. I did another one with Mrs. Win Painter right a way down to the south-west, and do you know, I came home with eleven foolscap pages of typing and I said ... I came back and I said to Joh, 'Now Joh I've done this trip as the Premier's wife. I'll give you these jobs and you can see if you and your staff can try and do something about helping these people'.
Were they eleven pages of problems?
Yes, that's right they were indeed. But of course, once you become a Senator and you go out, then it's your job to try and fix the problems, particularly if they are Commonwealth problems.
And did you have much success?
I always tried hard, but one thing I must say is that I wasn't in the Government for long enough to be able to do too much about it. One thing I've long since learnt, that if you in the Opposition it's not very easy to get things fixed up by the Government. I suppose one of the best things I achieved was when I went with Warren Trust, the local Federal Member here, to interview Mr. Neil Blewett, who then was the Minister for Social Security, and we had a problem that we had so many unemployed people here in this district and we had no proper Social Security office, and so when we went to see him he was ... He treated us very nicely. He was very good to us and he told us they were going to build a Social Security office and believe it or not, [at] the present time it is being built in Markville Street at Kingaroy, so that's about ... That's one thing we sort of achieved together. But it was rather ... There were other things, perhaps, that I would have really rather have had to deal with, but if you've got that problem of unemployment you've got to do something about it.
Yes it does seem ironical because one of the things that you have spoken against at times is the ready availability of welfare, and you've always had a rather reserved attitude to assistance for people who are unemployed, so how did you feel about assisting them to get a centre?
Well I think it was a job that we had to do, and that they wanted us to do, but I've always believed actually that people who get unemployment benefits should work for the dole. I believe that. I started to say that when I first got into the Senate and I was saying it when I got out again. Nobody took any notice of me, but now at long last I think they are starting to think that that might help the present situation if they bought in a scheme like that. All they used to say to me was, 'It's too hard. We can't manage it. It is not possible to do it'. Well I think that it would be a good idea if they put some of their multitudinous public servants onto the job like that and tried to work out how to do it. There's lots and lots of scope for people, who are getting the dole, to go and help at some of the retirement villages, old peoples homes and different things like that, and help councils and do a lot of cleaning up around the place, that would be a very great assistance for the amount of dole they get.
There has always been concern that it might be a way of getting cheap labour for jobs that would otherwise might be available at a proper level.
Well, I suppose that could be so, but I certainly think that it is terrible to give people a mentality where you just put your hand out, get the money and do nothing for it. And the thing that does worry me is all the young people who can sort of put their hand out and do that, and get half a dozen people together in a house down at the coast and don't have to really do anything for it. If everybody had to do something for it: a couple of days work a week - nobody's asking them to do anything that is beyond what they should - then I believe that that would be much better for them. I'm sure about that.
In relation to your work then as Premier's wife, did that mean that you ever had to be away from Canberra when you were expected to be there?
Well I tried, you know, to make sure that it didn't. If you were away you always had to have leave, you always had to have a good excuse. Our Party Whip wasn't terrible good at, you know, giving you too much leave, but if they were very important jobs, she would certainly do that, and I must say, thank you very much indeed to Margaret Reid for the time when Joh was having his trial in Queensland. She gave me leave for the complete time because she said that was where my place was, with my husband. And I think that if, you know, there was a reason for you to need leave or for a very important function, they would grant you leave, but I mean, you tried not to over do it. But certainly there were occasions: if you had a Royal visit or anything like that, your place was there as Premier's wife. But anyway, after 1987 I didn't have that problem any more so that was all right.
When Joh stopped being Premier and there were all the problems that beset him and yourself at the time in his relations with the National Party in Queensland and the problems of his future, did that mean that a whole idea you'd had of an old age with Joh that was much more relaxed and prosperous and happy went up the spout? Did you lose out on a whole expectation of life at that point?
Well most certainly Joh did. There's no doubt about that because, I mean, when you look around Australia and you know what retired Prime Ministers and Premiers have received in other states and you know what happened to Joh, and everything went by the board when this political vendetta was launched against him, because that's all I can actually say that it really was. The ... After they had charged him with corruption and it took four years for them - four years of inquiry going back in our books, a way back to the 1940s, in the 1940s, checking over everything. After four years they wrote him a letter and said they couldn't get ... There was no sign of corruption, so that was all right. So I don't know whether they felt duty bound that they had to do something about it, and then they decided they would charge him with perjury and I always thought that perjury was telling down right lies in the case of the law. Well all they said about him was that he hadn't told the whole truth and it turns out that his solicitor had sent a letter of complete evidence to the Fitzgerald Inquiry and to my way of thinking, if the legal representatives in the Inquiry had done their job properly and they hadn't thought that Joh had completely answered the question they asked him, why couldn't they ask another question. I think that shows very bad legal representation myself. But that's by the way. But it was very hard. Joh had two excellent jobs offered to him when he got out, but because they'd put this charge on him, of course, people didn't want him any more. And that was a very sad happening and, of course, it certainly meant that financially we were badly off because we had to use ... We had to spend a lot of money on the court cases and, well, we're still suffering as a result, and when I got out of the Senate my friends down there said, 'Don't take a lump sum Florence. Take it as an annuity - your superannuation'. See I wasn't like Joh. Joh didn't take his superannuation - well over a million dollars, about a million and a half dollars he would have been entitled to if he hadn't decided that it was feathering your own nest and he wouldn't go into it. If I'd have been married to him at the time, I reckon I'd have said to him ... That would have been one very big disagreement we'd have had. But anyway, I was in the superannuation fund and when I got out I had to give half of my superannuation to help pay the bills to the bank. And they're still not paid of course. There's still more do to. But anyway, we're gradually getting there, but it certainly hasn't been an easy time since the National Party, sort of, stabbed Joh in the back you might say, and decided he wasn't doing a good enough job. I wonder what they thought after they lost the next election. Anyway that is past history.
From your point of view, when that happened, did you get a shock when the decided that they didn't want Joh to continue as Premier? Did you? As the leader of the Party and so on ... Did you get a shock? Were you surprised?
Well, I was surprised actually, because it was only less than twelve months since he'd won the election with a great big majority. I mean, I couldn't believe it, and as a matter of fact, somebody told me that you know that was going on, but I couldn't believe it. I thought that couldn't possibly be right. But of course, I suppose I was naive, put it like that. I mean, in politics you've got to accept the fact that life isn't meant to be easy as some great Australian once said. And it turned out that, exactly that way in Joh's case. There is no doubt about that. But, we've, you know, together, we've gone on and he's sort of tried hard and working hard to try and get rid of our legal debts and I hope that eventually we'll get to the stage where we're okay again.
Naive isn't a word that I would think of in relation to you because you've had a lot of experience and seen a lot, and also learned from a very shrewd politician, and maybe taught him a few true things as well. So why do you think it actually was that the National Party of Queensland decided to drop Joh?
Well I still wonder whether it had anything to do with the fact that he decided to, you know, try and go to Canberra, whether they got used to the fact that he wasn't there. That might have something to do with it. I wouldn't really, you know ... can't really understand why. Then again, of course, he fell out with his Party President, Sir Robert Sparkes. Sir Robert Sparkes wanted him to bring in condoms in the schools. He wanted him, you know, to sort of allow prostitution and things like that and Joh said to him, 'Bob', he said, 'I don't believe in those sort of things. I don't want to do it. If you believe that that's what the people want wait till I get out, and I'm getting out within this term'. But he couldn't wait, and I believe that that had a lot to do with it too: that his ideas and Bob Sparkes were poles apart in as far as morality was concerned, and moral issues, and so I think that that's was another thing that sort of upset the apple cart because, see, Bob was sort of anti Joh and perhaps having had time away they might have though, Oh well, you know, we can slip in. But the thing that annoyed me, perhaps more than anything, was the fact that when Expo time came after they got rid of Joh ... Had they allowed him to stay till the eighth of the eighth '88, which would have been twenty years, there wouldn't have been all this commotion and, you know, upset in the Party, but certainly he would have still been there when Expo was on. Now he was the only one who believed that Expo should go ahead, and yet the Premier after him got up and made a great starry speech and said what a wonderful idea it was, and how everybody in the Government was all behind them and it was really great. And we weren't there at the time. We were at the opening but there was no mention made of Joh. We were seated, you know, up the back a bit and I still remember, I suppose, it was the following week that the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen were down at Parliament House to open the new Parliament House, and I was behind the red ribbon and the Queen went one way and the Duke came the other, and the Duke of Edinburgh came over. He looked at me, and then he came over. I admired him. I thought what a wonderful memory he had and he came of and said to me, 'I didn't see you at Expo', and I said, 'I was there your Royal Highness'. 'Oh', he said, 'I saw Joh'. I said, 'Oh yes, yes he was there too'. 'Oh', he said, 'You know about Joh don't you. He's an extinct volcano now'. And I laughed. I thought that was funny because I think it was Disraeli or somebody who used to talk about retired or beaten politician as extinct volcanoes, so I suppose, perhaps he meant he couldn't erupt any more, now that he wasn't Premier.
Do you think that some of it had to do with the fact that the Party got worried about all the things that came out of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, that were going on, that had got a bit out of control? Do you think that that was part of it?
Nothing had happened at that particular time. They were still dealing with the Police Department. It was actually to be an inquiry. Fitzgerald was inquiring into the police and it wasn't until they changed the Premier that the Premier then decided he was going to sweep a broom right through the Government. And then of course, I mean, they ended up with about four of their own Ministers put into gaol and, of course, people seemed to think that if you ... they used three or four thousand dollars, you know, to entertain their relatives ... I actually believe that if it was private enterprise and heads of private enterprise departments were entertaining their, you know, relatives, nobody would have queried it at all. I sort of felt that they were ... It was a very small amount. Not that I'm suggesting that it is right to do anything that they believe is wrong, but when you look at some of the things that have happened on the whiteboard and all these political things that have happened down in Canberra just recently ... I mean, I believe that it was a pretty bad, you know, judgement and pretty bad justice for ... for these men with their small amounts. I look at West Australia and what happened there, [the] South Australian bank, the Victorian bank and all these things - politicians involved wholesale - and nothing has happened to any of them.
Well I don't think it is any good being bitter, because I don't think that that is any good for you. I've always tried, you know, [to] forgive until seventy times seven our Lord tells us in the Bible. Sometimes it is rather difficult to do, but nevertheless, I mean, I think if you harbour bitterness and grudges it only turns you into somebody that is very bitter, and I don't think that that is very good at all. And so, I felt sad - perhaps is the better way of putting it - that, you know, the Party for which Joh had worked for forty years, forty-one years as a Member, ten years before that helping other people to get into Parliament ... He worked as a Secretary of the branch and everything up here. He'd done all that work and I had worked like as the unpaid Member all those years beside Joh, and helped. And to think that they would want to do that, and in such a horrible way, act to get rid of him when really he had said that he was getting out. They just couldn't wait and that was the whole sad story about it, and I guess that it's no good being bitter you just sort of regretful - perhaps that's a better way to put it I'd say.
Do you think people within the Parliamentary Party at the time too, perhaps some who felt that Joh wasn't particularly supportive of them or whatever, also had an effect on the outcome?
In what way do you mean?
Well, in that there had been some tensions within the Cabinet in Queensland at that time and some requests for resignations and so on.
Oh yes. Oh well that was the time that, yes, that he did decide that, you know, he wanted to change some of his Ministers, but when you look around, other people change Ministers all over the place. That's the right of a Premier, and if you feel that there is a need to do that, well then, I believe that you ought to be able to do it. Perhaps one at a time might have been better. That might have been my advice to Joh if he, you know, had thought that it was necessary. But anyway, he took the action that he thought was right, and well, we've seen [the] sad way it all ended up and now we've got a Labor Government in Queensland, and the Nationals and the Liberals between them have to work hard to try and have a change of government at the next election.
Everybody calls you Flo, to rhyme with Joh: the Flo and Joh Show. What do you actually like to be called?
Well actually, when I was growing up I had cousins who used to come and visit my mother and her name was Florence and they always called her Aunty Flo, and I vowed and declared that when I grew up I was going to be called Florence. I thought that it sounded nicer, and a lot of my friends do call me Florence, but of course, as time went on and the media I think, picked up this idea, that Flo rhymed with Joh and before I knew where I was, it became Flo. It's even reached the stage sometimes now where Joh calls me Flo, but I'm always inclined to sign my letters Florence and I think it's ... well let's say Flo I suppose is an abbreviated form. Someone said it's a happy abbreviation, so whether it is or not I don't know, but as long as people think I am a happy person that's the main thing.
And then you were Senator Flo and Lady Flo.
Well that's true, as a matter of fact, I must say that I probably adopted that attitude myself because when I brought out these cookery books and I was signing them for people, I used to tag on the bottom 'Senator Flo' and I mean, Senator Flo sounds better than Senator Florence I think. I probably wouldn't have used the Senator in front of Florence but that's the way it went.
But that along with the pumpkin scones shows a really natural flair for public relations because in advertising you look for something easy to say, and you also look for little symbols and those pumpkin scones have done you a lot of good in promoting knowledge of you around the country.
Well I must say that. I must say as far as the pumpkin scones are concerned I've had a lot of very good publicity. A lot of people said to me, 'But Florence do you really like being connected with pumpkin scones?' I said, 'Look', I said, 'They helped me relate to women who make scones and men who eat them and when you're in politics that's all the people, you know, who vote for you', and I thought, Well, not everybody of course who makes pumpkin scones would vote for you, but nevertheless, it gives you a nice interaction with people, and I've never been ashamed of it. And when I think of my pumpkin scones I think the tremendous amounts of money that it's made for charities. I know for Spina Care in Sydney at an auction it raised a thousand dollars, but mind you, I understand the person who bought the recipe, [who] wanted to give a donation to Spina Care wasn't because my recipe was just so great, and in fact the very first time that I wrote it out I did it for the Liberal Party - for Neil Brown who was a Member of the Liberal Party in Melbourne, and he must have heard about it and asked me would I write it out, so I did it on Senate paper and he arranged a very lovely deep red frame, and it sold at auction for a thousand dollars there. So I thought, Well, that's not too bad and it inspired me, but of course it doesn't always bring money like that, but it is amazing the number of people who write to Joh and to myself asking for something for a celebrity auction, and I nearly always send them back a hand-written pumpkin scone recipe. Sometimes it might make only twenty-five dollars, but twenty-five dollars is something extra for whatever it is they are auctioning it for. And then of course it gone into other various areas where there's been quite a little bit of money that's been raised for this pumpkin ... by this pumpkin scone recipe.
Do you find that most people connect you with it?
Oh well, I don't know. I suppose if you've been become known for it, but I always said that after I became a Senator, I hoped that they remembered me first for being a Senator, who just had to happen to make pumpkin scones, and I hope that the work that I did as a Senator is something that everybody will remember me for because I certainly worked very hard and I tried hard for all the people that I represented.
