David Fairbairn (politician)

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The Honourable
Sir David Fairbairn
David Fairbairn 1950s.jpg
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Farrer
In office
10 December 1949 – 11 November 1975
Preceded by New seat
Succeeded by Wal Fife
Personal details
Born (1917-03-03)3 March 1917
Surrey, England
Died 1 June 1994(1994-06-01) (aged 77)
Canberra, Australia
Nationality English Australian
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Ruth
Relations George Fairbairn (grandfather)
Edmund Jowett (grandfather)
James Fairbairn (uncle)
Children Three daughters
Alma mater Cambridge University
Occupation RAAF Officer
Awards Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Flying Cross
Military service
Allegiance Australia Australia
Service/branch Australian Army
Ensign of the Royal Australian Air Force.svg Royal Australian Air Force
Years of service 1939–1945
Rank Flight Lieutenant
Unit 21st Light Horse Riverina Regiment (1939–1941)
No. 79 Squadron (1941–1945)

Sir David Eric Fairbairn KBE DFC (3 March 1917 – 1 June 1994) was an Australian politician and cabinet minister.

Early life[edit]

Fairbairn was born in Claygate, Surrey, England. His grandfathers both served in the Parliament of Australia — Sir George Fairbairn served in the House of Representatives seat of division of Fawkner from 1906 to 1913 and in the Senate from 1917 to 1923 and Edmund Jowett was the federal member for Grampians from 1917 to 1922. His uncle, James Fairbairn, was one of three ministers in the Menzies government who were killed in the 1940 Canberra air disaster.[1]

Fairbairn was educated at Geelong Grammar School and Jesus College, Cambridge. In 1939, took control of Dunraven, a pastoral property at Woomargama, in the Riverina district of New South Wales.

World War II[edit]

During World War II, he served in the 21st Light Horse Riverina Regiment from 1939 to 1941 and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1941. He served both in Britain, where he located the first V-1 flying bomb launching site, and in the New Guinea campaign. In 1945 he was badly wounded and discharged with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.[1] Fairbairn had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944.

Political career[edit]

In the 1949 election, Fairbairn was elected to the House of Representatives as the federal member for Farrer. He was appointed Minister for the Air in 1962 in the ninth Menzies Ministry. In 1964, he became Minister for National Development. After the 1969 election, he challenged John Gorton unsuccessfully for the leadership and then resigned from the ministry, saying: "I have given deep thought and consideration to this decision. I have made it reluctantly. My sole concern in coming to it is the future of the Liberal Party, the Government and the Nation." According to Ian Sinclair, he was opposed to Gorton's centralism and in particular, his attempt to claim of sovereignty over Australia's territorial waters and continental shelf for the Commonwealth.[2] Fairbairn became Minister for Education and Science in March 1971 in the McMahon Ministry and Minister for Defence from August 1971 to the government's defeat in 1972 election. He retired from Parliament at the 1975 election.[1]

From 1977 to 1980, Fairbairn was Australia's Ambassador to the Netherlands. He died in Woden Valley Hospital in Canberra, survived by his wife, Ruth and three daughters.[2][3]


Fairbairn was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945[4] and made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1977.[5]


Political offices
Preceded by
Les Bury
Minister for the Air
1962 – 1964
Succeeded by
Peter Howson
Preceded by
Bill Spooner
Minister for National Development
1964 – 1969
Succeeded by
Reginald Swartz
Preceded by
Nigel Bowen
Minister for Education and Science
Succeeded by
Malcolm Fraser
Preceded by
John Gorton
Minister for Defence
1971 – 1972
Succeeded by
Lance Barnard
Parliament of Australia
New division Member for Farrer
1949 – 1975
Succeeded by
Wal Fife