The making of a Knight: Sir Arthur Petfield

Knighthood lies above eternity; it doesn’t live off fame, but rather deeds.

'The sun watches the sun’, 2012, by Dejan Stojanović, a Serbian poet, writer, essayist, philosopher, businessman, and former journalist.

If this be true, then we can understand how and why Arthur Petfield, a leader of Queensland industry and business, had knighthood bestowed on him.

Born Arthur Henry Petfield in 1912 to Arthur and Florence Petfield, young Arthur left school at age 16 and in 1929 joined a Brisbane-based can manufacturing company, Queensland Can Company Limited. He started as a Junior Cost Clerk, quickly became the Company secretary, and by the age of 36 was General Manager. Three years later in 1951, he was appointed Managing Director and then Managing Director/Chairman in 1958 (Queensland Government House, 1968).

In 1968 the ultimate honour was bestowed on Arthur Petfield when he was named as Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday honours (Queensland Government House, 1968).

Portrait of Queensland businessman, Sir Arthur Petfield. Photo courtesy Petfield family. 

Let’s follow this ‘less travelled’ road to knighthood

Firstly, knighthood is a complex field. There is the British Imperial honours system which was in place in Australia up until 1989, and there is now, since 1975, the Australian Honours system which was initiated by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and put into effect by the Frazer government in 1975. At the time of Sir Arthur was knighted in 1968 it was the British Imperial honours system that was applicable for Australians being recommended for honours. Thus, his title of Knight Bachelor was awarded under the British Imperial system and announced in the London Gazette of 31 May, 1968, as an appointment under the ‘orders and decorations of the Commonwealth realms’ (Wikipedia).

London Gazette of 31 May, 1968 announcing Arthur Petfield's Knighthood. 29378 Arthur Henry Petfield Papers 1938-1978, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

Alongside a knighthood, Sir Arthur was also granted a Crest and Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms designed for Sir Arthur bears a crest, shield and helm. It draws on the family Coat of Arms but incorporates elements that refer to Sir Arthur and his achievements. 

Sir Arthur Petfield's Crest and Coat of Arms. 29378 Arthur Henry Petfield Papers 1938-1978, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. 

Sir Arthur’s ‘deeds’

The citation for Sir Arthur’s knighthood reads:  ‘For services to industrial development and to the community’.  As a leading businessman and industrialist, Sir Arthur’s career was marked by leadership, integrity, innovation, business acumen and being recognised as an active leader across industries, industrial and commercial organisations, and a diversity of Queensland companies in Board and Chairman roles.  As a company man he was regarded as loyal to his staff, and cognisant of ensuring services and amenities for company employees. And as a civic leader he was an active supporter of a raft of charities, social organisations and service groups. Outside the company, Sir Arthur’s activities extended to a raft of activities – business, civic and social.

His business leadership qualities and his commitment to a viable and vital business environment led him to take on leadership roles in a range of other Queensland businesses:

  • B&T Board – 1974
  • Barkers Bookstores Holdings Limited
  • Equitable Life Board – 1974
  • Insurance Brokers Queensland Pty Ltd  - 1963-1966 
  • National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Limited – 1965-1966 
  • National Mutual Life Association of Australia Limited
  • Perpetual Trustees of Australia Limited 
  • Press Etching Pty Ltd 
  • QBE Insurance Company  Ltd  (Advisory Board member for 21 years and Chairman for 4 years) 
  • Queensland Insurance Company Ltd  1862-66 
  • Queensland Trustees Limited 

In addition to these business companies, Sir Arthur had an impressive period of service with the Overseas Telecommunications Commission, serving initially as a Commissioner from 1963 to 1968 and then as Chairman from 1968 up until his death in 1974. More information about Sir Arthur's work with the OTC in blog, Sir Arthur Petfield and the World Shrinkers.

Sir Arthur Petfield and Mr Ray Harris hold an award presented by OTC by the Queensland Chamber of Manufactures for OTC’s exhibit at the 1967 Queensland Industries Fair. With them are (left) Mr Jeff Day and (right) Mr Jim Banks,. Mr Lou Brown and Mr Trevor Thatcher.    

29378 Arthur Henry Petfield Papers 1938-1978, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Apart from serving on the boards and acting in an advisory capacity for these companies and the OTC, Sir Arthur’s commitment to industry bodies was also impressive: 

  • Associated Chamber of Manufacturers – Vice President 1956-57 
  • Australian Institute of Management – Fellow and Councillor of the Queensland Division– 1966 
  • Can Makers Institute of Australia – Executive member 1948 and President 1953-57
  • Commonwealth Manufacturing Industries Advisory Council – 1962
  • Joint Committee for Productivity Group Promotion  1961-1964
  • Metal Trades Employers Association of Queensland – 1951-1954 
  • National Packaging Association  
  • Queensland Chamber of Manufactures 1953-57
  • State Industries Assistance Board – 1960-1968 

Sir Arthur’s knighthood as well as his Coat of Arms also refer to and represent Sir Arthur’s involvement with ‘good works’ - charities and social/cultural organisations. Sir Arthur’s civic functions and service contributions are recorded specifically for the following:

  • 1968 Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference – Finance Chairman
  • 3 Minute Council of the Queensland Spastic Welfare League - 1964-1966
  • Brisbane City Council Planning Advisory Committee – 1966-74
  • Children’s Hospital Foundation - 1962
  • Committee of Enquiry into salaries and allowances of members of Parliament, officials in Parliament   and ministers of the Crown of the State of Queensland – 1965.
  • Griffith University Interim Council – 1970-71
  • John McEwan House Fund - 1966
  • Joint Committee for Productivity Group Promotion – 1961-1964
  • National Heart Foundation Appeal – Chairman of the Public Gift Committee
  • National Safety Council  of Australia  State Councillor
  • Queensland Cancer Fund – Divisional Vice Chairman
  • Queensland Spastic Welfare League
  • Queensland University Appointments Board
  • Royal Australian College of Physicians – 1964
  • The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust – 1964-1965
  • Warana Spring Festival - Vice Chairman Finance Committee

Sir Arthur Petfield (right), Queensland Spastic Welfare League, 1970s.  Photo courtesy Petfield family. 

To sum up, Sir Arthur’s life demonstrates a rich and successful engagement – deeds, not fame – with a multiplicity of industry, business, civic and social companies and organisations in a career that took him from office Junior to a successful Queensland leader in all those fields and spheres. Truly a lifetime of service and good deeds befitting a Knight Bachelor!

Dr Robin Trotter

The Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame is an initiative of QUT Business School, State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Library Foundation.



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