Flo deserves her place in Queensland history

WIFE of a peanut farmer-turned-premier, community champion, pumpkin scone aficionado, Queensland senator, icon.

The passing of Florence Isabel Bjelke-Petersen, affectionately known to Queenslanders and the rest of the nation as "Lady Flo", is in so many ways the end of an era.

Whatever you think of her late husband, the long-serving Nationals premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Lady Flo was a trailblazer in her own right.

Many of her views may belong to a Queensland of another time, but Lady Flo's homespun colloquialisms and warm manner earnt her a place in people's hearts and minds well beyond the presence of her husband.

She served 12 years in the Senate  and earned admiration from all sides of politics.

Lady Flo, 97, was the kind of retail politician that those in high office can only dream of being today.

In her last extensive interview with The Courier-Mail's assistant editor Des Houghton, which was published only a few weeks ago, she spoke of her two enduring wishes.

Senator Bjelke-Petersen in her office Picture: Ian Waldie
Senator Bjelke-Petersen in her office Picture: Ian Waldie

Lady Flo wanted to receive a letter from the Queen when she turned 100 and she wanted to see her husband's reputation restored.

"When you get to the end of your life you need to have a good, firm resting place," she told Houghton.

"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."

It seems He had other plans for Lady Flo, who passed away late yesterday afternoon at Lutheran Services Orana Aged Care facility in her beloved Kingaroy surrounded by family.

And while redemption for Sir Joh - who narrowly escaped perjury charges in the wake of the damning Fitzgerald Inquiry - won't happen either, it is worth noting on her passing the significant place the couple will have in Queensland's history and efforts taking this state forward.

Sir Joh's government built much of the infrastructure Queensland still relies on today, eradicated death duties, which brought a population boom and facilitated mining that remains so integral to the state's economy.

There was certainly nothing distinguished or sophisticated about the Bjelke-Petersens, but they were effective.

Those advances are now rightly overshadowed by the revelations in the Fitzgerald Inquiry about just how rottenly corrupt that government was.

And people would be aghast if many of that administration's other actions were repeated today, such as using the police service to gather intelligence on opponents, banning public demonstrations and Sir Joh's role in the Whitlam dismissal.

Such are the reverberations from this era that the Cabinet papers from 1987, the year Sir Joh ran the "Joh for PM" campaign and scuttled John Howard's first attempt at being prime minister will be eagerly anticipated by journalists and historians alike when they are officially released on January 1.

But throughout all the tumult of Sir Joh's reign, after Fitzgerald and her husband's death, Lady Flo has remained a respected figure in Queensland.

While many of Sir Joh's Cabinet colleagues remain, Lady Flo's death draws a line under this era.

It was a Queensland of another time. More innocent, in some ways. Reprehensible in others. But a state that emerged much stronger nonetheless.

There were calls immediately for a state funeral for Lady Flo as tributes flowed from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington, who now holds Sir Joh's former seat of Nanango.

Regardless, Lady Flo earnt her place in Queensland history and her kindness and community spirit deserves to be remembered.

May she rest in peace.

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