Your fame has travelled abroad with it though, hasn't it?
Oh yes. I did have that one instance of course when Joh was welcoming Prince Charles to a function at the Arts Centre that Prince Charles was opening. It was the time he was out with Princess, with Diana, when she was there with him as the Princess of Wales, and he was replying to Joh's welcome and he said, 'You know, every time I come to Queensland I find the same Premier'. Well of course, he couldn't say that now, but this is what he said in '83. And he said he wondered whether that was due to his wife's pumpkin scones, that his mother, the Queen had told him about. So I thought, Well, if the Queen knew about them, there's nothing wrong with pumpkin scones. The only thing is, I did wonder to myself on a number of occasions, who had told her and what they said, whether they said, 'Well, you know, our Premier's wife she does ... she makes these pumpkin scones as a speciality', so I just don't know what they said, but I've often wondered. [INTERRUPTION]
In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, how old were you?
I was about nineteen.
And so what did the War mean for you, living and working in Brisbane?
Well of course I worked in the Main Roads. I worked with quite a lot of men, young men in the drafting room, and it meant that I saw them going off to war, and that made it come quite close. Some of the fellows that I knew fairly well went off and I think of one or two chaps who were in the Air Force, went off and gave their life for our country. And so, that brought it closer home to you. I joined the, you know, first aid course and did first aid and we used to have, you know, like SES I suppose it was, you know, that you have to go and do courses so that if air raids came you were all ready and ready prepared. But we were very fortunate in so far, of course, that in Brisbane we didn't have any problems, although that didn't stop everybody digging air raid shelters. At my home in New Farm we had an air raid shelter up in the back yard if anything had happened. But I always believed that God was good and spared us, and I still think that a lot of people don't fully appreciate the part that the American people played ... the American Forces played in saving Australia from being invaded by the Japanese. This is something that people often forget and I certainly don't forget, because of the Battle of the Coral Sea, when they repelled the Japanese, that meant a lot for myself and for all people, who were living in Australia at that time.
Were there many Americans stationed in Brisbane?
Oh, quite a lot as a matter of fact.
Did you have much to do with them?
Not really a lot to do with them personally, but I mean the lady next door seemed to have an awful lot to do with them, so we saw quite a few passing by here and there, but I mean, I don't know that I actually had a lot of contact. I did ... We did a little bit of waiting on tables at different places where they entertained forces, things like that, but that was probably, perhaps, as close as I got. One of the lasses, who lived over the road though, she married an American, so I met Don and we had quite a lot to do with him. So from time to time you saw people from the American forces round about, but I am very grateful to them.
Was the lady next door looked down on for fraternising with the Americans?
Oh I don't think so. The thing that annoyed me a bit, was that her husband was off fighting in the war, so I mean that's just the way it went.
That was quite common, wasn't it?
I think it was actually. Yes.
Americans were there with plenty of money. Were they ... Were they there with plenty of money to spend on girls?
Oh well, I think, they were well paid and I suppose that they had it and that was it.
What year did Joh get his knighthood?
1985 I think it was, if my memory serves me correctly.
And what did that mean to you?
Well I just felt that it was due recognition for the work that Joh had done as Premier of the state for a long time. But, Joh ... It had been actually suggested to Joh many years before that he should take a knighthood and Joh said, 'No, no, no. I don't want a knighthood. I'm quite happy for people to call me Joh'. And even after he became a knight, I mean, people still just called him Joh. I mean, there no 'Sir Joh' about it, and I mean, particularly if you moved around, 'Hi Joh', they'd say, 'Hi Joh', and I think that that, he never wanted to feel that a knighthood actually made him separate from the people that he represented.
Did becoming a Lady made any difference to how you felt about yourself?
Not really, I always hoped that I acted like a lady, and I mean, I've always said that that honour was Joh's and being a Lady, as they call it, Lady Flo - and that's not really correct it's Lady Bjelke-Petersen - but I mean it never made any difference as far as I was concerned. I've always said well I hope that I've always been a lady all my life.
It's interesting isn't it that if you became a Dame that wouldn't confer any particular honour or title on your husband? Has it ever been suggested to you that you might be elevated?
Well somebody asked me on one occasion, you know, whether I would, you know, think about it and I said, 'No, no. I was quite happy', and I think at the time Joh was already a Sir and I said, 'There's no need for me. Don't anybody think of making me a Dame', because I really think that it is people that have done an awful lot in voluntary work that should receive honours and there's a lot of people who give much, much of their time for helping people who are less fortunate than themselves. And perhaps they don't get recognised in the way they should. So I've been quite happy to go along as Joh's wife and as, you know, Lady Bjelke-Petersen. I'm quite happy about that.
Did Joh receive his knighthood from the Queen?
Yes, we went to Buckingham Palace. It was a very exciting experience actually. And you get right up into the palace and in the grand ballroom, where the Queen bestows her knighthoods, and I'll never forget it, you know, how she takes the sword and she taps them on each shoulder, and I was waiting for her to say, 'Arise Sir Joh', but she didn't. She just shook hands with him and he said she just said, 'I'll see you later today', because we were going to have an audience with her later. So Joh told me. I couldn't hear what she said anyway.
So do you think it would be a pity if you were just left with Australian honours and we didn't have a monarchy, and we didn't have those sorts of honours coming from the Queen?
Well I believe that they've played a very important role over the years. And I guess that, perhaps, people in business appreciate the fact that they have a knighthood to go with it. It's worked over the years very much so, that people in business appreciate the fact that if you have an honour, that people know about [it]. I mean, if you're made a knight through the Australian Honours people have no way of knowing whether you are or whether you aren't. I mean, you know, you just still bear your ordinary name and, as far as I know, there is no way of acknowledgement. But nevertheless, I guess that people say Australia is a country that's grown up now and it's good that we do have our own Honours, but Joh said that when the Queensland Government, when he was in at that time preparing Honours lists, it was amazing the amount of people that really wanted to be on the overseas Honours list rather than being on the Australian Honours lists, but probably things have changed since then.
How do you feel about the Republican movement?
Oh, I don't feel very happy about it at all. I'm not a republican. I'm a monarchist, and I believe in the British Empire. I believe in the type of government that we've had since Australia became, you know, Australia and had its own constitution in 1901, and I can't see any reason for any need for change. People say, 'Oh but we're getting more multi racial', and I just say, 'Well people shouldn't come to Australia if they don't like our type of government and the fact that we are, you know, part of the British Commonwealth of Nations', and I really can't see myself that being a republic is going to do anything extra for us. One thing you have to be careful of is, that if you get a President that he doesn't become a dictator. I look around the rest of the world and I see places that are republics, how they long once again to free democratic people. And that is one thing I believe that you do have to be very careful about, that you ... by changing into a republic that you don't become someone [sic] with a head that then becomes a dictator. And I don't think that there is anything wrong with our style of government at all. And I certainly believe in the Senate. I believe very strongly in the Senate now that I've been a Senator, and I believe that as it represents the states and that how it can, at times, do very special work to ensure that Australia doesn't ... isn't run by a dictator. I think that's something we have to be grateful for. And I'm certainly a monarchist through and through, and I believe that I have yet to have proved to me that being a republic would be better for Australia than the present system of government that we have now.
Some people argue that it would give us a sense of independence, of being in control of our own destiny, that we don't have while we've still got this maybe symbolic [tie], but nevertheless this thing with the old country.
Yes, well that could be so, but I mean I don't see that the Queen interferes in one way at all. The Governor General is her representative and all the laws and legislation go to the Governor General to be passed. I can't see that it makes ... that we are not independent. We're as independent as we need to be. And, I haven't ever found the Queen interfering in any business of Australia at all, but I still feel that the way it's been set up in 1901, I believe, that's the way we should continue to go.
So being an Australian, is being an Australian more important to you than being part of the British Commonwealth?
Oh, I think that we are first of all an Australian, who happens to be part of the Commonwealth of Nations in the British Commonwealth, in that case.
Now what about being a Queenslander? Some people feel that perhaps you and Joh feel that being a Queenslander is really more important than being an Australian?
Well, I don't know that we would think that because Queensland actually is part of Australia. But most certainly I've been pleased to have been a Queenslander, pleased indeed to have been a Senator for Queensland, representing Queensland in the Federal Parliament, and there of course, you know indeed that you are part of Australia, but you do represent your state to the best of your ability. And I mean, it's a case [that] the whole Federation was all these states that joined together and worked together, and sometimes of course, I hear Joh recommending that Tasmania should secede from the Commonwealth, but I haven't heard him ... although I think in some time in Mr. Whitlam's day, I think he was probably feeling the same way, but nevertheless, we are part as the Constitution ... part of the Constitution we are involved with Australia and I think I'm proud to be an Australian who is a Queenslander.
Do you think Queenslanders are a little bit different?
Oh, they say so. I don't know whether it is the vast distances that make the difference, but I don't really know that we are actually all that different from the rest of Australia. I notice that our Premier at the moment is complaining bitterly that it looks ... he thinks the Prime Ministers' going to deprive Queensland of much needed money, and I've heard people say that he's beginning to sound like Joh, the way he complains about the Commonwealth. But I guess that's just part of politics and ... in Australia and it's something that you learn to live with, and I think if you love your state you fight for your state. You do the best you can for the state that you ... particularly if you are in Parliament, for the state you represent.
Now talking of politics and the sorts of things that you do in politics, that you don't always do in relation to the rest of your life, I am interested looking on, as I think a lot of people are, that there often seems to be a bit of a gap between what is right in ordinary life and what is right in politics. Did you see things done in politics, when you were in Canberra, and also when you were watching Queensland politics, that you felt, Look that isn't quite right, but it is probably necessary for political reasons?
Well I think you only need to look at some of the things that have been done just recently down in Canberra, that you sort of feel that things aren't done perhaps the way you'd do them in private business. I don't think there would be anybody in the wide world who would say that they would distribute thirty million dollars of money on a whiteboard. I can't believe that something like that could be correct business procedure. I don't think that anybody in private business would do their business like that. They would have it on a computer. They would have all the details there. They would have every ... Every action would be explained. I think those sort of things certainly make people wonder what goes on in politics, and I suppose you could say probably pork-barrelling has been around forever, but nevertheless, I mean, I don't think anybody pork-barrelled in quite that way where you don't keep any details. I mean, you know what you're doing, and I think that that ... and I think that, you know, really, if you are a good government, you try and be fair in which ever way you're working.
You're out of politics now so you can look back on it a little bit more objectively perhaps, and I'm just wondering whether in the years that you were involved in politics, whether you felt sometimes: look it isn't ... it is necessary to do it this way because if we don't do it this way we won't win? Did you ever feel that that was a reasonable line to take?
Well I think when you are campaigning for elections you certainly are going full steam ahead to try and win the election for your party. There is no two doubts about that. You certainly do the best you can and I guess the party that you represent aims to bring forward policies that they believe will suit people. I suppose sometimes when you get into power you aren't always able to carry out all the promises that you make, but I think about the experience that ... that Joh had in the early days when he and his Government just got in to power in 1957 and the ... and his party had promised that they would do away with lease hold land and allow free hold land to go ahead and that they would alter the transport laws in Queensland, and when our Government got into power they said they were sorry that would cost too much, and they would have to ... they couldn't carry out their promises. Now Joh believed that those promises that he had gone around, stomping around the countryside, saying, 'This is what we are going to do when we get into government' ... He believed that they ought to keep their word and so he lead the revolt in Dolby and in Roma, and of course, as he ... he became a bad boy, you might say, for doing that, but they had to in the end - the revolt was so strong - that they changed their mind and said, 'All right we will go ahead with our free holding of land and altering the transport laws and making them easier'. And so, you know, I do believe that if you make big, strong promises you've got to be very careful, you got to calculate how much they will cost first so that you can really keep your word.
Now when Joh was himself in power, and came up against the realities of managing a state, did he ever find himself in a situation where he had to make choices that he wasn't very happy with?
Well I think he was fairly good at standing up for what he believed in. See I look back to the time when Queensland did away with death duty and gift duty. Now that was something, of course, that really put Queensland on the map and it made all the other states and the Commonwealth do the same thing, because so many people died and their ... and they have to, sort of, give away so much of their land to the government. So Joh ... It had been National Party - or Country Party as it was then - policy for many years, to do away with death duty and gift duty. And well, Frank Nicklin had had ten years in office, and Jack Pizzey had been there, and some years after Joh got in he decided that he was going to implement the National Party to do away with death duty and gift duty. Now he had a tremendous job because Gordon Chalk said, 'Over my dead body you'll do that. We can't afford to do it', and so he ... they called a special Party meeting and they discussed all this and Gordon went round all the Members in the ... in the Party and said, 'If we have to away with death duty and gift duty, you know the school that you want? I won't be able to do ... you won't be able to build that, and you know the road you wanted in your electorate, you won't be able to have that, and the houses you want, you can't have those', and he went around everybody and he said, 'Now, who of you Members here want to have ... do away with death duty and gift duty?' and, of course, I suppose Joh might have been the only one that put up his hand. Yes, he wanted to go ahead with it. Anyway, then Joh thought, Well how will I manage this? And he got up and he said, 'Now', he said, 'I'll make you one promise', he said, 'And you know if I make a promise I keep my word', he said. 'If you people vote for keeping death duty and gift duty I will put in every paper a photograph of you - in every local paper - and say this Member of yours voted to retain death duty and gift duty. Now', he said, 'I'll promise you on my word I will do that. How many of you are going to support Gordon Chalk?' Do you know how many did? Gordon Chalk and one other, and the other man lost his seat at the next election. So, you know, sometimes if you're willing to stand up and be counted for what you think is right ... I think that's very important in politics.
Now, you have very conservative views, what is described as conservative views in politics, how do you deal with the fact that in the modern world there are problems. For example, in relation to Social Services, you described how when your father had to leave work early because of his eyesight you had no welfare and you had to live on investments and so on. Supposing you hadn't had any money to live on, on those. I mean, what I'm asking is are all old way always the best way? Without that private income that you had, wouldn't your family have been a family that would have very much needed some sort of support from Social Services?
Well I suppose we would have. But over the years I suppose dad adopted the attitude that you tried to save when you had something, and I don't know whether these days ... Perhaps people are more inclined to buy what they need when they want it, without giving much thought for the future, and so we do have a lot of people, perhaps, who haven't got anything behind them and I guess who would be destitute. There are many people who feel that they're destitute now. Even with Social Security that they don't get enough. So, I don't know. I think too, of course, families have a responsibility to help their older people. If you go to Japan or China you wouldn't find anybody getting Social Security there. They just have to ... In China, in particular, they all have to look after their own old people and just take them into the home and look after them. But, here in Australia, of course, we do have a different system. We pay taxes that are supposed cover that, but nevertheless, I mean, I do think that, perhaps, people need to, you know, see to the future and hope that they'll be able to just save a little bit, so that they can help themselves in some way.
