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Benaud, Louis Ferdinand (1863–1937)

"When we see the lessons brought before us by one of our fellow men, it helps us in our own resolves. . . Here is an instance of living for a definite ideal — the ideal of service to the glory of God and the welfare of his fellow men." Thus spake Rev. Godfrey Gilbert, Vicar of St. Mary Magdalene's Anglican Church, Coraki, on the occasion of the funeral service on Friday for the late Mr. Louis Ferdinand Branxton Benaud, and no truer words were ever spoken. For if ever there was a man imbued with public spirit, a man who devoted his life to the betterment of the district in which he lived, and bent his whole energies to improving the lot of those amongst he dwelt, then unquestionably that man was L. F. Benaud, who passed to his rest on Thursday night after an illness extending over several years, but only developing acutely a few weeks ago.

Born at Taree, on the Manning, just within a few days of 75 years ago, he was only a child when his father, the late Capt. Benaud, skipper and part owner of sailing vessels trading to the Manning, Clarence and Richmond in the early days of the North Coast, sustained a fatal fall from a horse, while riding home after visiting a friend at Cundletown. Soon afterwards the family moved to the Clarence, and, as a youth, Mr. Benaud was, some years later apprenticed to the printing, trade on the old Grafton 'Argus,'' ultimately finding a position on the staff of the 'Clarence and Richmond Examiner,' under the late G. H. Varley. Early in the year 1886, rumours reached the young printer that there was a chance for a paper on the Mid Richmond, then practically without press representation, and with many big questions demanding support and ventilation, so hither came the adventurous young man. He spied out the land, and decided to strike out for himself in Coraki. A few months later he arrived back with his wife and young family, secured an office and plant, and right on the eve of the first issue plant and building went up in smoke, the result of a fire that started in the adjoining premises. The blow was a staggering one, but, with the dauntless pluck which characterised his life, and particularly in contentious and bitterly fought issues, he buckled to again, secured new plant, and in due course the first issue of the 'R.R. Herald' saw the light of day, in a week of incessant rain in the big flood year of 1886.

In those days Coraki was a very small village indeed. Drainage had not yet been adopted for the low lands, scrub was in evidence on every side, floods were of frequent occurrence, and farmers were experiencing hardships little dreamed of to-day. Under such circumstances it can well be imagined that the lot of the pioneer pressman was a hard and thorny one, but the man himself never flinched from his task. As the bound files of the paper disclose, a newsy, splendidly printed, and well edited paper came out regularly week after week, and there was scarcely an issue, year after year, in which some public project was not being advocated or fought for with all the skill and enthusiasm for which the founder was noted.

Probably the first big fight which Mr. Benaud waged through his paper was in the interests of dairying, coupled with condemnation of cane as a payable Mid Richmond proposition. In spite of public meetings, press protests, and actual boycotts, the deceased gentleman stuck to his guns till eventually he had the satisfaction of winning out— dairying becoming universal from Woodburn upwards, and cane in that area ceasing to be. Stimulated by the late Mr. Bagot, Mr. Benaud next came forward to advocate the adoption of the separator, only to be told he was years ahead of his time and that this time and money-saving piece of mechanism was merely in its experimental stage. In a very few years, however, he was able to see his views in this direction universally adopted. Not only did he advocate the interests of the primary producer, but he also became one himself, first leasing and then acquiring a property of his own.

One of his longest campaigns was for bar and harbor improvements, and both personally and with his paper he strove for years to secure a reasonably safe port for the district. He eventually saw his hopes partially achieved, but his ideal of a harbor safe for overseas vessels has still to be realised. Having suffered so severely himself, directly and indirectly, from flood losses it is not surprising that he threw himself into the forefront of every campaign for the mitigation of the evils of a general inundation of the district's rich river flats. He took a very prominent part in the agitation for Tuckombil Canal, and, when that, and the blasting of the Iron Gates in Evans River were completed, led the fight for Tuckenn Canal, only after years of agitation to see the ardent dream for years of Mid Richmond public men and producers defeated by politicians by the narrowest vote on record. In spite of that reverse, Mr. Benaud continued the agitation in his paper right up to the time he retired, and up to the very last held that Tuckenn Canal was the only real solution for the greatest problem that still confronts the owners of flat land on the Mid Richmond. As a part of a comprehensive flood-prevention scheme, he was a firm believer in the Tuckombil-Evans River proposal now being investigated by Departmental engineers, and one of his last utterances on the subject, just a few weeks ago, was that the urgency of the work must be persistently kept before the Government till success is achieved.

