Francis Henry Johnston (1910–1989) was born in Melbourne and educated at Brighton Junior Technical School. He left school at an early age and worked as a commercial artist in Melbourne and as a rabbiter and station hand in central Victoria. He went to London in 1932 and worked with a press agency, a studio and an advertising firm. He and his wife returned to Australia in 1936, visiting the United States, Japan and China on the way, and settled in Sydney. Johnston worked as a commercial artist for several years before turning to publishing. In 1944 he founded F.H. Johnston Publishing Company, which mainly published books on war, aviation, travel and the pastoral industry. He also edited and published magazines, such as Australasian Book News and Library Journal, Air Travel, Wings and Qantas Airways, and handbooks for several breed societies. His growing interest in the cattle industry meant that he began to travel extensively in northern Australia, visiting stations, collecting information and taking photographs.
In 1947 Johnston set up a small travel agency, Intra World Travel Services. Although he continued to publish books, his main interests from 1950 onwards were travel and journalism. In 1952 he organised the first of his tours for graziers and farmers, visiting stations in northern Australia. Two years later he led a tour by beef growers to the United States and Canada, and in the next 20 years he organised many tours of North America, South America, Japan, India and other regions. He arranged meetings with farmers and researchers, took photographs and collected data. He became a well-known commentator on the beef industry in particular, contributing articles to the Sydney Morning Herald, Meat Industry Bulletin, Land, Western Livestock Journal, New South Wales Country Life, Queensland Country Life and other journals. He led his last overseas party in 1981.
Johnston was the author of This Land of Ours: Australia (1949), with George Farwell as his co-author, and Cattle Country: An Illustrated Survey of the Australian Beef Cattle Industry (1960).
In 1975 the Library purchased a collection of Admiralty charts that Johnston had originally acquired from a Captain Sutherland. His collection of photographs was purchased in 1984. In 1985 Johnston donated his manuscripts and papers under the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme.
The collection comprises 52 charts and maps. There are 32 charts of Australian coastlines published by the British Hydrographic Office between 1814 and 1878. They are based on surveys by Matthew Flinders, Phillip Parker King, John Lort Stokes, F.W. Sidney, G.H. Richards, F. Howard and other surveyors. There are also 18 charts of the East Indies, the China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines, New Zealand, and the west coast of North America.
The Frank Johnston Collection contains 13 663 negatives, 822 colour transparencies, 24 folders of contact prints and five albums containing about 370 enlarged black and white prints. They were taken by Johnston on his trips to Queensland, the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia between 1951 and 1961. The collection documents various breeds of cattle and life and work on many of the cattle stations of northern Australia, including Glenroy, Brunette Downs, Alexandria Downs, Wave Hill, Victoria River Downs, Newcastle Waters, Yamba, Mount House and Springvale. There is a series of photographs depicting drovers and cattle on the journey from the Barkly Tableland to southern Queensland in 1952.
Mining is also one of the strengths of Johnston’s photograph collection. Among the mining sites recorded by Johnston were Wittenoom Gorge (asbestos), Mary Kathleen (uranium), Weipa (bauxite) and Mount Morgan (gold and copper). Other subjects include the Ord River Scheme, Australian Inland Mission churches and hospitals, the Humpty Doo rice project, Wyndham, Fitzroy Crossing, Broome, Halls Creek, Thursday Island, Katherine Gorge, Alice Springs, Mount Isa, Longreach, Cooktown and Innisfail.
The bulk of the personal papers relate to Johnston’s overseas travels, both as an individual and as the leader of touring parties. Apart from his return journey from England in 1936, they date from 1954 to 1981 and include itineraries, lists of participants, correspondence, photographs, notes, leaflets and scientific papers. Other papers consist of notebooks, references, correspondence about the sale of pastoral properties, research material, drafts of reports, and newspaper articles and papers on particular subjects, such as dwarfism in beef cattle and Japan and the beef industry. There is also a large scrapbook containing articles and reports by Johnston on the rural economy published in newspapers and magazines between 1952 and 1970.
The charts in the Johnston Collection are kept together in the Maps Collection. They have been catalogued as a collection and a listing of the individual charts and maps is available in the Maps Branch. The photographs are held in the Pictures Collection at PIC Album 1007. The 24 folders are arranged chronologically and there is a summary by Johnston in each folder. The photographs have been catalogued at the collection level, while a small number have been individually catalogued and digitised. The personal papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 8272. Most of the papers were filed by Johnston in 56 binders or albums, each of which has a summary written by him in 1985. A summary list of the papers is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-291941526/findingaid.
A collection of Australian and Pacific artefacts assembled by Johnston is held in the Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney.
Frank Johnston, The Frank H. Johnston Collection of Works, May 1985, MS 8272, vol. 1A.
Barbara Perry, Oral history interview with Frank Johnston, 1984, ORAL TRC 1668.
Jill Sykes, A Man with his Head in the Clouds, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 August 1979, p. 20.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)