Would you like to see major cut backs in that whole area of social security.?
I don't think, at the present time, there is any way in the world that ... that we could do that. I think that it's been going and established for so long, but one thing I do believe when it comes to dole money, I still strongly believe that people should have to work for the dole. I've said this dozens of times in the Senate, and of course all the thanks I got was to say, it was far too hard to organise it, but I still feel myself that this is one way that they could get some good from particularly young people, who these days are on the dole, and let me say too, that I believe policies of the Government that's in power have brought about lots and lots of unemployed, but that's my idea and it's not very easy to, you know, get people going. I think that the trouble with this Government is that they don't help private enterprise enough. If private enterprise got some more assistance from the Government they would possibly be in a position where they would be able to provide more jobs, and job opportunities, but that's private enterprise, as against what the Government believes in: socialism. So it's just the difference.
Another major area of change politically that's occurred in your life time is a big change in attitudes to Aborigines. What do you feel about the whole move towards giving Aborigines land rights?
Well, I've been connected with Aboriginal people for very many years. Actually when I was a little girl, our church used to run what they called Junior Mission Bands and we used to support the Aboriginal people in Yeppoon, Weipa, Arakuen and Mornington Island. We worked and we gave money. The church as a whole gave money to help these people up on their Aboriginal Missions Stations. Now, people looking back now will say, 'Oh paternalistic'. Well I believed that the missionaries who were there gave the people in those days good spiritual understanding and help. And I think you'd find the people look back on the days with the Late Reverend Mackenzie up on Arakuen and say, 'Arakuen was a wonderful place in those days'.
But you are aware that there were some places that weren't regarded as wonderful at all, that weren't very well run, and that also restricted the Aborigines a great deal. What do you feel about all that?
Well I don't know that it was actually necessary to restrict them. I look at Cherbourg, that was in our own electorate. I don't think that anybody was really restricted there. I used to ... We used to come and go. We had ... The people of Cherbourg voted for Joh amazingly regularly, and during the war, Joh had Aboriginal people that came and worked with him, and for him, on the peanut thrasher and the work that he did there. I still remember how he tells the story about Peter Heggity, one of the Aboriginals that came and helped him, how he bent down one day and looked underneath the refrigerator and he saw a flame under the refrigerator and he says, 'Boss that's funny', he said, 'Here you've got a flame burning to make the refrigerator be cold', but you see they came into the house. Joh entertained. You know, Joh's family looked after them and fed them, as well as paid them for working for them. And Joh himself actually, had a lot to do with changing Hopevale Mission during the war of course, because they were under a German church. You know, they classed the Lutheran church as a church from Germany. Because they were under that they said, 'Oh they were a big risk', away up there, in the north of Queensland, and they took them to Woorabinda. And after the war was over Joh worked hard to get those people back up to North Queensland. He went up. He looked for a site so that Hopevale Mission could be established there, and I didn't think that they were restricted in ... in any ways really like that.
When they worked for Joh did he pay them the same as sorts of wages as he would ...?
As far as I understand. I never asked him, but I'd imagine that that would be the way he would pay them the same way as he paid the other chappies, yes.
So what would you like to see happen in the future for the Aboriginal people of Queensland?
Well I think the Aboriginal people of Queensland now have the same opportunities as everybody else. I think the best thing in Australia would be if they brought in a bill in Parliament making all black people and white people equal. Now I think that would be the very best thing that could happen, that you know, that there's nobody [that] thinks they're better than anybody else. We're all equal and we all receive the same assistance in every way. I think that that is something that Australia could look at and, you know, really think about.
Well, of course, some people would say that Aborigines would need some special assistance in order to be able to participate properly in life because of the background that they've come from in the past, and they would see that as an area that might need some special attention.
Yes, I suppose that's so, but of course, let's face it, we've been ... you know, it's been nearly two hundred years now, you know, that we're, sort of you know ... since white people first came into this land - 1770, 1970 - well over two hundred years, and I think that over the last number of years, of course, that the people have been trying to treat the Aborigines in a ... in a ... perhaps a more equal way. Some people would say they've certainly been given quite, you know, a lot to help them along their way, and I think that perhaps Aboriginals have to accept the opportunities that white Australian people are giving them now. I think that that is something. I think they have to learn when homes are provided for them, that they treat them well and look after them well. I wonder perhaps whether education in that way is very necessary for them. But, you know, it's quite a long time that things have been being done for them and I think perhaps if they ... the children, who are going to high school now ... There are quite a number of them, who are going forward and are learning to accept the opportunities that are offered, but I guess that it's just something that seems to me to be taking quite a long time for them to understand.
How long have you been married?
I've been married forty-two years this year. We were married in 1952, on the 31 May actually, so it will be around before very long.
I noticed that in your wedding photo you didn't wear a veil and the traditional bridal gown. Why was that?
Oh I think it was just probably just that I thought I was over thirty and perhaps, you know, the hat looked nice and we were happy about that, so I think it worked out quite well. I notice these days in bridal photos quite a lot of folk are doing the same thing.
Did you have quite a small wedding?
Yes, actually our wedding was sort of a little bit back the front. Because my father wasn't well, we didn't want a big wedding reception. We had a party the week before the reception was held. [PLANE IN BACKGROUND - INTERRUPTION]
Tell me about your wedding day. What kind of a wedding did you have?
Well it was a lovely wedding actually. We had lots of people there, but it really was a little bit different as far as wedding receptions go, because we actually had our wedding reception a week before the actual wedding. Dad wasn't well at the time and we just had a family gathering at home after the wedding was over and ... but nevertheless, it didn't stop people coming to the church. We had a lovely lot of people at the church and at the wedding. [PLANE IN BACKGROUND - INTERRUPTION]
So how long have you been married?
Well we've been married now for forty-two years on the 31 May.
And what do you think is the secret of staying married for that length of time?
Well I think love of course is most important and Christian faith. Joh and I both have very strong Christian faith and we always have family devotions in our home when the children were growing up, and it's good to know that all our families also do the same thing.
What did you find most difficult to get used to about Joh, in terms of working out how to get along together? Was there anything about Joh that you found particular irritating or difficult to live with?
No, he's always been very easy to get along with I must say. But I must say in the early days I think he had been just so used to being home with his mother and sister that it took him a little bit longer to realise that he now had a wife and, you know, that you talk things over with your wife, perhaps, and not so often with your mother and your sister. That was probably about the only thing. But it didn't take long and we've had a very happy marriage and I think you, you know, really have to learn to give and take in all marriages and I think that's one of the things that we manage to do and ... and then again of course as far as that goes, I suppose, Joh was away in Parliament and I was at home, and I was there, sort of, being mum and dad quite a lot of the time, and I'm certainly very thankful that the children grew up to have a strong Christian faith as well.
Why do you think ... What do you think Joh got out of being married to you?
Well I'd like to think that he got a wife who loved him, looked after him, and he got a family of four very nice children to whom he is very attached I must say. And he's, I'm afraid, been always a little bit inclined to spoil them, but nevertheless, I believe that he loves his children and above all he loves his grandchildren too. [PLANE IN BACKGROUND - INTERRUPTION]
Joh has always had a great deal of confidence and strength about the particular views that he took. Have you sometimes had to pull him back and remind him that maybe he needs to take a slightly more moderate line with things?
No I don't think I ever have actually, because I really believe that his opinions were always very good ones and I ... I think I've mentioned on different occasions I've always believed that he had very good political nous, and if that's what you're talking about: his political views ... because I think that those are something that are really very strong and have been very good for Queensland.
I'm talking about his views generally. I'm talking about the kind of person that he is, and living with him as a man in marriage, because I think that the question of what is ... how far wives are expected to go in having an influence on their husbands, is one that is interesting to a lot of people.
Yes, oh well, I think that we learned to talk things over together. I think that's something, you know, that we always did and, and well his views in the home really coincided with mine, so we didn't really get into terrible arguments about what was right and what was wrong. He may have been, perhaps had, you know, sort of, you know, stricter views because he had had rather a strict upbringing in his early days than perhaps I had, but we were able to work it all out and it worked out very well.
Oh well you know, we should ... where the children should go and what they should do.
What sorts of things did he feel ... What had he been restricted in?
Oh well, I think, you know, you've got to realise that he lived out of town here in many ways and I think they were pretty poor. He didn't have opportunities perhaps to go to [the] pictures and do things like that. And I think that perhaps you know, and when I look at pictures now I think to myself, Well yes, goodness me. That's right'. But of course in those days I thought some of them were really quite harmless, and quite good, but ...
So this was the strict old Lutheran coming out, that pictures and dances and all of that sort of thing were a little bit suspect?
Well in those days yes. But we never had any problem really. The children all grew up with pretty good attitudes and that is wonderful as far as I am concerned.
Do you ever remember an occasion where you and Joh had a really right old barney, where you had a good fight about something?
No not really. I can't say that I can recall a really good ... a really good barney. No.
And there was never any real big point of disagreement over anything?
No, not really that I can bring to my mind. I think that, you know, we ... well, life went on fairly nicely and fairly evenly here. And maybe he left all his barnies for when he got down to Parliament. I think that might have been what happened.
On your wedding day, did you promise to obey him?
Oh I guess I did. I think in those days that's what you normally did.
Do you think that that is a good idea in marriage for the woman to follow her husband?
Love, honour and obey. Well, I think that it ought to be a two way street really. But nevertheless, I mean, that's the way it was, and I mean, I don't know whether you'd say these days that all women obeyed their husbands by any manner or means.
But do you think it would be a good idea if they did?
If they obeyed them? Well it all depends what your husband wants you to do, doesn't it? [INTERRUPTION]
So if you were advising one of your daughters about how to make a good marriage, what kind of advice would you give her?
Well I'd tell her to learn to give and take, not to, you know, be dogmatic about anything. There's always two sides to the question. Of course I think that they need to have love in their home. I think that's most important indeed, and then of course if you've got Christian faith to go with it, that helps to make a very good atmosphere and I think it brings in a sense of if anything goes wrong then you can learn to say, 'I'm sorry'. I think that's one very important angle that young married couples need to keep in their mind.
What do you love most about Joh?
Well, I think I ... Well I love his ... his. shall we say, his well ... his ability to be a wonderful husband and a wonderful father and ...
Well, it shows itself in the way he is devoted to us all. I think that that sort of comes through very clearly and very distinctly.
He ... And you still feel this for you. How does he show it to you nowadays?
Oh well, I think that the fact that never a day goes by but he rings me up, morning and night, and he keeps in touch, especially when we are not here together which of course is something that's very important. And we always have plenty of time to talk to one another when he's home. I think that that's something that's really very important, and we believe in showing our affection and I think that that is something that's worthwhile too. [INTERRUPTION]
Over the years, with Joh in politics, there must have always been rumours ... There have been rumours ... I'll start that again. Over the years, with Joh in politics, there have often been rumours about other women, or about things going on that weren't quite right. How did you handle that?
I don't think you need to let that worry you. I think if you've got a strong and stable marriage I think, well then, you don't let anything like that bother you. I think that that's ... and I ... I mean I know for a fact, of course, that he wouldn't be doing things like that. So, I mean, stories can be made up very quickly and very easily.
There were some quite nasty rumours about his pilot, wasn't it? Because he had a woman pilot?
Yes, that's right. Yes.
Well, let's say that she was a very efficient pilot. She knew her job very well and she helped Joh to learn to fly aeroplanes and was interested, you know, in flying helicopters at the same time and they went to lessons and I think that that ... you know, he appreciated the fact that she was a very good pilot who was able to assist him. He loves flying, as I suppose, that is his one love apart from this family, and he's always enjoyed the opportunity. He really started flying when he used to drive to Brisbane by road, when he first became Member of Parliament. [It] took him so jolly long to get down there and the roads were so bad that he decided that this was a wonderful opportunity to learn to fly. Actually, he ... I believe he had been up for a fly when ... I don't know whether it was Kingsford Smith or one of those people had come down here to the aerodrome at Kingaroy on a grass paddock, I suppose, in those early days. And he had taken him up for a fly and he thought that was absolutely wonderful, and so he always had this urge to want to learn to fly. Even his Brother who died - he also thought how wonderful it would be to be able to fly. I don't mind flying in an aeroplane, but I have never had any urge to fly ... to learn to fly. and so I mean, you just have to you know, accept that this is all, you know, somebody makes up some talk in the paper and that's all there is.
And did you personally get on well with Beryl Young?
I managed very well yes. I mean, I didn't see a lot of her because I ... only except when we were flying in the aeroplanes, and I always got on very well with her then.
When you were in Canberra and of course from the position of Premier's wife, you were able to watch a lot of the problems that were associated with being politicians and the effect that had on marriages. Do you think it does put a particular strain on marriages, that politics takes people away from their homes so much?
Well it certainly does. There's no two doubts about that. But see, I'd grown up with this situation, you know, from the time I got married, that Joh was away quite a bit and coming and going. But I think that you'll probably find that people, who are married, and then you find that your husband takes on being a job of being a politician, and he's away, I think it does probably put a strain on the marriage, but I think a lot depends on the marriage itself. I think that if you feel strong and secure with your marriage, with your husband ... and I know so many of the men down there who are lovely husbands and who regularly kept in touch with their wives. But then you get the others, perhaps, who you know, perhaps mightn't be so secure and you certainly ... There is no doubt about ... You can certainly hear lots of stories. There's no two ... you know, that really is something that you can hear all the time when you're down there. But I think that you really need to have a strong, stable base and that's most important. [INTERRUPTION]
Do you think that it is important for a wife or a husband to offer each other criticism?
Oh, I think it does ... I think it is important. I think that occasionally you need to, you know, be told something and, you know, as long as you are providing criticism in a helpful manner. I mean there are different ways of criticising, you know, and I think that that's something that you have to take into account as you deliver, you know, any suggestions. I think that those are some ... And when you're in public life that often has to take place. As a matter of fact, thinking about Beryl, she ... she went round with Joh a lot more, around to meetings, than I used to, particularly because she flew him wherever he had to go, and after I became Senator, of course, I was down in Canberra quite a lot of the time and she would, sort of ... If he ... If she thought he was too close to a microphone she could go like that [GESTURES DISTANCE WITH HER HANDS] and, you know, give him little helpful hints and I think that they ... you know. if you can offer advice in a helpful way, that is something that is really important.
You've told us that when you became Senator you were very clear in your own mind that you weren't just going to be Joh's mouthpiece down in Canberra, but did he, in that time, offer you any good advice?
