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'Colossus' of Australian shipping scene enters hall of fame

AS WE WERE: Early shipping fleet, Queensland. INSET: Benjamin Wickham MacDonald.
AS WE WERE: Early shipping fleet, Queensland. INSET: Benjamin Wickham MacDonald.

WITHOUT Benjamin Wickham MacDonald's foresight, Gladstone's prosperity could have been a different story.

Described in his obituary as the Napoleon of shipping, MacDonald was inducted into the 2015 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame on Thursday evening.

The Scottish migrant sailed into Brisbane in 1884 and eventually became Australasian United Steam Navigation general manager.

Overseeing a reform of the company's operations, his work was crucial in the development of Queensland's economic expansion - particularly along the coast.

Historian Helen Gregory said MacDonald was instrumental in helping shape ports in Mackay, Rockhampton and Gladstone.

His work also ensured businesses and primary producers across the Sunshine Coast, Gympie, the Fraser Coast and Bundaberg boomed as exports to European markets flourished.

"The importance of his work to all of these places relates to the fact that Queensland developed very differently to the other Australian colonies," Ms Gregory told APN Newsdesk.

"Growth was hampered by the fact that the capital city was right in the extreme south-east of Queensland.

"Producers had to get their produce out - for example sugar in the Mackay area, cattle in Rockhampton - and the only way to do it was by ship.

"And another thing that was always a problem was making sure there were enough people in these areas to do the work, so the shipping lines were very important for moving people up and down the coast.

"People like MacDonald were critically import to our economic development," Ms Gregory said.

In 1902, MacDonald helped negotiate an agreement between Australia's major coastal shipping companies designed to stabilise freight rates and keep the businesses viable.

Macdonald's grandson Ben said his namesake's legacy was priceless.

"I think he'd like to be remembered as someone who influenced the early development of Queensland's economy, for example opening up areas like Rockhampton for trade of wool and cattle, or Townsville for minerals," Mr MacDonald said.

QUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Peter Little said Macdonald's contribution to the state deserved the Hall of Fame recognition.

"Having connections between ports in Queensland and interstate and overseas to effectively move and trade commodities was a game-changer for the state's economy," the professor said.

- APN NEWSDESK

Topics:  gladstone, shipping




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