A distinguished north-west Tasmanian

Jim Fidler writes this month’s Surrey Hills blog. Jim was born and raised in Launceston. Educated at the University of Tasmania with a teaching degree majoring in geology, Jim began teaching at Burnie and was also Principal at Waratah Primary School from 1984-87. Jim moved to Beijing in 2000 where he initially was a Lower School Principal and then a High School Humanities teacher at the International School, Beijing. He is now in semi-retirement with his wife who works as a full-time kindergarten teacher. They plan to retire to their home in Gippsland, Victoria.

Jim is a Great Nephew of John Roy (Jack) Fidler. Endnote 317 in “Fires, Farms and Forests” provides a summary of Jack’s career with the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co.). Jack was one of the longest-serving employees of the VDL Co. He started in 1906 and retired in February 1956, his employment only interrupted by service in World War 1 (WW1). While Jack was not a registered surveyor, he surveyed many parcels of VDL Co. to sell before WW1. After the war, Jack was heavily involved in timber assessments on Surrey Hills to find suitable timber for the VDL Co. sawmills at Burnie and the 29-Mile. A. K. McGaw[1] described one of Fidler’s reports, after two-years of hard work in the early 1920s, as “…probably the most complete definition of country with respect to physical features that has been made in Australia for country land”.

During his time in the north-west, Jim explored the areas where Jack worked. Jim’s story below provides more detail about the remarkable career of his great uncle, a distinguished north-west Tasmanian.

My Great Uncle Jack (Roy) Fidler, my grandfather’s brother, was born in 1891. He was a surveyor, businessman and politician. Much of what I know of his life is gleaned from my father’s stories, the archives and people who knew him personally. 

Uncle Jack was born in the north-east mining town of Gladstone as his father was the local policeman having lived in Waratah previously where my grandfather was born.

Fidler Street at Cooee, near Burnie. Photo courtesy Noel Murray.

After leaving Gladstone, the family set up home in Burnie with now a street named after his family in Cooee. After finishing his education in the local state school, he began training as a surveyor with the VDL Co. in 1906. As the WW1 arrived in 1915, Uncle Jack enlisted and was posted to the 6th Field Company, Engineers and shipped off to the Western Front in Belgium. He had a distinguished career being commissioned in the field and was awarded the Military Cross after his bravery under fire, sustaining severe injuries.

Record of Jack Fidler’s Military Cross award (from National Archives of Australia)

He became very ill and lost a lung to pneumonia, but that setback did not prevent him from being a distinguished golfer. Uncle Jack won the inaugural Seabrook Golf Club championship in 1930 and won it a further ten times between 1932-45. He was awarded Life Member of the club in 1951 after serving as President and Club Captain. He was also a notable cyclist and community builder. His resilience and determination were an inspiration to many.

On his return from WW1, once recovered, he re-joined the VDL Co. He remained with the VDL Co. in various roles until his retirement in 1956. During those years, Jack used his excellent organization and surveying skills to great effect when working for Associated Pulp & Paper Mills Ltd (APPM), mining companies, the Public Works Department and private subdividers. As he surveyed many roads to facilitate the harvesting of the dense hardwood forest, he formed a company, Forest Supplies Pty Ltd, with his brother Bernie. The company supplied the newly established APPM with timber, giving many young men a start on a career in cartage, forestry and sawmilling. I have been fortunate to have met several older men in Waratah (Joe Fagan Snr and others) and Ridgley who were given a start in their working life. He was widely admired.

The Public Works Department regularly recognized his skills as a surveyor. His two outstanding public road surveying achievements were the Murchison Highway from the Finger Post near Waratah down to Rosebery and the Pinnacle Road to the summit of Mt Wellington. Two great legacies. The task from the Finger Post over Mt Black was so challenging that if they were able to progress 10 metres a day through the incredibly thick temperate rainforest, it was a significant achievement. He did this with just one offsider and a young assistant and in his seventies. I have spent many great days exploring those west coast forests as a geology student at university and again when Principal at Waratah Primary School. I was amazed to see what he had done. There is now a layby rest area and rock cairn with a plaque at Fossey River, south of the Finger Post, to commemorate and acknowledge Jack Fidler’s efforts. Those who have travelled to the top of Mt Wellington can attest to the challenges and difficulties that task must have presented.

Plaque at Fossey River Rest Area, Murchison Highway. Photo courtesy Noel Murray.

Uncle Jack was also a member of parliament and worked tirelessly for the north-west communities leading to that Murchison Highway link road finally becoming a reality rather than just the Emu Bay Railway Railway link via Guildford Junction and Mt Black.

All the people who knew him saw an engaging man with great vision, perseverance and intelligence. I wish I had able to meet him as he was a great inspiration. He impacted so many lives in a positive way. I was honoured to be able to name my grandson Jack after this great Tasmanian.


[1] A.K. McGaw was the VDL Co’s. Chief Agent in Tasmania 

3 thoughts on “A distinguished north-west Tasmanian”

  1. Great Surrey Hills blog. My grandfather also fought on the western front in Belgium so had a strong connection to his story.

  2. A very interesting feature on Jack Fidler by Jim Fidler. Jim Fidler was a big favourite of my son when Jim was teaching at the Upper Burnie Primary School. He was one of the rare, dedicated and wonderful communicators as a teacher and friend to the students.

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