Oh yes, I think I could say that he ... he did, and I mean, I'd have been a bit of a dill if I hadn't taken any notice of any suggestions that he made, because I was ... as I say I always thought that he had very good political acumen and I was sort of quite happy to hear what he said. Of course, when you get down into the party room and you listen to what the party room has to say, you can't always carry out Joh's advice. But, I just sort of felt that I was my own person down there and I tried to do what I thought best for the people of Queensland and let's face it, Joh was Premier of Queensland for a ... quite a lot of the time and representing the people himself, so I mean, any advice that he might have given me in relation to Queensland I tried to tuck away in here [POINTS TO HER HEAD] and hope that I would be able to use it.
Did he every say to you, 'Flo, you know, it would be a really good idea if you did this about it', and then you got into the party room and changed your mind and then came back and had to face Joh? [Flo laughs]
Well, I'd ... I can't recall any exact instances but I do know, you know, different times I used to laugh and say it was like walking a barbed wire fence, because I had Joh on one side of the fence and our National Party party room on the other, and I suppose that particularly applied during that period that Joh decided, you know, that he would accept peoples advice and go to Canberra, or try to go to Canberra. Put it like that.
And you could see the other point of view?
Well I ... I sort of realised it wouldn't be very easy to sway our leaders, who were there at the present time, who thought they were doing a good job. Regretfully of course, they weren't doing as good a job as they had thought. Also, they had been beaten the previous time and I think people were scared that they would get beaten again, which of course did happen, but we're ... Unfortunately we're in the situation now where we've been in Opposition for a long time and I hope that [when] the next election comes around they'll get their act together and we'll be able to get into government. All the ... I was down there for twelve and a quarter years and I was actually only as part of the government from '81 to '83, so, it was a fair length of time that I sat on Opposition benches, and I've long since learnt that you can't achieve as much as you'd like to when you are part of the Opposition.
During the time that you were part of the government, Malcolm Fraser was leading the Government. How did you get on with him? And there were also at that time some tensions between him and Joh over a few issues. How did you fit into that picture?
Well actually, I got on really quite well with Malcolm Fraser, but you've got to remember that there's a difference between a back bench Senator and a Prime Minister and when ... He was always very nice. He always said, 'Hello Flo', to me, whenever he saw me, and I can remember on one occasion ... Actually it was the very night that they were going to take the vote on the bill about tax on essential commodities and I got a message: would I please come around and see the Prime Minister and I thought, Oh how does he know what I'm going to do - that I'm going to vote against the Government? I mean, here's one back bencher ... It wasn't such a terrible ... terribly large number or anything and I went round there and I sort of felt like going to the dentist room. You know they said, 'Oh sit down', and I thought, Oh dear, the Prime Minister. What does he want to tell me? And when I went in he said, 'Oh come in Flo, come in. Would you like a cup of tea?' And I thought, Well he can't be going to blow me up or anything. And do you know what he wanted me to do? He wanted me to take a message to Joh. I can't remember now what the message was, and that was all he wanted me for, to take a message to Joh. And I've often wondered to this day, why he didn't pick the telephone up and ring Joh up himself. It might have been an easier way to do it. But certainly I delivered the message to Joh because I think I got back to my office and just rang Joh up and said, 'Malcolm Fraser just got me on the phone and he wants you to do this', and but Joh and actually Malcolm, I think on the whole they got on very well, particularly in the early days of his Prime Ministership because actually Joh stomped the whole countryside in 1975, at that election, telling everybody - not only in Queensland but in other states too - to support Malcolm Fraser and change the government and ... But he felt at the time, that perhaps, you know, Malcolm should have changed some of the things that Mr. Gough Whitlam had brought in at the time that he was Prime Minister. He gave him ... Joh gave Malcolm plenty of free advise but I don't think Malcolm always accepted it. I think he thought, well, he was Prime Minister and Joh was only a Premier, but it was ... you know, I don't think they ever got on, you know, really too badly, but as I say, in the later times I think Joh felt that there was some of the things that he should have done that he didn't do, but that's past history.
Now, if you ... When you were down in Canberra and you were getting a different perspective on things for the first time, because before that as Joh's wife you'd been in a position to see things pretty much from his point of view ... You went to Canberra and got this different perspective. Did that lead you to have more occasion to advise Joh against things that he was wanting to do?
No, I wouldn't say so. I think I've always held out, that I believe that he had a very good political acumen and I believe that the vast majority of decisions that he made were quite right. I mean, you only have to look at what happened to Queensland while he was the Premier of the state, how it developed and grew, and the actions that he took: doing away with death duty and gift duty and different things like that. I believe that it wasn't necessary for me, as somebody from down in Canberra, come home and say, 'Listen, I think you should be doing this or that or the other thing Joh'. I think he'd have probably told me to that I was getting Canberra-ised. That was one piece of advise he gave me before I went to Canberra, and that was to say, 'Don't get Canberra-ised Florence. You just, sort of, are a Senator for Queensland. You represent the state down there and try and remember that the Senate is supposed to be a states' house and you are there as a Senator from the state of Queensland'. So that was his advice to me and, well, I tried to do my best as far as that was concerned.
Now, you and Joh have always been known for the stand that you've taken on moral issues, especially the issues relating to sexual morality and there's been issues like condoms in schools, and so on, where Joh has taken a strong stand, but it was also true that one of the things that came out of the Inquiries was that during the period that Joh was Premier there was a lot of corruption and protection of prostitution and other sexual activity around Queensland. How did you feel about that, when it all came out, that that had been going on all along?
Well I was very sorry about that. Actually Joh had done what Mr. Whitrod had asked him in the earlier days, and had had two Scotland Yard Inquiries into the police and whether there was corruption and they couldn't find any. So I wasn't quite sure how Joh, himself, was able to be supposed to know that that was going on. You feel very sad about it when ... if this comes out that that was true, and actually even putting away the Police Commissioner was on the word of a corrupt policeman himself, but that's by the way. But all I say to you is, if you read the papers now, there's plenty of prostitution around still and, I mean, for all the talk about it and how they were going to clean things up in Queensland, crime and murder and rape, prostitution and all these problems are still there and much, much worse than they were in Joh's day. That does ... two wrongs don't make a right. Don't get me wrong. But, I mean, I ... when they talk about Joh and, you know, how he should have known, if two teams from Scotland Yard couldn't know, how was Joh supposed to know? I mean short of running around and holding peoples' hand and going out and being part of the police force himself, how on earth were you supposed to know?
You mentioned the Police Commissioner. He was one, and there was a number of other people that were really quite close, not just to Joh, but in a couple of instances to you, who were caught in this net and who are now in gaol or have had something happen to them as a result of [the] Inquiry into their activities. How do you deal with that? How did you feel about this with some of the people that were your friends like ...?
You mean some of the Members of Parliament that I knew?
People like Allen Callaghan and some like this?
Callaghan, oh yes. Well that was rather sad. At the time that he was caught up in that net he had left Joh's employment, and I really must say, I haven't seen Allen for a while, but I must say, that Allen was a man of great ideas and he was always full of bright ideas. As a matter of fact, I often wonder when I read the front page of The Australian, with Hugh Lunn's headline, about it wasn't Joh that was going to Canberra it was Flo, I often wonder whether Allen Callaghan wasn't behind talking to Hugh Lunn about that. They were very great friends, I know that. And I was very sorry about that. I think that, you know, it is sad when somebody has to serve a term in gaol. I also feel it was very sad about our Members of Parliament, who were put in gaol for quite small amounts - entertaining their family and friends. And if it had been private enterprise I don't believe that people would have been, shall we say, reported, or looked at for doing things like that. I think you'll find that people in charge of big companies are entertaining their family and friends all the time, because that is one of the understood things that happen. And as for poor Leisha Harvey, who was put in gaol for buying cosmetics to make herself nice for television and things like that I, I mean, to me it just seemed so utterly way out, and when I look at what happened in other states - Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria - I ... I really wonder. And they've got an ICAC Commission in New South Wales inquiring into corruption there, and problems. Seems to be endemic, unfortunately, in our society at the present time. I wonder whether a lot of it doesn't stem to the fact that, perhaps people need good strong morality and good standards to live up to.
I suppose people felt that there was a difference between the spending of tax payers' money on yourself and the spending of private company money. There is this feeling, isn't there, that taxpayers money has to be taken care of in a particularly careful way.
Well there certainly is, but then, I mean, you can get thirty million of taxpayers money and spend on a whiteboard and hand it out right, left and centre. I mean, don't know whether there's much difference in my own estimation, but that's by the way.
One of the things we often hear about morality is that both in business and in public life there are certain things that people do that they wouldn't do in their private life, but they say it's necessary in the real world, in the tough hard world of politics and business. We have to do these things otherwise we won't win or we have to do these things because it's politic and this is smart to do. What do you think about that, coming from where you sit as a Christian, a moralist, somebody who's concerned about standards? Do you see that in public life and do you think it is necessary, that they are right?
No, I don't really think that it necessary and that it's right. I think if you've got standards, you should abide by them and live by them, and particularly if you've got Christian standards, I believe that it is up to you as a Christian to abide by them and live by them, so I don't go along just because, you know, it's politics that you've got to change your standards. Some people apparently seem to think that that's okay, but it doesn't agree with my standards.
Do you think that's difficult in politics, to maintain those standards?
Well, I certainly think in a lots of cases it is. I mean, I know, you know, if you wanted to speak in the Parliament against things that you thought were right, you could quite easily get somebody on the other side interjecting and, you know, sort of saying things about you. Brian Harradine, the Labor Senator ... He's an Independent Labor Senator. He's a very strong man from Tasmania and he will not let people interject him, or bother him at all. He sticks to what he believes and he's firm and he's strong, and I admire him very, very much indeed, and if we had a few more Brian Harradine's scattered right throughout the parliament I believe that would indeed be a very great help.
And what did you try to contribute to that debate about morality when you were in Parliament?
Well I always tried to take a stand when issues such as pornography and things like that came to the fore. I believed that I had a, you know ... a duty to speak up, and I think that those are some of the things. And then of course, I don't suppose I've ever been a great, strong supporter of pushing women. The ... you know, they had this discrimination bill against women, and I mean, I was never really for that, because I believe if you discriminate in favour of women then you're discriminating against men. I think we should all be equal. And I don't believe that any need for all these bills. Mind you, I suppose, if you looked back probably women didn't always have the same chances as men have had, but over latter years, I believe they have. But I really have never been able to be a very strong supporter of pushing women. If they've got the ability they can get where they want to. That's always been my theory. And I've spoken up and I've had women Senators on the other side get up in the Parliament and heckle me, or, you know, they don't get up, but from their seat ... And you have to stand firm and strong for things that you think are right.
Why do you think there are so few women in Parliament?
Well I think it all goes back to the fact that lots of women start out wanting to be wives and mothers. I mean. I had three girls who were very pleased to get married before they were twenty-one. They met the right man and they wanted to get married, and a lot of women get married and settle down and get a home. And I think you don't get into Parliament, really, unless you're involved in a political party. And if you're busy at home, doing work at home, or even if you're working in an office, and you have to go home and look after a home, you haven't got really, perhaps, enough time to be involved as a woman in politics.
Why do you think there are so few women in politics?
Well, I'm inclined to think that a lot of women in the early days, you know, when they get married, they want to start up a home and a family or even if they're working, they're so busy trying to do two jobs, being a wife and mum and, you know, going to work or looking after a family, they haven't got the time to get involved in politics. I think that's something that people are inclined to forget. And of course, unless you're really involved in a political party you don't have the same chance of getting into politics. I think you've got to be in a party before you can become involved in politics and perhaps get preselection for a seat in Parliament. I think that [is what] people are inclined to forget. And so, you know, there have over the years been rather few women in the Parliament. I have noticed the numbers growing since I got down there in '81 and gradually women have been able to get in, particularly in the Senate. Perhaps they feel that, you know, that's a better position to put their women into. We have some very capable women in the Senate and I have enjoyed very much listening to them and watching them operate but ...
Do you think that generally speaking we'd be better off if we did have a lot more women in a much more representative sample?
Well I suppose that's right. I think it wouldn't hurt, but I don't believe that women ought to be just put there to get the numbers. I really don't. I think you've got to show an intense interest in politics to be chosen to be a Member of Parliament. And then again too, apart from that, you've got to have people to vote for you. You've got to have a winnable seat, and you've got to have a winnable position on a Senate ticket. We had an experience in Queensland when I got out. When I got out and they chose the Senate team, because Bill O'Chee was a sitting Member of Senate and a very capable young man let me say, of course they naturally chose him to be number one. And they chose Deanne Kelly, whom I had thought would be a good replacement for me. She was number two on our ticket. Now if enough women in Queensland had wanted another woman to represent them, a Conservative view point for women I might say, because Dianne Kelly was a good strong Conservative voice for women - if they wanted her, surely they could have voted over party lines, to vote for her. It's all very well for people to say we need more women in politics but people have to vote for them. You can't get into politics without people voting for you.
You also can't get into politics without the party machines being behind you. Do you think they are often not so in favour of women, especially perhaps with the National Party?
Yes, well, of course, I believe they haven't chosen enough women. See Deanne got number two and if we could have got enough votes she'd have got in all right, but we've had women Presidents at our National Party, but for some reason or other they haven't been able to gain winnable seats. We have Di MacAuley in the State Parliament. She's a women down there and over the years we have had a number of women within the State Parliament but you've got to stay there. You've got to get the votes to stay there, and there is no doubt about it, the party machine does need to perhaps have, perhaps, a stronger view. But then again, if women don't always nominate and I think it's up to the women themselves.
You've told us how you really do admire Joh's political acumen and that the more you learned about politics the more you appreciated it. I wonder then what you feel went wrong for him at the end?
Well, I don't know whether it was the 'Joh for Canberra' campaign that started it and it ... Let me say it was 'Joh for Canberra' not 'Joh for PM' really. It was none of his idea about that. But I wonder whether that, sort of, started it and then when he was away working that year ... Just bear in mind that he'd had the most wonderful election success in, you know, the previous December that you could have possibly had. We got in in our own right without any bother. And, I just sort of wonder, you know, whether the boys, while he was away working on this idea of going to Canberra, whether they got the idea that perhaps they could manage without him. I don't know. And then, finally, you know, he wanted to move some of his Cabinet Ministers and that to me is a Prime Min ... a Premier's prerogative. It's not something that you can't do. I mean, Prime Ministers do it all the time and Premiers in other states do it and nobody seems to turn a hair.
Well that's something that I think you'd have to ask him. I think he felt that there was disquiet in amongst the Part ... in amongst his politicians and I suppose that that must have had something to do with it. Whether he thought that they were manoeuvring behind his back, I just don't know. But most certainly I think it was a very big shock to Joh when he really found out that this was, you know, what they were ... what they were doing. And I believe now, in retrospect looking back, it was the most stupid move that the National Party could have made. I thought so then of course, but I certainly looking back in retrospect I'm sure of it now.