When water hyacinth menaced the navigation of the Richmond, Mr. Benaud was 0ne of the first to realise the seriousness of the position. Years before, he had alienated support by advocating the pest's removal from private lands, but when the river was becoming infested he and a few others established the Hyacinth Board, and finally induced the Government to form the R.R. County Council, on which he served as Chairman till 1826.

As is well known, he led the agitation in Coraki for the introduction of a municipal electricity generation scheme, and, when that was accomplished, turned his attention once more to the possibilities of developing the Moonem coal measures—a project which he had helped to initiate almost 40 years ago. On various occasions he, with others, was instrumental in inducing Government geologists to visit the district, and mining was actually started both at Moonom and Robinson's Hill, but, unfortunately, the bands of coal were too heavily intersected with shale to make the ventures payable. Later, however, it was discovered that these seams would produce coal admirably adopted for the generation of' electricity, and it is now history how he and those whom he induced to join him succeeded in forming a company for this purpose, with a view to supplying cheap electricity to all parts of the Richmond. Unfortunately, just when success was in sight, the financial crisis of a few years ago, combined with some differences with Casino Council, caused the defeat of the project, with considerable financial loss to the shareholders. ln the early days direct connection with the Clarence from Coraki was a live question, and, with others, Mr. Benaud helped to try and discover a satisfactory road towards Maclean, and he later advocated rail connection in that direction, but officialdom in both instances was adamant. He also bore his share in the unsuccessful Tenerfield Casino railway agitation that was so strenuously fought for over a long period of years, and was the prime mover in the proposed Coraki-Casino line, an undertaking that was referred to the Works Committee by Parliament, but rejected by the Committee. While not succeeding in all his quests, the valiant fighter for district interests, however, was able to secure quite a lot of works for the area by his presistent representation to Ministerial heads, road errants and river bank protection at Coraki being amongst them. In addition his boosting of Evans River as a seaside resort, and his acquisition of property there are familiar to most of our readers.

Though not participating actively in sport, Mr. Benaud always lent his influence to, and supported in a practical manner, the activities of the different local organisations. For close on 20 years he was Secretary of the Coraki Jockey Club, and during his time was able to see it become one of the leading racing clubs on the North Coast, and for a time second only to the Clarence River Jockey Club. He was also a very liberal supporter of the Coraki regattas. Quite early in his career here he helped to secure the incorporation Coraki as a municipality, and, after his retirement from press work, was induced to stand for election as alderman. He was re-elected for several terms, and filled the Mayoral Chair with distinction for a number of years, devoting a large amunt of time to the work involved.

Mr. Benaud, in addition to this, enjoyed the distinction of being one of the oldest membors of M.U.I.O.O.F.,  in the North, joining the Loyal Star of the East Lodge at Grafton in Octobor 1881 —when Bro. A. W. Barnier was N.G., and Bro. Philip Emert was Secretary. That area, by the way, was then and for many years afterwards part of the Sydney district. As soon as he came to Coraki he took an active part in forming a lodge, he bccame one of the foundation members, and sustained his membership to the last.

During the war years he was an ardent worker for and generous giver to all patriotic causes, and at the close of hostilities was a member of the Repatriation Committee which assisted to give numbers of returned men a fresh start in life, the majority of them successfully.

In recent years he was one of the foundation members of the Chamber of Commerce, President of the P. and C. Association until ill health forced his retirement a couple of years ago, and also a most enthusiastic supporter of the J.F.C., being President of the Coraki branch's Advisory Committee till  illness overtook him. The School of Arts, and Hospital also found in him a liberal supporter and advocate.

As a member of the Anglican Church he served as Prochial Councillor, Church warden and Synodsman, and, with Rev. A. S. Homersham, led the movement for the beautiful church which is such a distinctive feature 0f Church Hill. He was also a guarantor for the Church till it was wiped out, and a guarantor for the debt on the Vicarage.

Some years ago the 'Brisbane Courier' printed a photo of "Mr. L. P. Benaud, one of the most public, spirited men on the Richmond River," and in a special article said:—''His life has been devoted to the progress of his adopted town and the welfare of the surrounding district. For public spiritedness few can compare with him. What he did is there for the world to see, and what he thought was there for the world to read in his well-known paper, which has fought consistently for the welfare of the Mid Richmond, and still carries on as vigorously as ever. That signal tribute from the leading journal in Queensland speaks for itself.

