Former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and wife Lady Flo at their
Former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and wife Lady Flo at their "Bethany" farmhouse in Kingaroy, 1999.

Lady Flo's final wishes, 30 years after Joh's dumping

AS SHE approaches her 98th birthday Florence Isabel Bjelke-Petersen has two wishes.

She would like to receive a letter from the Queen when she turns 100.

And she would like to see her husband's reputation restored.

She was married to Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland's longest-serving premier and knight of the realm, a man known by many epithets including the Hillbilly Dictator, the Mulga Messiah, the Flying Peanut and a bible-bashing bastard.

Sir Joh left office 30 years ago today.

Former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and wife Lady Flo at their
Former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and wife Lady Flo at their "Bethany" farmhouse in Kingaroy, 1999.

Lady Flo believes he was an honest man unfairly and ruthlessly dumped by his own party after 40 years of service after becoming entangled in political corruption scandals not of his making.

"He always knew politics was a funny business," she said.

"And he was not very happy at the way it all ended.

"I often ask myself: Why did they get rid of him? Queensland was doing very well. It seemed strange to me."

Flo Bjelke-Petersen wants to see her 100th birthday and to see her husband’s reputation restored. Picture: Lachie Millard
Flo Bjelke-Petersen wants to see her 100th birthday and to see her husband’s reputation restored. Picture: Lachie Millard

Lady Flo, who no longer is able to bake her famous pumpkin scones, said she was happy at a retirement village in Kingaroy, with daily visits by her daughters Ruth and Helen or her son John.

"When you get to the end of your life you need to have a good, firm resting place," she said. "I don't know whether I'll make 100. God is the only one who knows that now. I don't know what his plans are for me, but I'd like to think I can.

"I want to get a letter from the Queen. Yea, so there you are. Whether I will or not, who knows?"

Lady Flo said she was proud to be Sir Joh’s wife. The two are pictured celebrating his 80th birthday with pumpkin scones in 1991.
Lady Flo said she was proud to be Sir Joh’s wife. The two are pictured celebrating his 80th birthday with pumpkin scones in 1991.

Florence Gilmour was a city girl living in New Farm and working as secretary for the Commissioner for Main Roads when she met Joh.

He was an alderman on the Kingaroy council who arrived one day with a delegation seeking road funding. She was a skilled shorthand note taker who took a record of the meeting.

"I thought he was really nice. He was a pretty clever fellow. We got along pretty well."

She said marrying Joh and moving to Kingaroy was quite a shock.

"I had to learn how to milk a cow. When the children grew up it was a task for them. I got out of it then."

The couple pictured in 1950 when they first started dating.
The couple pictured in 1950 when they first started dating.

Lady Flo said friends and strangers still contacted her to tell of little kindnesses that Joh had done for them.

This belied his reputation as an uncompromising authoritarian who was intolerant of contrary opinions.

"I was certainly very happy to be married to him and he did a great job as premier of Queensland. I was proud to be his wife.

"People still come to me and tell me how good it was when Joh ran the state.

"There will never be anyone like Joh. You would have to be pretty brilliant to beat him."

Lady Flo says “there will never be anyone like Joh” and says people still come to her to sing his praises.
Lady Flo says “there will never be anyone like Joh” and says people still come to her to sing his praises.

Lady Flo believes her husband reached his political zenith in the early 1980s.

"The best thing he did was to get the National Party to run on its own," she said.

Breaking away from the Liberals was "courageous" and showed Joh was a man of conviction.

After splitting with the Liberals, Joh's Nationals won the 1983 election in their own right thanks to the defection from the Liberal Party of Don Lane and Brian Austin.

The Liberal Party never forgave them - nor Joh.

The two after he was awarded the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George at Buckingham Palace in the 1980s.
The two after he was awarded the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George at Buckingham Palace in the 1980s.

The period also signalled the rise of the so-called white shoe brigade led by developers such as Christopher Skase who sought favours from the government.

Lady Florence said her children had to be "bossed around by their mother" because Joh was so often away.

"But he was a loving husband and a great dad," she said.

She now says her Christian faith is the most important thing in her life.

The two at Brisbane airport in the 1960s.
The two at Brisbane airport in the 1960s.

"It holds you up firm and fast and gives you hope," she said.

She plays the organ in her retirement home and sometimes at the church.

Her daughter Helen Folker said: "You can open up the hymnal and she can play just about anything you put in front of her.

"She amazes us all."

Lady Flo said her favourite hymn was Abide with Me.

Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen at the organ where she still plays in the chapel at her retirement home in Kingaroy. Picture: Lachie Millard
Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen at the organ where she still plays in the chapel at her retirement home in Kingaroy. Picture: Lachie Millard

 

 

FEEDING THE CHOOKS

 

SIR Joh Bjelke-Petersen, throughout his political career and beyond, was one of Australia's most quotable public figures. Some highlights include:

• "Don't you worry about that."

• "Goodness gracious, I know what you're trying to do."

• "Just you wait and see."

• "Let me tell you, what is good for Queensland is good for Australia."

Lady Flo and Sir Joh at Wesley Hospital when he was recovering from a blood infection.
Lady Flo and Sir Joh at Wesley Hospital when he was recovering from a blood infection.

On press conferences: "I call it feeding the chooks."

On unionism in his maiden speech in August 1947: "It is a form of treachery and can only lead to economic upheaval of a severity not often experienced."

On industrial relations: "The 40-hour week has given the opportunity to many to while away their time in hotels."

On John Howard and Ian Sinclair during his 'Joh for PM' campaign in 1987: "You can push a 44 gallon drum of molasses up a hill easier than you could push these two fellas."

On the 'Joh for PM' campaign: "I'm a bushfire raging across the country." And when it failed: "I never really wanted to go anyway."

The two at the Brisbane City Mission coffee shop opening in 1985.
The two at the Brisbane City Mission coffee shop opening in 1985.

On human rights: "What's the ordinary man in the street got to do with it?"

On former Chinese leader Mao Zedong: "Red is red wherever it is - and I don't trust any of them."

On finances under Gough Whitlam: "Australia is bankrupt. It is even worse than that."

On condoms: "We don't want any of that sort of thing up here."

On press criticisms: "The greatest thing that could happen to the state and nation is when we get rid of all the media … then we could live in peace and tranquillity and no one would know anything."

Lady Flo believes her former peanut farmer husband was an honest man unfairly and ruthlessly dumped by his own party.
Lady Flo believes her former peanut farmer husband was an honest man unfairly and ruthlessly dumped by his own party.

 

Tomorrow: "My father was not a crook," by John Bjelke-Petersen

Lady Flo is known for her pumpkin scones.
Lady Flo is known for her pumpkin scones.


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