You'd had a lot of certainty in your life up until then. You'd had a belief system that you felt you could rely on, you had a husband that you really looked up to and felt was in a sense, set for life and then this happened. What effect did that have on you?
Well, I think it sort of showed you that God doesn't always let everything happen the way you think it ought to happen. We do all have trials and tribulations of some sort as we go through life and most certainly the trial period afterwards was a very big worry. More particularly, of course, as we knew there was nothing in it. It was a political vendetta, I believed very, very strongly against Joh, and as I look back on it now, I'm sure that if we hadn't had Luke Shaw on the jury Joh could have quite easily gone to gaol because I think the other lady would have probably given up the fight, but we were very fortunate. And Luke Shaw was not a Member of the 'Friends of Joh'. Luke Shaw had been a branch secretary for a little while in one of the Young National Party branches, and bear in mind that Luke Shaw wasn't even a Member of the National Party while Joh was Premier. He only became a Member of the National Party after Joh got out, so you wouldn't have thought that he was particularly a Joh supporter, but, if he hadn't been there, who knows? I think Joh could have easily reposed in gaol because I believe that the Labor Party in Queensland, in particular, were anxious that that's where he should go. I think he'd annoyed them for so long and they hadn't been able to get rid of him for nineteen and a half years. I think that they probably wanted to perhaps pay him back. [INTERRUPTION]
Luke Shaw was the cousin of one of your secretaries, wasn't he?
Yes well I found that out after the trial was over. I'd never heard of Luke Shaw and I certainly ... I mean Kathleen had I don't know how many cousins she had. I think she did tell me once and it was up to sixty or seventy, something like that, and I'd never heard of Luke Shaw. I knew she had plenty of cousins. But I only found out his name after the whole trial was over. Fortunately she had never mentioned it to me and I thought it was very sensible of her that she didn't.
How did he get put on the jury?
By the same way anybody else got put on the jury. He just went through, and I remember looking at the jury and I remember this, you know, seeing this young man and he ... You wouldn't have taken him for a National Party support actually. He was very much a university student, you know, long hair pulled back, and jeans and a T-shirt on, and I honestly believe that the ... when the prosecution were choosing the jury as they went through I think they looked at him and thought, He'll be right, he'll be okay against Joh, and of course, they found out that he wasn't, that he was you know, just a Joh supporter, who having listened to the case, believed that Joh ... that there was nothing there that Joh should be put in ... into gaol for. See actually, they charged him originally, you know, with corruption, and then after four years of searching high and low into all our business activities, after four years of putting Joh where he couldn't get a job because this charge of corruption was against him ... and that came two or three times you know, that he could have had very good jobs only for this corruption charge. Low and behold he ... after the charge was sort of bane on it, then he got a letter after four years saying there was no corruption. Well then, of course, I suppose they wanted to have something, so then they decided they'd charge him with perjury. Well I always thought perjury was telling down right lies. In his case they said his perjury was that he hadn't told the whole truth. And it turned out he went to his solicitors and he said, 'Didn't you send a letter to the Fitzgerald Inquiry telling everything I knew about this amount of donation and the money that this man brought in?' and he said, 'Yes', that the Inquiry had had all that information in the form of a letter. And yet they decided that they'd try him for perjury and it was ... it was really a big hoax as far as I was concerned.
Did it ever, during that period, cross your mind that they might be right, that he might have something to hide that you didn't know about?
No because well, certainly as far as our own private business was concerned, I knew everything that went on because I did all the ... I did all the financial work and all the office work and all the accounts. And I knew, and I knew jolly well that you know, there was nothing there. And then they had this ridiculous trial about Sir Leslie Thiess, how he had given Joh a million dollars, and I regret to say that that was brought on by a television station's interview, and when they ... the fellow, who did the interview, was asked why didn't he discuss it with Sir Joh or Leslie Thiess, he said, 'Oh that would have spoilt a good yarn'. And the point was, of course, that even though in that case they took information from the fellow that built the hanger ... They had the receipts. We had every piece of information to show that we had paid for that, that we had paid for the repairs to the dozer and everything, they still maintained that Leslie Thiess had bribed Joh to the extent of a million dollars. It was absolutely false and there was nothing to it but, I mean the jury believe the fellow from the ... from the case, and the fellow who laid the claim in the first place, he had been dismissed for ... for taking things that he shouldn't have taken and I mean, you know, it wasn't the first time he'd been in trouble. And they preferred to believe him rather than a man like Sir Leslie Thiess who had a tremendous job for Queensland. When I think of the tremendous development of coal-selling to Japan, how Sir Leslie Thiess in the first instance, started that going with his mine up there near Moura, and [he was a] tremendous man for Queensland, it was sad to me that he went to the grave with that hanging over his head. And I ... There was ... We certainly never had received any million dollars for Sir Leslie Thiess. It was absolutely lies. When we proved that we had built the hanger, then the prosecution came up and said, 'Oh yes, but Sir Leslie Thiess extended it, so that it would take the government jet'. Now the government jet could not land on John's airstrip in the first instance, and if they ... if they had wanted to really find out about it, the judge would have sent out and said, 'Find out from Civil Aviation whether the government jet has ever landed on the Ten Mile Strip'. They'd have found out that the government jet never ever went in on the Ten Mile Strip, and if you'd a seen the hanger, you'd have known jolly well that the government aircraft could never possibly have got into the little hanger. I've been in John's aeroplane there and I know it's a very dicey business of trying to get it into the hanger - his small Cessna 172 or 182, whatever number it is that he's got. So I mean, it was all a fanciful flight of imagination.
It wasn't the only occasion where there'd also been accusations about favouring Ten Mile was there? There was also the issue of ... [Flo laughs]
Oh yes, that happened of course in parliament. I'd asked questions [of the] Minister for Finance and he was great on turning my questions around and telling everybody in the Parliament that Joh was the one who had built a bitumen road up to John's place. He had built a high level bridge on the way up to John's place.
That's right. Yes, on Ten Mile, and of course, if you travelled over the road now, you'd know that there's a tiny little bitumen ... bit of bitumen just outside Gurindji itself. And [there's] the rough corrugated road on the way ... the rest of the way up to John's. There's nothing there that's ... that is any truth in it. I got so mad at one stage with Peter Walsh, who was the Minster for Finance, that I suggested he might like to come and have a trip up on the road so he would see for himself and David Brownhill, one of our Senators, very kindly made a speech on the adjournment in Parliament one night, and he presented a whole lot of photographs to the Senate to show exactly what the state of the road was. He showed a photograph of the low level bridge over the Mackenzie River, which I might mention is out of action now, because there's a flood in the Mackenzie. Every time the water comes up a little bit the bridge goes underwater. And so instead of being able to go to Gurindji the easy way you've got to go right away around up the northern way, up through Marlborough. So, talk about being able ... this is one occasion I believe when the parliament wasn't used for its correct, you know, role. You tell big stories because they sound very wonderful and they're not right at all. But people are listening in. They could easily believe it and they could quite easily say, 'Well Joh did use his position to do those things for John', which was absolutely wrong.
Flo, during the trial those of us who knew your faith, and your bearing, and the air of serene confidence that we'd all got to know in you, saw a very different person. You looked much less confident, much less sure, very, very worried. What was going on in your mind during that trial? What was happening for you emotionally at that time?
Well I think that you've got to admit that it was a very worrying time. I think Joh might have borne up better than I did actually. But I think when you see your husband placed in a position like that, where you really know that it's not ... there's nothing in the charge that they've laid, but that his future lay in the hands of twelve jurors, who are inclined ... particularly when you realise, at that particular time, that there were within that jury a number of very strong Labor supporters. We know that one was a shop steward. We know that one was the wife of a Unionists. We had been told that, so we knew that there were very strong Labor people there. Now nothing much comes out about that. All they talk about is Luke Shaw and how he was at one time a secretary of a Young National Party branch. But they don't talk about the Labor people, and we know for a fact, that they wanted to get Joh. I was told, whether it's true or not, and I take it that it was true, that the wife of the strong Labor union man went home that night, after she had been chosen on the jury, [and] called all her friends and neighbours together and had a beer party and said, 'We're going to get Joh this time'. But, you know, that's a terrible thing to have happen, and I suppose it was a worry there's no doubt about that. But one thing was absolutely fantastic, our families were absolutely loyal and true to their dad because they knew that there was nothing in it, and they were willing to come down, stand up and be counted. And we had some wonderful friends. Sir Douglas and Lady Logan were marvellous friends. They were there everyday during the trial. 'Friends of Joh' like Geoff Woodward and Laurie Morrison - there were all these people - came regularly and gave their strong and solid support. And so I guess if I looked worried I guess that it was a very worrying and traumatic time, but I was very thankful, and I still say that God provided Luke too. Even if we had the trial, and we had to put up with the four weeks of problems and trial, to find that you had somebody there in the right place at the right time was absolutely marvellous.
Did you mentally face the possibility then that he might go to gaol?
I suppose it's something that does go through you mind, and I thought, How terrible that would be for somebody who had given forty-one years of his life to serving the people of our state and had given nineteen and a half years of that time as Premier of the state, leading us to a very fine and prosperous situation. I thought that that was a ... would be a very poor repayment, but I knew that they wanted to get Joh and had Luke Shaw not been there, I guess they would have got him. And I believe they wouldn't have worried about the fact that he was over eighty. I'm quite sure they would have plonked him in gaol, as simple as that. So I am very grateful to Luke Shaw, very grateful to the dear Lord for making sure that he was there at exactly the right time.
But during the time did it every make you wonder whether or not your faith in God was justified that this sort of thing could have happened?
Well I think that these things happen from time to time. I look at those martyrs, over the years, that gave their life for their Christian faith, who were willing to stand up and be counted, and I think that just because you're a Christian doesn't mean that you're immune from problems. You get them, which ever way they come. Sometimes you have people in your family that pass away early. Look at Joh's brother, Christian, who died when he was in his early twenties, but that didn't stop Joh's mother and father and Joh himself, and his sister from having their fine Christian faith because we live in hopes that we'll meet again, in the life that is to come. If you have no Christian faith you haven't got that hope. [INTERRUPTION]
Leaving aside the charges that were made against Joh, the charges that were made against a lot of people that were around you and were close to you, how did you feel about those and how did you feel about the fact that Joh had not been aware that people that he was working with and that were quite close to him were doing things that, perhaps, they shouldn't have been doing?
Yes well I think that if you are thinking about Allen Callaghan, he had left Joh's department at that particular time and Joh really wasn't sort of involved with him. He wouldn't have any way of knowing what was happening in a case like that. And even as far as Ministers are concerned, you appoint Ministers and you think that they know right from wrong and, you know, I sort of believe really when you look at what they were put in gaol for, and for the length of period of time that they served for three or four thousand dollars, and when you think sometimes that people can commit heinous crimes and the judges sort of don't give them perhaps terribly long sentences for things that, you know, perhaps you feel that they ought to get longer terms for ... I sometimes wonder about. you know, judgements that come that way but that's the legal profession and we're not in a situation where we're able to judge what is right and wrong. Sometimes I know the government themselves apply to judges or magistrates because they say they don't believe that the term is long enough. Whereas I believe as far as our ... the people who were in the Government were concerned, I just was unable to understand how for those amounts of money they were given reasonably long sentences. I mean, I personally believed that if they'd, you know, paid it back and had a sentence that was sort of suspended [it] would have been a much better way to deal with the problem as far as I'm concerned. But, then again, I'm not a judge. If I'd have been in that position I might have felt differently, who would know?
Don't you feel, though, that there's a special responsibility on people taking care of public funds to be particularly scrupulous?
That certainly is. I mean I know all my life when I was being secretary or minute secretary or loan members ? when I was Presbyterian, I always was very, very careful that I didn't take the treasurer's job because I was always thought, you know, well I mightn't just get my last penny right, and you were responsible and the same way, of course, I suppose you could say that that's what you know, Ministers and ... are responsible for using public monies and they must have made, perhaps, an error of judgement. It was the time of the Expo. I believe that they were entertaining people as their guests at Expo so it's not for me to sit in judgement on them. I was sorry about it and I still look back on it and think, Well, it was rather [a] sad ending and of course it all reflected very badly then, of course, on the National Party.
So when they were going through Joh's books and your books with such a fine tooth comb looking for corruption, did you have any moments of worry that perhaps inadvertently there had been things there that weren't right?
You always have to be so very, very careful. That's right. But I knew there was nothing, you know, that really should have caused us any bother at all, but, that doesn't say that, you know, over the years whether you'd sort of slipped up in some way with some amount or anything. But see, we've always had auditors and accountants doing our books and I mean I would have known that, if we'd have had anything go wrong, we've got fully qualified, first class accountants. And so I mean, you felt you could repose on that, that there was nothing wrong that they could charge you with. But so of course, as I say they couldn't charge him with corruption so then they got this half-baked case of perjury, and I mean, it was just. He ... they said that he hadn't told the whole truth. Well now if you're a man of eighty years of age and you're trying to remember exactly what you're supposed to tell the Inquiry, I mean even when I'm being interviewed by you, I mightn't always just be able to remember the exact point of every little thing that you come to. You're thinking back over a period and it's not always easy to remember exactly, and so it's all very well to say that you didn't tell the whole truth. My attitude at the time [was] that if they didn't think that Joh had answered with complete accuracy the question, what was wrong with the prosecution asking him a further question? That's one thing I've never been able to find out. Why didn't the prosecuting barrister ask another question of Joh, so that he could then give him the information that they said he only gave half of the information.
Mind you, Joh was always rather good at not answering questions when it doesn't suit him.
(laughs) Well I think he'd had a fair bit of ... a fair bit like that because he always said to me, you know, 'If they ask you a question you can't answer, ask them a question back'. I don't think he had asked them a question back. I think he told them really what he knew about the whole instance, but they said that there was just one little piece that he had left out, so I really can get a bit, you know ... think that that was a little bit way out.
Do you think that perhaps he ... one of the problems was that he stayed a little bit too long as Premier in terms of his age? At the height of his powers he was hard to beat in any war of wits or politics, and that perhaps by the time that all of this started to fall in on him, he was just a little bit older than he needed to be, to be able to command the situation.
Well, I don't know if you saw him now, he's still got plenty of oomph and go. He did an interview just recently with George Negus and he did a fantastic job on that and in fact I think George himself said, 'There's nothing wrong with his brain', and I believe that he had ... where it all went wrong I think myself was [that] he had this wonderful win in 1986, the National Party winning in their own right, and nobody even thought that [it could be done]. All the commentators said, 'No way'. And, he'd had the wonderful success and he had said, then, that he would get out before the next election. He would, you know, like to help some ... one of his underlings, you know, come on and help them. He wasn't really expecting that the underlings would up and get rid of him in the meantime.
Perhaps they didn't think he meant it.