From this very brief outline it will be seen that amidst his press activities, Mr. Benaud had a very active public and semi-public life, a life characterised by the highest ideals of service and by many acts of charity, for no appeal was ever made to him in vain on behalf of the distressed. To all such appeals he gave, freely and with a generous hand. He was a model employer, always prone to overlook the frailties of those who served under him, and in his very long career was known to dispense with a man's service on only two or three occasions. He was a hard and conscientious worker himself, and ever appreciated that attribute in others. He was able always to secure for his paper, the services of contributors and writers of outstanding merit, a fact which helped largely to make the paper what it is today. As is well-known, Mr. Benaud took a very deep interest in shipping, and knew personally every skippor and almost every officer on vessels trading to the Richmond and Clarence. In the early days of the industry, before the railways cut so heavily into the passenger trade. His close contact with those old salts enabled him to become a recognised authority on North Coast shipping, and the 'R.R. Herald' shipping column was for years the delight of seafaring men and North Coasters generally.

With the passing of the old stalwart the Richmond has undoubtedly lost one of its greatest champions and sturdiest fighters, though ill-health, of course, had compelled him to slow down considerably in recent years. To the last he retained the gratitude and respect of all who knew him. So marked was this feeling that when, just before he retired from active control of the paper, he was unsuccessfully sued for an alleged libel penned by a contributor, the residents of Coraki and district entertaincd him at a largely attended function and presented him with a cheque to cover his expenses. For 30 years or more the writer of this sketch has been associated closely with Mr. Benaud, and can bear witness to the fact that no fairer and juster man has ever controlled a public newspaper and certainly no pressman in the North has ever spared himself less in the public interest. Since 1911 (when he handed over control of the 'R.R. Herald' to his son, Mr. W. E. L. Benaud) the subject of this sketch devoted practically all his available time to the benefit or local organisations, very often to the neglect of his private interests. He is survived by his wife, son, and two daughtcrs—Mrs. A. Aked, of Lismore, and Nurse Johnstone, of Coraki, to all of whom the keenest sympathy of the district goes out in theie loss.

The funeral 0n Friday was one of the most representative and most largely attended seen here for many years. The Church service attracted a large congregation. Rev. Gilbert, assisted by Rev. Cecil Saunders, Rector of Woodburn, officiating, both at the Church and graveside. In the course of his address Rev. Gilbert said that the one who had passed on was one who had given of his best, one who had lived his life according to an ideal, and one who had not spared himself in service for others; and the lesson thus taught should help the resolves of all. His was a life of action. He was not satisfied just to believe in something, but to try and carry it out, to do things that would have a vital effect on the lives of those amongst whom he lived. He believed in living with a purpose, living powerfully, living adventurously, and living in the power of God, because our own power was not sufficient, whereas the power of God was eternal.

The polished silver-mounted casket, covered with wreaths was borne from the Church by Messrs. W. Benaud (son), A. Aked (son-in-law), Lorne Benaud, Noel Aked, Louis Aked (grandsons), and H. A. McCalluin (editor 'R.R.. Herald') , Members of the M.U.I.O.O.F., besides forming a guard of honor at the Church and also at the cemetery, acted as wreath bearers, while the pall-bearers at the cemetery were P.G.'s Bros. G. Brooks, J. Hile, D. Toovey,. E. Sands, C. Newby, and Bro. A.H. Rayncr. In addition to representatives of the professional, business and industrial life of the town and district, there were also present Crs. Jas. Allison, deputy-President of Woodburn Shire (President L. B. Williams was absent from the district), L.H. C. Robinson, and A. Apps;  Cr. T.W. Green (President of Terania Shire and Chairman of the R.R. County Council); Cr. R.H. McPherson (Gundurimbah Shire), Messrs. F. Paff (President) and H. Ford (Secretary of the Coraki J.F.C.); E.T. Sheridan (President, Coraki P. and C. Association); C. Riordan (President of Coraki sub-branch R.I.S.S.I.L.A.); ex-Ald. T.J. Brandon (representing the old Coraki J.C.); D Moriarty (Shire employees); A.D. Arnold (District Manager, E.C. Coy, Ballina); J.A. Daley and C.R.Laidman, Alstonville (Ex-Directors of Moonom Development Coy); W.N. McPherson (Ruthven); R. Childs (Wyrallali); T. S. O'Connor (Lismore); Ex-Sergt.  Rutherford (Newcastle); O.A. Schulstad; E.A. Wagner; P.S. Malone; Sep McKenzie; T. Loader (Woodburn); T. Reardon; T. Butler; S.G. Scroope; T. Malone (Swan Bay); Byron Scroope (Sydney) and E. R. Thorold (brother-in-law) of Grafton; Messrs. Will Riley and Son conducted the funeral arrangements.

A large collection of beautiful wreaths came from personal friends, public bodies, and the staff of the 'R.R. Herald.'

Original publication

Citation details

'Benaud, Louis Ferdinand (1863–1937)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/benaud-louis-ferdinand-19883/text31109, accessed 12 December 2019.

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