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Fuller, Sir John Bryan (1917–2009)

by Malcolm Brown

John Fuller, a leader of the governing NSW coalition from 1965 to 1976 and a minister for eight years, was a product of the enterprising spirit of Australian pioneers.

Nothing was easy for the first Australian Fullers. William, setting out from Ireland in 1839, died of fever on the voyage. His widow, Ann, and six children settled in Wollongong where she ran a shop. Her youngest son, George Fuller, produced 14 offspring and acquired land at Kiama.

One of the children, later Sir George Warburton Fuller, became a member of the first Federal Parliament in 1901 and was twice, in 1921 and in 1922-25, premier of NSW. His first, Nationalist, government lasted only seven hours and 40 minutes – the shortest in NSW history – and led to the formation of the Country Party of NSW.

Another of the 14 offspring, Bryan Fuller, became a king's counsel and, with his wife, Isabel, produced John Bryan Munro Fuller, who has died at 91.

John went to Knox College, Sydney. His father wanted him to go into the law but the boy yearned for the land. Fullers were on the Kiama landholding and at Wellington, central western NSW. John worked on farms at Bathurst and Trangie, then went jackarooing in Queensland.

In 1939 he bought a 1420 hectare sheep and wool property near Coolah, north-western NSW, and, in 1940, married Eileen Webb, of Bathurst.

Interested in local government and rural politics, in 1944 Fuller was elected to the Graziers Association of NSW council – at 27 then the youngest person to gain a council position. By 1945 he was on the NSW Country Party's central council.

A year later Fuller was elected vice-president of the NSW Country Party and, in 1959, president and a member of the federal executive. He became the party's federal vice-chairman in 1962 after winning a seat in the NSW Legislative Council the previous year.

In 1965, when Robin Askin swept to power in NSW, Fuller became the minister for decentralisation and development. At the time, the belief that Sydney was becoming too congested was taking hold. Fuller brought about a change in direction; at one point country centres were responsible for 39 per cent of the state's population growth.

In 1968 he was appointed vice-president of the Executive Council and government leader in the Legislative Council. He led NSW trade missions to North America, South-East Asia, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific.

Fuller survived a parliamentary storm in 1970 when he was accused of trying to manipulate the electoral laws in favour of his party. In 1973 he was appointed minister for planning and environment, taking in big parts of the Department of Local Government, the defunct Department of Environmental Control and parts of the Health Department.

It was seen as a little incongruous that Fuller, who favoured minimal government planning control, should have such a portfolio. But he proved to be one of the Askin government's most able ministerial planners. Decentralisation and development became one of the state's most imaginative and productive departments. He was knighted in 1974.

Occasionally Fuller encountered situations where urgent planning was required. Leaving home at Coolah on one occasion to go to his ministerial car, he found his way blocked by the flooded Black Stump Creek. His solution was to strip off and carry his clothes and briefcase over his head – notable for slicked-down hair and neat moustache – as he waded across.

Fuller retained his portfolio in Tom Lewis's cabinet in 1975, when he was also the first president of Keep Australia Beautiful (NSW). But he ran into more stormy weather in 1976 when the Opposition leader, Neville Wran, accused him of having had a vested interest in a planning decision. Fuller had reversed a decision by a former minister, Charles Cutler, and the State Planning Authority, to allow subdivision of the Minnamurra headland.

A company with which Fuller had had an indirect financial involvement, Blue Metal Industries, was alleged to have benefited from the decision. Fuller denied impropriety and was supported by the premier, Eric Willis. An Opposition motion to establish an inquiry into South Coast development was defeated on party lines. As Wran stepped up the attack, Fuller angrily invited him to step outside Parliament and repeat the allegations.

The crisis blew over, but Willis's coalition lost the 1976 election to Wran's Labor Party. Fuller became Opposition leader in the Legislative Council, despite belonging to the coalition's minor party. He retired from Parliament in 1978 but remained active and became chairman of the Monarchist League in 1997.

Fuller's wife died in 2006. He is survived by his son, Bryan, daughter, Sally Muller, and four granddaughters.

His funeral will be held at 10.15am today at St Stephen's Uniting Church, Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 February 2009

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Fuller, Sir John Bryan (1917–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/fuller-sir-john-bryan-16865/text28761, accessed 22 May 2019.

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