Oh well, he had said it in public and he wasn't one of these people who were given to saying things in public and then doing the opposite thing. He's always ... he always ... His attitude was always: is it right or is it wrong? And you say what you think and you mean what you say, and I believed him because I felt that it was time, that he'd had a long innings, but I ... it was just a shame that they didn't let him go until he'd had twenty years on the eighth of the eighth '88. There wouldn't have been the division within the Party and he would have at least been there to gain the qudos for Expo which was really his own doing at that particular time.
If he had left on the eighth of the eighth '88, what kind of an old age would the two of you had had together? Could you describe the sort of things that you were looking forward to.
Well we mightn't have had the worry quite so much about our ... about our financial situation as far as legal fees are concerned. I think that would have been better. And we may have been able to have more time at home. Joh wouldn't have had to worry about trying to solve so many other peoples problems for them and help them, and be away with his partner down in Tasmania. Although in lots of ways I think we've made very good friends with Peter and Bev and we've all worked very well together.
Could you tell us what that is?
Well he's into a business with Peter Murray. He and Peter are partners in this business and they're in corporate management and they're trying to help people who have financial problems, as well as trying to help Joh solve his financial problems too. And they deal with ... work for other governments and they're trying hard. I don't think it's probably up to me to reveal what they're doing but, they are working together well and ...
Do you feel this is a good plan for him, now that he is getting on in years? Don't you feel that he should be back here with you?
Well I think it would be better if he was able to, but, as he said, 'I'm always, you know, one of these people who believe that first things first', and we really do need to get our financial situation, you know, fixed up a little bit so that at least when he comes home we're in a situation where we don't have too many financial worries.
You know, the rumours never stop. Before I came up here I heard a rumour that he had gone down to Tasmania because you two weren't getting on.
(laughs) Yes well, that certainly went through one of the magazines too, that that was the case, but no, I can assure you I had a phone call from him last night and another one this morning and I'll be in touch with him again later this evening.
One of the things that's happened as a result of the way things ended in Queensland, you must feel a certain amount of disillusionment with a lot of things you trusted, like the National Party, and like your faith in the established order of things. Did that happen to you? Did you feel disillusioned?
Well I suppose in a way you could say I did with the National Party. That possibly was one of the reasons why I decided that I wouldn't seek a further term as a Senator. I thought ...
You actually said at one point that if Joh went you'd resign.
Oh well I did say that if Joh was put out of the National Party because of all this trouble, I would leave the National Party too, but I didn't say that I would resign as a Senator. I would have gone on as an independent, but I didn't want to do that because I believe that I was elected by the people of Queensland. The National Party elected me. And I was there to represent the National Party and so I wanted to stay with the National Party. Well they never did expel Joh, so I never had that problem, and I continued to work and do things for the National Party in the same way I tried very hard with Dianne Kelly to get her up to replace me when we had our election for the Senate, at the last election, and unfortunately it didn't come about because as I said, not enough women listened to what I had to say when I told them that if they wanted a strong woman's Conservative voice in Canberra, they ought to forget about their Party line ticket and they should vote for her. But they didn't, so there was nothing. I did my best.
And what is a strong Conservative woman's voice? What does it say in politics?
Well I think it stands up and is counted for women and for the family. I think that it's the family unit, I always keep saying - it's the basic unit of society, and I think it stands up and is counted for strong moral values too. And I, you know, get a little concerned sometimes about the problems that confront families. There is no doubt about that. And of course, I'm sometimes a little bit inclined to lay the blame at television's feet, because as I think, young people - particularly if parents allow the television to rule their children's lives - I think that it imposes on children standards that perhaps aren't very good for them, and I think when they see all this violence and murder and rape on television, I wonder whether it ... they don't think that that's the norm, and that is all right for them to do the same thing. You get children who leave home, perhaps at the age of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, because they think their parents aren't treating them very well. And I think that, you know, that's one of the sad things that I get concerned about - the fact that governments are inclined through the Social Welfare to sponsor young people who have left home. And you get families who say, 'But we've always provided love and affection and care for our children, and you won't tell me where they are so that we can get in touch with them, and try, and get them home again'. And, you know, perhaps they get ideas from television, you know, that it's all right to go off and try life on their own. I mean, it's bad enough when they get to seventeen or eighteen to do that.
What can legislators do? What kind of legislation would a strong Conservative women support and what sort of legislation would you be against seeing being brought in?
Well, as far as legislation is concerned, I suppose that's all bound up perhaps in our social welfare legislation that comes in and making available opportunities for young people perhaps to get more than they perhaps ought to, and as I said, and I've said plenty of times in the Senate, I believe that the legislation ... I would support very strongly legislation that means you work for the dole. I think that that is something that I feel ought to be brought in and that is the sort of thing that I believe any strongly Conservative people would agree with, and I think income splitting is another way, perhaps, of helping families to sort of have, perhaps, a one income family be able to manage a little bit better financially to help, if you're ... I think that, perhaps if a mother is in a position where ... particularly while children are young before they go to school, that they are able to stay at home with them. I always think that after children are at school, well you can perhaps get a job and I think, perhaps, if only firms would allow ... say, teach women at work to share the time, to have time sharing at work, so that women with families could fit into a job that was divided into two. I know that some of the school teachers do that, because I know that here in town we have some of the classes where you're allowed say to have two days teaching one week and three days teaching another. And that I believe ... and then your partner does the opposite, and I think that all that is, sort of, legislation. If you could legislate for that. That would be State Government of course, that would do things like that.
What do you think of the families where the father decides to stay at home and look after the children and the mother goes to work?
Good on him if that's ... if he's willing to do it, and I say I know that there are quite a few families like that. In fact I think Cheryl Kernot, the leader of the Democrats, her husband looks after the home and the family. I say, good luck to them. I think that that's ... if the wife has tremendous ability and is able to do that, if they'd like ... And lots of fathers do enjoy the opportunity of being with their children. But that's something that families have to work at for themselves. But which ever way they work at it, I think if it's at all possible while your children are little, if you as mum or dad, can have, you know, a fair ... a decent amount of time at home with your children and don't have to be away with your little ones ... When they go to school well that's a different story, isn't it?
Could you ever have imaged Joh staying at home bringing up the family while you went off to Parliament?
No, I'm too sure that I could, but I feel quite sure he could adapt to it. But, seeing that he is not cook, I'm not quite to sure how the children would have managed in those circumstances.
Now, in relation to you, yourself, your own character, there's always been a lot of controversy and speculation about whether ... with you, you get what you seem to get. In other words, that you seem like a simple, at times, even naive person, with a very open manner and a very easy outlook on life, and yet there's also a suspicion that there's a very shrewd politician there as well. Which is the true Flo?
Well I don't know that I particularly want to be thought of as simple and naive. I wouldn't like to think that that's what people think of me. But certainly, I have tried in my political life to relate very positively to people with whom I come in contact. I have always tried to be efficient and to deal with their problems. I've been very fortunate, while I was a Senator, in so far that I had excellent staff to help me, and I have never ceased to appreciate the wonderful support that they gave me over the years. So I've tried to deal with the problems that came our way, faithfully and well, and I pay a tribute, indeed, to all my staff who helped me over the twelve and a quarter years that I was in the Senate. But, I like to think that I ... I ... some of Joh's political nous rubbed off onto me, and I have always tried to take the line that I thought was helpful for families and helpful for strong standards, good standards, and that's how I've tried to operate and certainly I would like to think that I've ended up with good political judgement of issues that came forward in the Senate, when I was in politics. And most certainly, I have never hesitated to take a stand for what I thought was right. That's obvious due to the fact that I crossed the floor against the tax on essential commodities - all on my own - to vote with the Democrats, and I was most unpopular and sent to Coventry for a while. I voted with quite a number of Liberal colleagues in the Senate against retrospective tax because, tax laws should be made from today onwards, not from today backwards, and there were a lot of us who believed very strongly in that. And then I was willing to take a stand against our Opposition Coalition on issues that affected our rural community. There were bills about sugar, bills about wheat, bills about wool, and we crossed the floor, admittedly with my colleagues, but nevertheless, I was willing to stand up and be counted. And I think that that makes for a shrewd politician, for a politician who's strong and decided, and willing to stand up and be counted for what their Party wants, and for what they think the people that they represent want, and that's what it is all about as far as I was concerned.
Politics is also about numbers, as in the end Joh learned to his cost, and marshalling those numbers and some people have said that you were actually extremely good at that, that you understood the psychology of people and how to reach them, how to get them onto your side and Joh's side. In some ways you were better at that than Joh, who's more inclined not to be good at that manipulation, but more inclined to take a very strong position and think that people should fall into line. Is that true? Did you sometimes come along after him and make sure that people were lined up?
Oh well, I don't know. I think that Joh was very good myself with people all the time. And I think if you could go around with me even now, as I, you know ... people ... When I've been around with my cookery books I said to Joh, 'I nearly get upset at times. All the people who say to me, all the time, 'How's Joh?' They don't say, 'How are you?' They say, 'How's Joh?' ' So I believe that Joh still has a very strong following, and I believe that he has always been interested in people - so interested in people that people used to ring him up in the middle of the night quite often to tell him their problems and he would always try and help people. But if you class, you know, being interested in people ... I've always been interested in people and I like people. My mother once told my sister and a friend, you know, she said, 'Florence likes people too much. That's her trouble', but I think that that was probably the reason why I, you know ... People seemed to like me in politics because I was interested in people and I wanted to do all that I could to help them, and I think that probably I know what I like in people and I think I try and, you know, act to them as if I was in their shoes, how I would like people to act to me.
In the course of this interview quite often when I have asked you a question you answered it in terms of Joh and what you admire about Joh. Has that become a habit in your life, to look to Joh and to look to the promotion of Joh as a very important part of your job?
Well I suppose over the years that I was the Premier's wife, certainly that was part of the job that you do. You work together as a team. I was here representing him in Barambah for many years and, of course, he was the Member and I was just his wife. But then, again, when I became a Senator I suppose you could say the same thing applied because I was representing Queensland and Joh to me was the Premier of Queensland, so I suppose that stands to reason that it's quite obvious. And then if you're married to somebody and you very much love him and you're part of a family situation, I think that it stands to reason that you can sort of speak up and be counted along those lines.
But have you ever felt a bit in his shadow, or hasn't that bothered you at all?
No I don't believe that I was in his shadow. I mean I was his help mate you might say. I think that's a good way to look at being a wife and a mother, but I do still remember at the time that there was talk that I should go to the Senate and this had all come out and dad - you know, Joh - they said was promoting me, and they said, 'You go mum. This will give you a chance to do something on your own, on your own right, rather than just helping dad all the time'. Well I like to think that as a Senator I was still helping dad, because I felt that the job that I was there to do was to make sure I wasn't Canberra-ised, as he said, but that I was there to help and support the Queensland Government as one of their Senators and we actually got quite a number. We ended up with four Queensland Senators at the last election when I stood at the head of the double dissolution ticket. And, you know, we got four Senators up in 1987, and so it was quite a good representation for the National Party, apart from the fact of course that the Liberals had two as well, so that we had, you know, solid Conservative representation for the state of Queensland in the Senate. Sad to say the numbers have deteriorated in Queensland somewhat since then, as far as our National Party is concerned. In fact I think it's turned out to be four Liberal and two Nationals now.
After Joh had sent you to the Senate which he obviously was delighted with the ...
Well now, the people of Queensland finally sent me to the Senate.
But after he had gone along with the idea that you should go with the Senate, and he took a certain amount of delight in thinking now this will surprise them, and he'd done that. When you got there and you got quite a lot of limelight, quite a lot of attention at that time, was he, as a husband, ever at all put out by the fact that suddenly you were ... you had the focus on you?
No I must say that he never did. He's never been upset when I've been praised or, you know ... He's always been happy that I'd been able to get, you know, television coverage and when I left the Senate, I must say, if I got plenty of coverage when I went there, I certainly got plenty of coverage when I left, and I did an interview with Kathy Jobe on, you know, the 7.30 Report. I did an interview with every media I think under the sun just about. Who ... And when I look back on some of the speeches that were made about me in the Senate by even Labor people, at that particular time, I was truly grateful for the fact that I had been able even to deal across Party lines with people down there. Perhaps, you know, I wasn't, perhaps, shall we say, as strong as Joh. He took a stand and he was firm and strong, particularly in relation, perhaps, to his Labor opposition, but when you're working on committees in the Senate you find that you have to deal with the Members of the Labor Party as part of the committee, and you become quite friendly with them and I ... I found in my early days in the Senate, I was on the private hospitals and nursing home committee with a number of Labor Senators and we all managed to deal quite amicably and ...
You actually found that fraternising with the enemy, as Joh might have called it, wasn't so bad?
No, well that's quite right, and I think that you know, you learn to live with it. It wasn't perhaps quite the same as being in a single House at Parliament there, and I suppose when you're leader of a state you have your own ideas and you play the game as you think correct. I don't know if you can call politics a game, but it's certainly a job that requires great tactician ... you need to be a good tactician when you're trying to be a Premier of a state. But when you're a Senator, and you're in the Senate, and you're ... it's a cosy little, you know, communion of us all together there. And one thing I still remember was one of my Labor Senator colleagues, at the time that there was a talk - media speculation - that when they ... they were doing something down there that they said, well, Joh was going to go to the Senate and I was going to give up my seat for him so that he could come down to the Senate. I don't know what it was that was annoying Queensland at the time, [what the] Labor Government was doing. And Joh was going to come down and take my place. They must have thought that, you know, [he would] give us the firm strong position. And this Labor lady Senator said to me, 'Florence is it true that you're going to give up your seat for Joh?' 'Oh no', I said, 'That's not true'. 'Oh', she said, 'I'm so glad. We all love you down here'. Now I thought to myself, well, that was a very nice thing for her to say. I didn't know whether perhaps that meant I wasn't as strong as Joh in my decisions that I made, but certainly, I did feel that I had some colleagues who were friendly towards me. I notice that Margaret Reynolds even said, when I left the Senate, 'That our political opinions were as far apart as the pole but we got on very well together'. You see, you travel in the aeroplanes with them, you sit beside them, you talk to them, and I mean, I've been over on overseas delegations. I went over an overseas delegation with Margaret Reynolds, and we were away for a month or more, and you ... you learn to get quite friendly with them, and you'll never change the political aspects but you can certainly change your manner of dealing with people.
Were you a little bit surprised, given that Joh saw politics not just probably as a game, but as a bit of a war, when you found that the enemy could actually be quite nice? Did it surprise you?
