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Lady Flo's last yarn with the Times

FINAL WORDS: Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen during her last interview with the South Burnett Times.

Lady Flo's last yarn with the Times

South Burnett

FROM her time in the Senate to marrying Sir Joh, in her last yarn to the South Burnett Times in 2016 Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen reflected on many aspects of her long life.

Speaking with multimedia production officer Heath Pukallus, who also works as a Lutheran minister, Lady Flo said she was proud of how she represented the region in the senate.

"Well I like to think I represented the whole of Queensland as a senator," Mrs Bjelke-Petersen said.

"I had the opportunity of meeting the Queen and doing things like that, representing the state at different times overseas, so that was good.

"I was always very pleased to be able to represent Queensland in the parliament, it was an interesting experience in my life."

 

Mrs Bjelke-Petersen served in the Senate at Old Parliament House in Canberra from March 12, 1981 to June 30, 1993.

Mrs Bjelke-Petersen said one of her most interesting experiences was on a parliamentary delegation visiting Berlin during the Cold War.

There she was confronted with the Berlin Wall.

"I can remember going to one area where I could look over the wall and think that was the East German side and we were in West Germany," she said.

"I saw East Germany on the other side of the fence.

"It was very interesting. I had many interesting times when I was a senator."

Florence Isabel Gilmour was born in Brisbane on August 11 1920, the eldest daughter of accountant James Pollock Gilmour and Florence Mabel.

She grew up in New Farm and attended New Farm State School.

"I still remember going up the hill to New Farm State School and my music teacher used to come on the bus and I remember praying that she'd miss the bus," Mrs Bjelke-Petersen said.

"She was a little bit strict I must say.

"She usually turned up though so we had our lessons."

 

She said she began to learn music from a young age.

"I didn't really like practising," she said.

"But I did practice because I knew if I didn't practice my teacher wouldn't be very pleased with me.

"It's important to please your teacher."

For high school she attended Brisbane Girls Grammar School and was later employed as a private secretary to the Queensland Commissioner for Main Roads.

It was there that she met Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, the then Country Party MP for the seat of Barambah.

They married on May 31, 1952.

After years in opposition, the Country Party came to power in 1957, under Premier Frank Nicklin. In the early 1960s Sir Joh was appointed as Minister for Housing. By early 1968 Sir Joh was Deputy Country Party leader and by the end of the year he was Premier of Queensland.

"He became the premier and that was something we adjusted to," Mrs Bjelke-Petersen said.

"I take (media) for granted actually, it was part and parcel of my life since marrying Joh.

"I wasn't very famous before then."

 

Lady Flo said she hadn't had a normal life.

"When you get married, you don't expect to be the wife of the premier of the state," she said.

"But God has been good to me and guided me.

"I had a pretty good life really and I'm really quite happy with the job I had. I met lots of different people and I met Joh, that's the most important.

"He must have thought I was alright, he kept up the contact, so that was good."

In her later years Lady Flo returned to music, playing the organ regularly at the Orana Aged Care Facility in Kingaroy and a number of churches around the region.

She said her favourite hymn was Jesus Loves Me.

"I suppose I've been singing it for a long time and it relates very well to the faith I have," she said.

Lady Flo died at Orana on December 20 2017. She was 97 years old. She is survived by her four children, Helen, Meg, Ruth and John, as well as 14 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

 

Qld politician Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen with wife Florence (Flo) on his 75th birthday at their home in Kingaroy, Qld Mar 1986. p/ 1980s
Qld politician Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen with wife Florence (Flo) on his 75th birthday at their home in Kingaroy, Qld Mar 1986. p/ 1980s FILE PHOTO

Final wish was to clear 'honest' husband's name

JUST MONTHS before her death, Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen told The Courier-Mail she had one final wish.

She would like to see her husband's reputation restored.

She was married to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland's longest- serving premier, a man known by many epithets including the Hillbilly Dictator and the Mulga Messiah.

Lady Flo believed he was an honest man unfairly and ruthlessly dumped by his own party following 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.

"I often ask myself: Why did they get rid of him?

"Queensland was doing very well. It seemed strange to me."

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

"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," she said.

"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."