Oh yes, will I, you know ... I've always, you know, sort of realised that you take the political angle in one way and you take the human angle, perhaps, in another way. That was how I dealt with it and, perhaps, that might be somewhat of the difference, perhaps, I had. And yet Joh, himself, could deal with Tom Aitkins, who was, you know, the Independent Labor Member for Mundingburra and ... but I do think that he had to deal as Premier with the leader of the Opposition, who was always saying nasty things about the Government that he lead, and I think that probably that is why the difference is. I was never in a situation where I was leader of a government down there. I was just a backbench Member and I was able in that way to deal with other backbench Members on a one-to-one basis and I think that might be perhaps the answer and ...
Would you have liked to have a Ministry?
No. I never was very anxious to do that.
Well,first of all, I felt that I had a big enough job. See, when I first went down there and I could have, you know ... And let's face it, I was only there as part of a Ministry for two years and they don't invite people who are backbench Senator[s] into the Ministry, under two years. I mean, that wasn't possible. And then, of course, we became the Opposition and I never hankered for having a frontbench portfolio in the Opposition. I always thought it would mean that you wouldn't be able to give the same amount of time to travelling the state, and to working hard when state elections came up. I used to get in and work as hard as any Cabinet Minister probably. Joh's even been kind enough sometimes to say he just as soon have me on his platform as some of his Cabinet colleagues. And ...
It wasn't that you didn't feel capable of being a Minister?
No I believe I could have done it if I'd have been given the opportunity but, I mean, I had a husband for up till '87 who was a Premier, and there was plenty of work to do on the home base and I didn't,you know, feel that that was right. And, let's face it, the people on the Opposition frontbench I believe had probably a much harder job than the Ministers themselves because the Ministers have plenty of Ministerial staff backing them up and they've got the finances of the Government behind them, that they're able to, sort of, help. But when you're in the Opposition you manage ... have to manage with very limited staff, and you're expected to know as much as the Minister knows. And I believe that I did my job. I was temporary chairman of committees for quite a lot of years while I was down there, and they were all kind enough to say that I did a good job in that position. And I ... What else did I do? I was on the House Committee and I ended up by being the Party whip. I was Deputy Leader of the National Party for a number of years in the ... Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, so I had plenty of responsibility ... extra responsibilities while I was down there. [INTERRUPTION]
How important do you think it is to have enough money in life?
Well, let's say I think that it sort of helps to have enough money. Not everybody is fortunate enough to do that. But we, of course, here, we've still got our home properties here but it's you know, you still need ready cash to help you to keep going, and as far as our farms are concerned too, you certainly have plenty of expenses. I always feel sorry for people on the land because, you know, people say, 'Oh well you've got the assets', but you might have assets but you mightn't have ready money. See actually, I left the Senate with an entitlement to superannuation after somebody wrote some rude remarks in the early days that they said Joh was putting me into the Senate a few months ... The Government was putting me into the Senate a few months early so that I'd get extra superannuation, and I hadn't even thought about anything like that. Anyway, Joh himself, of course, never even took his superannuation, which he ... if he'd have only had ...
How could that be? I thought all politician ended up with superannuation?
Well what actually happened was is that the superannuation scheme only came in after Joh got into Parliament and before he married me. Because I always say that if he'd been married to me he would not have said that he wouldn't join the superannuation scheme. He said that they were lining their own pockets, that it was too good a superannuation from, you know, like the amount that they put in by comparison with what the Government put in, and so he said, no he didn't think it was right.
So you were so much more practical about it?
Well I would have said ... see I would have been ... I was used to being in the Public Service scheme ... superannuation scheme when I was with the Public Service. You had to. You couldn't join the Public Service unless you decided you'd be in the superannuation, and so I believed that, you know, that [it] was a very worthwhile idea, but he wasn't in it and ...
Couldn't he have joined then? Couldn't you have persuaded him to join then?
Well actually the opportunity came later on when they wanted to amend the superannuation scheme and one of the Liberals and a Labor man came and said to Joh, when he was Premier, 'Now we want to amend the superannuation scheme and you could use the opportunity to get into it. It's only fair to Florence and the children that you should join it'. And you know what Joh said? 'If it was wrong in the beginning it's wrong now, and I won't join'. And I must admit that I told him he should do it, but he didn't. He didn't take ...
Now that was a disagreement you had.
That was a disagreement! I had forgotten about that. Yes, that was a disagreement I must say, but anyway he didn't. But when I went to the Senate after these rude remarks about how they'd put me in early to get me extra superannuation, I joined the superannuation scheme which everybody else did. You had to do it. And so when I left, Brian Archer, who was sort of our Parliamentary Representative on the scheme, he said, 'Now Florence, don't you take a lump sum', he said, 'You take it all as annuity. That will be much better for you', because he knew that we owed the banks quite a bit of money. But I'm sorry to say, that the banks expected me to pay them back some of the money that we'd borrowed, so I had to take half of my superannuation as a lump sum, pay it to the banks to pay back some of the money that we owed them. And so, I mean, we live on just a little bit more I suppose than the pension, but you have to be grateful I guess, that we've got that. We've got our home and the farms here and John's come home now and we live in hopes that he'll organise things so that things will go all right.
So the money that you're living on now, really comes from your superannuation?
Yeah, well, at the moment, that's right. But Joh's working down there and one of these days we think that we'll hit the jackpot.
But you had this property and also the controversial Ten Mile property that kept on bringing you attacks for manoeuvring.
Yes, that's right.
And out of those at the moment you ... you're not able to derive any income?
Oh well, we've sold Ten Mile. The banks said well they wanted us to sell the property, so we've sold that. And that's how John comes back here to look after these properties we've got at home.
And did the borrowing from the bank come, as it does with so many rural people, because of the problems of droughts and floods, or was it because of the legal costs?
Well I think you add them all together. We did have two very big floods there up on the Ten Mile, and we had droughts as well, you know, that you've, sort of, got to learn how to not overstock, that you've got to, sort of, you know, look after your property pretty well, and feed ... when you have to buy, you know, feed and molasses and meat meal, things like that. It all takes quite a lot of money to cope with. But then, you see, we did have all the extra additional costs of the legal fees so life, it's been said, wasn't meant to be easy and so it hasn't been. But we've been able to manage and we look forward to, you know, things straightening themselves up one of these days. But in the meantime, you know, we just ... we're managing all right but, there's no doubt about it, I think if you ... if you've got a little bit extra it certainly comes in handy.
If you ended up with nothing do you think you could manage?
Oh I guess you probably could. I suppose there's always the pension isn't there? But the point of course is that if you've got assets, you can't get a pension, so you have to get rid of your assets so we hope that it won't come to that.
You were brought up Presbyterian, with Scottish blood. Have you always been careful with money?
Yes, I've always tried to be careful.
There was a period where there would have been a fairly large income coming into the house when you were both working?
Yes that's right, that's right. But of course, at that time, we also had the Ten Mile and it seemed to be like a, you know, what do you call it? A bottomless pit is it?
That's right yes. So it just, sort of you know, took quite a bit of that.
So at a stage where most people can relax and enjoy the fruits of their lives labour, Joh's down in Tasmania trying to get a business venture off the ground, well into his eighties, and you're up here living really a very simple, unostentatious life on a small annuity?
Yes, oh well. We're happy. We've got our families and we're grateful that God's looked after them all. You see, at one stage we thought we'd lost John when he was on the Ten Mile property. He went out mustering and he was riding a bike, and he very nicely must have been chasing a cow or bullock or something further down around the property, and he went over a fifty foot incline on his bike and we got a message late at night to say that he hadn't come home and they didn't know where he was. And my word, that was a very worrying time. We said plenty of prayers that night and anyway he ... the next morning we went up there very early. Beryl Young came in the plane and we went up very, very early and we arrived just before daybreak and she got a message to say they'd found the bike at the bottom of the fifty foot drop, but no sign of John. So we didn't know whether that was good or bad. Anyway, Graham McCambly, one of the next door neighbours up there, brought his helicopter in at daybreak and he went looking and then they saw where the bike was you see, but they ... and finally, John had walked in the dark, at night time ... walked the soles out of his socks and he had got back to his cattle yards. Well you can't ... That was divine leading and guiding I reckon. But they did say that if he hadn't been found within a half an hour to an hour, his lungs would have all filled up with fluid and he would have died. He got to hospital, I suppose with, you know, a little bit of time ... They took him in an aerial ambulance and got him there with a bit of time to spare and ... or did the plane take a ...? Anyway he got in by plane and we're very thankful that his life was saved and I said to him, 'John, don't ever ride a bike chasing your cattle again'. So he said, 'No Mum', so the next accident he had was off a horse. And fortunately that wasn't anything quite so dangerous. I think he broke a collar bone or something like that, at that particular time. So I mean, no, be very grateful that you've got all your family and that we've been spared, to be together.
Do you feel that your children ever suffered because Joh was Premier?
Well, Helen likes to think that she might have endured a bit of taunting at training college. She went over to the University of Southern Queensland to do her teachers study, and I tell you this, she didn't call herself Bjelke-Petersen for very long. She called herself Petersen about half way through her course. After she was only about ... I don't think she was quite twenty, actually, when she got married and she changed her name, so that suited her very well indeed.
And did they have a lot of ... Did they ever come home from school when they were little?
Oh no, I don't think as far as ... I think, see, they all went to school and they had a politician for a father. I don't think it made the slightest bit of difference. I think that people just accepted the fact that they were Joh's kids and that's all there was to it. And I mean, Joh was just Joh around here, and I don't think that they really bothered about it.
And they were never deprived because he was away so much, do you think?
Oh no I don't think so. He was home in his earlier days, particularly when they were small, he was home a deal of the time during the week while he was a backbencher and he was ... He always tried to be home at weekends. I mean, let's face it, I suppose Saturday's usually, you know, when it comes to politicians you nearly always got something to do on a Saturday, but I mean, we always kept Sunday for ourselves and our family and God. And he was nearly ... We always tried to be home. When he was Premier I suppose there came times when he wasn't always able to be home every weekend, but by that time, of course, '68, well, I suppose the, you know, children were growing up and they were quite, you know, getting old enough to understand and they accepted the fact that dad wasn't always here. But then, if he'd been a commercial traveller he wouldn't have been home all the time, and I mean there's lots of fathers, who perhaps ... who's job takes them away from home for periods and I think that, provided your children are old enough to understand, you can accept this.
You've had a very varied and stimulating life, and I wonder what you feel is the secret of your success in what's amounted to three careers: one as a wife and mother of the traditional kind, a farmer's wife and mother, you've been a Premiers' wife and you've been a Senator. What do you think you've brought to those things that's resulted in them all being rather successful?
Well, I don't know that I have any special trade perhaps. I always try to be pleasant. I always try to be interested in people. I think that that is something that's very important, that you need to be interested in people.
You've had what amounts to three careers: the wife of a farmer, and the wife of the premier, and a Senator, and you've done them all with rather notable success. Is there any particular skill or attitude that you bring to them that you think matters?
Well, I don't suppose knowingly I have, but I've certainly always tried to be pleasant to people. I've tried to be helpful to people, and I've put a hundred percent effort into what I've done and I believe that that is what is the most important ingredient in any part of life. I have gone to schools and I have spoken to school groups. I couldn't count the number of times I've been to schools to tell them, you know, to give them a little bit of advice, speak to them at school speech nights. And my advice to them always is, put a hundred percent effort into what you do. I suppose you could say I put a hundred percent effort into bringing up my family. I tried to enter into their school life with the same interest that I've taken in my political career or as my ... as part of Joh's life. I've always followed them with their school activities. I've gone to their sports. My eldest daughter was a great athlete and, you know, I used to love to go and watch her win her cup each year. And I'd go to school tuck shops. I'd take an interest in all those sorts of things. A hundred percent effort into helping your family to grow up and making sure that, you know, they had the same Christian ideals that Joh and I had too. Then you come to your political career: a hundred percent effort into putting a good effort into making sure that if I could help Joh wherever I could as the wife of the Member for Barambah. That was the first one that I worked hard at because I always adopted the attitude that he wasn't the Member for Barambah he couldn't be the Premier. And then the Premier's wife and I really put a big effort into that. And I think if you put a hundred percent effort into what you do ... In fact, I used to say to the children at the schools, 'Put a hundred percent effort into what you do and make yourselves indispensable. And if you go out in the work a day world and you make yourself indispensable ...' And even to young people who can't get jobs, 'If you can go, perhaps, and offer your services on a voluntary basis before you know where you are, you might find yourself in a job that you are paid for. And so make yourselves indispensable'. Then of course as a Senator, I tried to make sure that I put in a hundred percent effort into what I did and I'm very thankful that the people of Queensland seemed to think that I was doing that, because you don't get re-elected with a very high majority ... The only person who used to beat me at the Senate elections was the Labor Senator who was number one. And I guess that they had, you know, our vote had to get divided between the two Conservative parties and so you couldn't perhaps get quite as many as your Labor people could, who were on the top of their ticket. But I worked hard and I put a hundred percent effort into campaigning and into working for the people I represented, and I think that perhaps that might be the answer to what you asked ... the question that I was asked.
Do you think it is more important to win, or to be right?
Well, if you are in politics, you certainly want to win. That's the right ... That's the attitude that you take in but, I mean, you want to be right as well. You don't want to be wrong. You don't want to have wrong policies. You want to have the right policies and I think that might have been born out, actually, at the last Federal election when our coalition didn't have the right policies. Nobody wanted a GST. We lost the, you know, winnable election and that was very sad, but you see, we wanted to win but you can't win if you aren't right. And I mean, I think that they are both interwoven, like that. I think the people can see through things and if they think that you haven't got the right policies, they don't vote for you and that is a simple as all that.
Of all the professions or walks of life that you might go into as someone who believes in telling the truth, politics must be the hardest.
Well, most certainly if you listen to what goes on in the Senate and the House of Representatives. When you are there, having question time, you must think that that is right. I mean, there is no doubt about it, and I, you know, feel that there is often times when, you know, you certainly don't get a plain straight answer to the questions that you are asked ... that you ask. There's no doubt about that.
But there must have also been times, where someone like yourself who's nature is to tell the truth, have been confronted with questions and you've thought, How do I get out of this one without actually telling a fib.
Well, there you are. Joh always says, 'If you can't think of an answer, ask a question back', and I think I might have done that on one or two occasions. I can remember being asked a question on television once and I nearly had a heart attack. Mike Walsh said to me, 'Do you and Joh exchange secrets on the pillow?' And I thought, 'Oh, what sort of answer to I give to that?' So I turned around and I said to Mike, 'Why, is that what you do?' And of course that stonkered him for a little while. But, you know, I mean, it's not always easy and you just have to try and do the best you can with the brains that you've got.
You've also had another weapon in doing well in life, in that you seem to have always been game to try things, whether it was milking a cow, which you didn't want to do, or going to the Senate, that ... Do you think there is something in that, that you can hesitate and think I'm not really able to do this, but then you've always had a go.
Well, I think that this is as opportunities come up I think you want to grasp the opportunity if you can, whether I think milking a cow was a wonderful opportunity or not, I'm not too sure, but at least I found that I was able to do it and I applied myself. I must say that the cow we had at the time was a nice easy one to milk so I suppose that was all right. But when it came to the Senate, I was a little bit, you know, I wasn't sure whether a particularly wanted to be a politician in my own right because I had always thought that one politician in the family was enough. But because my family had all left home at that time, and this opportunity came up, I felt that I could help the National Party. I felt that I could help the people of Queensland, if I put the same effort into that as I had put into being the Premier's wife. And I'm very thankful to say that the support I received showed that people trusted me, they believed in me, because if you can, you know, get such a good strong support from the people of Queensland as I received, as the ... heading the National Party Senate ticket, I believe that was something that was very worthwhile and it proved that if you accept the challenge that's before you, if you put a hundred percent effort into it, then you can as I did in my case, succeed.
When you came up here with Joh to live, was there anything you had to learn apart from milking a cow, that was new to you?
Well, I suppose I ... I had to learn how to live in a country home, that I wasn't, sort of, used to that. I was used to, sort of, living in the city and I wasn't just too sure how I'd settle down to life in the country, to life in the country where I had a politician for a husband because I really, you know hadn't had too much association with politicians. My father had a funny statement. He used to say, 'All politicians were rogues but the Labor were worse than the others'. That was his attitude about it, and I thought, Oh, well, you know, I wondered how I'd manage, but I settled down all right and I mean after all, let's face it, about twelve months later, I had my first baby and when you've got your first child, you've got plenty to keep you occupied. And here I do want to pay a tribute to all wives and mothers, mothers in particular, who bring up their families, who stay at home and are willing to, in lots of cases, have a one income family so that they can stay at home and look after their children. I admire them tremendously. And it's not always easy and then again, there are the mums who go to work, who really don't want to go to work, but they go to work because they believe that they need a little bit of extra income to help keep the children, perhaps at school or, or something like that. And I think that they are playing a very important role. And of course, no family is complete without a father anyway. There are lots of single fam ... income families, lots of single, you know, families where there is only a mother or a father, and that requires a great big effort to insure that your children are trained properly in the right way. And of course, I say that one of the very most important things I feel in life is to try and give your children Christian upbringing. I'm very sad that there are lots of families these days who never worry about giving their children Christian faith. They don't seem to think that's necessary. A lot of children - the only religion that they get, the only knowledge of God and the wonderful world he's created, is probably in religious instruction for half an hour once a week, and praise be to all the people who are willing to go and do that within the school system. If, you know, your children were able to go to a church school you'd probably get a little bit more at a church school, but I think that it's sad that there are a lot of families who never worry. They don't even think of telling their children, you know, that there is a loving God and heavenly Father, who made the world. And I often wonder how people, who don't believe, wonder how the sea comes so far and no further, who made the sun and the mood and all the stars and all the creation. But I'm thankful that I know and that I have faith and I think that that is something that is really very important for young people - to be given the opportunity of knowing our heavenly Father and his love.
Joh's getting old now and it's been the Flo and Joh Show for forty years, what ... Can you imagine what life will be like when he's not here any more?
Yes, well he often says that to me himself. Because he doesn't fear dying. You know if you've got no faith, you know, no faith, you've got no hope. But if you know, k-n-o-w, if you know faith in God then you've got some hope, and he's got hope and we have the hope that we'll meet again one day beyond this life. That's the Christian's hope. And I believe that life is certainly not be easy but I say to him, 'Joh, you've got no guarantee that you'll go before me. We don't know. You travel in planes, you travel in buses, you travel in motor cars. Who knows?' But I mean, I still believe myself that it's perhaps easier for a wife, or for a woman, to be left, than for a man to be left behind and have the woman go first. But we have to accept that God's plan - he knows what's going to happen in the future, we don't. And if you've got Christian faith and hope you don't worry about what the future holds. That's all I can say to you about that.
You also believe that as a result of your Christian faith that there will be judgement after death. What do you feel when you think about that? Is there anything that you've ever done in your life that you feel at all ashamed about or worried about?
Well, nothing, nothing big that I think of, but look, we make mistakes and we go wrong in God's sight every day. And I think the main thing is that you know that you have a Saviour. You know that because Jesus died and accepted that load of wrongdoing that we have ... that we have a hope, that he has forgiven us our ... we've been forgiven because of the life that he gave for us. And I think that it's no good going through life worrying about the things that you've done when you know that Jesus has paid the sacrifice for you, and so, I mean, I look forward at the end of this life to a life beyond the grave, a life of reunion with those of my dear ones who have had faith and trust in their Lord and Saviour, when that time comes. And whether there is judgement, I mean, you know, if there is judgement, I rely completely on Jesus.
Looking back on this life, what's been the best part of it for you? And what's been the achievement that you feel proudest of?
Well, I think that the best part of my life, I suppose, has been my married life. I think that I've had a wonderfully blessed married life, although I had a very happy childhood, but if you ask me to pick it out, I think the blessing that God has given us in having four children and now twelve grandchildren ... I think that's been a wonderful time in my life and I suppose if you talk about my achievements, I suppose the fact that I achieved the opportunity of serving my Queensland, my state, in the Federal Parliament. I'd actually had so much to do with the State Parliament and I'd watched Joh going backwards and forwards to Canberra, and complaining bitterly about what Canberra did to the State Governments and all the rest of it. And then I found myself going as a Senator to Canberra. I really hadn't been down to the Federal Parliament, I think perhaps more than once before I actually went down there. I just, you know ... Joh always went down, but I never went down with ... I didn't go down with him. I might have gone to a National Party do, or something like that down there, but never really been involved in the Parliament. And there I was, going down in my own right as a Senator for the State of Queensland to represent Queensland in the Senate.
And you put that achievement above your achievements as Premier's wife.
Oh well, I think that I like to feel that I made a contribution and helped Joh while he was the Premier, but if you ask me of my own achievement in my own right, I suppose being a Senator and representing our state was probably the one that I believe was worthwhile. Twelve and a quarter years of serving our people of Queensland to the best of my ability. I think that I would say ... I would count that as quite an achievement that I was privileged to have, only because the people of Queensland supported me and the National Party through, I suppose, Joh and the Government, gave me that opportunity eventually.
Although your greatest achievement was as your period as a Senator, you in fact leave behind, probably the most lasting thing, will be your grandchildren and their children. Now, what kind of an Australia do you think that your grandchildren will be growing up in? And do you think that it is going to be a good place for them?
Well, I think that they could have problems in Australia. I ... I really honestly get very worried about how Australia is going. I think as a nation itself, you know, it's ... it's grown and developed and become quite a great nation as far as the ... what they do as a ... a sort of, it's land and it's ... it's prosperity is concerned, although it has had it's down periods, but I believe that the future will hold, provided our rural industries are able to cope with the stress and strain. But unfortunately, we have a Government in power who's continually taxing, and we are trying to pay more taxes to try to keep on going. We also I believe have problems as far as moral standards are concerned and those are the things probably that worry me more than anything as to what Australia's future is going to be like.
What aspects of the moral standards worry you most?
Well, I think the pornography that we see, that we hear about, that ... that, you know, is becoming the norm. I think the murders, the rape, the crime that we have in front of us and when we talked earlier about prostitution in Joh's time, we see how that seems to be growing and the homosexual type of living, that ... that no ... everybody seems to think, Well let's keep on going. And I look back actually, not so long ago I read in the first chapter of the Book of Romans in the Bible about what happened in Rome in that time that that Book of Romans was being written. The same type of things [are] happening and we all know how the Roman Empire disintegrated. Now it makes me very worried as to whether ... if we keep on going. Not only Australia perhaps, but indeed throughout the world ... what's going to happen if we keep on, you know, not having the same standards that we used to live by as I was growing up, and I think that these are some of the things that worry me very much indeed.
Why do you think God has let this happen?
Well, I think that perhaps in the end he might bring retribution on us. Who knows? I ... It's not for me to say, but I certainly believe that there's not, you know ... there is certainly ... I read just recently or I heard just recently that Australia is no more considered a Christian country. So that those are the sort of things that worry me for my children and my children ... not so much for my children, they've got their standards, they know. It would be my grandchildren, as they are growing up into a situation like we have in Australia at the present time.
Do you think they will grow up in a world ... in an Australia that is much more Asian, that has a lot more Asian people?
Well, it could be. It depends on what they do with the immigration policies. That's another thing. And another thing I do believe that with this Mabo that the Government has brought in, we have to be very careful that we aren't pitting black against white. We have never had that problem while we've been here, but there's much of Australia in the Northern Territory, that is already owned by the Aboriginal people, and now if they make claims on all sorts of land right throughout Australia, who knows what will happen in the future. We've seen some of the ... of the violence that has taken place even in Brisbane over latter months, and I think that these are some of the things that I see for the future. All I can do is to hope and pray that people will somehow or other come to a realisation that they need Christian moral standards in our society. And if I could be assured of that for the future, then I would believe that Australia would continue to grow and develop and be the wonderful country that I have known it through all my years.
If it must be Chri ... Must it be Christian moral standards because, for example, among many of our immigrants we have other religions? Do you feel that they also have a part to play?
Well, I think that probably Muslims have, you know, some of those ... have good moral standards. I think that they, you know ... they probably are perhaps more faithful to their religion than Christian people are. There are a lot of people who claim to be Christians, who don't do anything about it. And I mean, I ... I think that it's not for me to stand in judgement. I'm not the one. They believe in Allah. Of course, I believe that they don't think of Jesus as their Saviour, you see, and so that's the difference between them and us but we have to just ... I can't ... I can't ... If I was a ... If I had a crystal ball and could gaze into it I might be able to tell you what the future holds but as I say, I believe we have to be very careful that as ... as a nation, and as a world as a whole, we don't go like the Roman Empire.
Are you worried that your grandchildren will inherit a country in which the environment has been degraded and will have all the problems that are predicted, that are associated with poor management of the environment?
Well, that's what the future will tell us. I really can't, you know, look ... tell you that but I certainly think that people are now becoming more environmentally conscious. Around this area, all I know is that Joh who's been de ... you know, denounced by the environmental people is to my way of thinking, a real environmentalist himself. I often wonder whether those who talk so strongly about the environment have done as much as Joh has done by way of planting trees, having this lovely scrub here, feeding birds, feeding possums, looking after those sort of things, but nevertheless, I do believe that we've got to look after the environment. God gave us this world and it is up to us to do the best we can for it. And I would hope that as the future generations come along that they will realise that that is something that is very important indeed.
Queensland's a state that has been particularly blessed with a beautiful environment, do you get worried about the development, for example, in the Daintree and some of those other areas of Queensland, which are great tourist attractions but which may very easily be spoiled?
Yes, well, I think when it comes to the Great Barrier Reef and things like that, I think that they've got the Great Barrier Reef Authority now that looks after it, and I think people are gradually beginning to appreciate, you know, what the lovely areas are like. But you see now, we have the Bunya Mountains that's fairly close here. It's the most beautiful area up there. Well, some of it, of course, belongs to private people. They are talking about having it under the World Heritage Authority. I believe that the National Parks here of Queensland have done a tremendous job looking after those areas, and I think you've got to be careful that you don't take away from people their own rights and privileges that they have with freehold land, that they are able to live on it and do what they want to with it. But I think that people are gradually understanding, perhaps, a little bit more, although as I look back and I think about Joh in his dozing days out in the outback of the far south-west, if his dozers hadn't cleared off a lot of the Brigalow scrub, I wonder what people would be earning their living from now. See, they made it into beautiful areas of lovely grass that has been planted and it's beautiful. [OFF CAMERA VOICE]
Well, I was born in Brisbane in 1920 in New Farm. Our old family home is still there. It was there in the time of the 1893 floods so it's a really old Queenslander. And it was a lovely time as I grew up. I had a carefree childhood and we had trams. We used to get on the little matchbox trams in those early days. And we ... I can remember, of course, even travelling in a horse and sulky when I used to go out and visit an uncle that I had who had a farm out at the Gap, and I used to love travelling in a tram to go out to my granny's to have Sunday dinner after I'd been to Sunday school. And so these are some of the very early memories I have and mum and dad were very good. They used to take us for seaside holidays. I can recall going, in those very early days - there was no road connection to Redcliffe, and we used to have to go on the Cooper or the Doomba, which were the vessels that went from Brisbane across the bay to Redcliffe. And I must admit that as a little girl, I was very scared of the ... of the big whistle that used to go when it was announced that the boat was going or it was coming. And those were some happy memories. Dad used to take us off. We used to go down and stay for a couple of weeks at Redcliffe and dad would sort of come on the ... on the boat at the weekends and we'd have time at Redcliffe together. And then as we got a little bit older they took us down to Coolangatta and we had some very happy holidays down there as well. So I think if you can think back to all those lovely memories of the early days and some other ... One of my other memories is of birthday parties that mum used to organise for us, when we were little, and how she made her home-made ice cream. That's one of the memories that I have - in one of these containers where they put dried ice all around the outside, and the ... and made the ice cream in there and we had all these children come and we'd have our birthday parties. And I think, those are the lovely memories that you have of those very early days of life at New Farm. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
In all your life in politics, did you ever see anything happen in politics that you felt really, really pleased with, that you felt that this is really politics at it's best?
I'd say probably that when we were able to get rid of Mr. Whitlam's Government in power in Australia was probably one of the very best things that happened to Australia at that time. I think that was something that was well worthwhile, and Joh played a very important role as far as I was concerned, in insuring that, you know, Malcolm Fraser and his party got into power to turn Australia around at that particular time.
And what was the worst, the dirtiest thing that you ever saw done?
Well, I think when Joh got stabbed in the back is probably one of the worst things that I ever saw happen in politics. But I think one has to accept the fact that in politics, life isn't always meant to be easy, and that is exactly what happened in Joh's case. Because the thing that was worst about that was the fact that only twelve months earlier, we'd had the most amazing election result and was probably one of ... one of the best things that I remember as far as politics is concerned, that we had this wonderful victory, and then the darkest thing that he got stabbed in the back by his own party. He wasn't put out by the people of Queensland. He was put out by his own party. That to me was the darkest point, as far as I'm concerned, in the political life of Australia.
Have you felt disillusioned about politics ever since?
Well, I don't know that I could say that, because I stayed with politics after that from 1987 right through to 1993, and that was another six years you might say, just about. And I tried to perhaps put it behind me, and not be too bitter about it, because I don't think that being bitter about anything does anything for you personally, and I've always tried to say to Joh too, 'Don't be too bitter about it. Remember that we're told to forgive as often as we can', but ... And I think that now, after a period of quite a number of years from 1987, about seven years, I think that, you know, Joh's on to other things and he thinks, Well, that's the way it was meant to be and ... although he didn't really think that it was the correct way at the time. I'm sure in the long run, it will turn out to be for the best.