Florence Bjelke-Petersen

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Lady Bjelke-Petersen
Florence Bjelke-Petersen, 1952.jpg
On her wedding day, 31 May 1952
Senator for Queensland
In office
12 March 1981 – 30 June 1993
Preceded byGlen Sheil
Succeeded byJohn Woodley
Personal details
Florence Isabel Gilmour

(1920-08-11)11 August 1920
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Died20 December 2017(2017-12-20) (aged 97)
Kingaroy, Queensland, Australia
Political partyNational
(m. 1952⁠–⁠2005)

Florence Isabel Bjelke-Petersen (née Gilmour; 11 August 1920 – 20 December 2017) was an Australian politician and writer. She was a member of the Australian Senate from 1981 to 1993, and was the wife of the longest-serving Premier of Queensland, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. She was styled as Lady Bjelke-Petersen upon her husband's knighthood, and was also known informally as Lady Flo.[1]

Early life[edit]

Florence Isabel Gilmour was born in Brisbane, as the eldest of two daughters of James Pollock Gilmour, an accountant and company secretary, and his wife Florence Mabel (née Low).[2] She was raised at the Brisbane riverside suburb of New Farm.[2] She started her schooling at the New Farm State School, and later attended the prestigious Brisbane Girls' Grammar School.[2] She was employed as a private secretary to the Queensland Commissioner for Main Roads when she met Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, who was then a Country Party member of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland.[3] They were married on 31 May 1952.[4]


Bjelke-Petersen was preoccupied with home duties until well after Joh Bjelke-Petersen became Premier in 1968. In the 1970s, however, she assumed an increasingly public role, as part of the Queensland National Party's increasing promotion of a Bjelke-Petersen "personality cult". Her simple, homespun sayings and her recipes and affection for pumpkin scones were often associated with her in the media.[5]

At the 1980 federal election, against the wishes of party president Sir Robert Sparkes, Joh Bjelke-Petersen arranged for his wife to be placed in the number one position on the National Party's Queensland senate ticket, ensuring her election. Her term was due to commence on 1 July 1981, however, on 6 February 1981, Queensland Senator Glen Sheil resigned, creating a casual vacancy.[6] She was appointed on 12 March 1981 for the remainder of Sheil's term, and then continued into her own term. It was speculated that her husband, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, intended entering federal politics, and that at some point Florence would resign from the Senate to allow Joh to be appointed to the vacancy. But Joh Bjelke-Petersen's federal aspirations ended with the failed "Joh for Canberra" campaign in 1987.[citation needed]

According to a 2020 study by the Australian Parliamentary Library, Bjelke-Petersen crossed the floor 18 times during her career, the 12th-most of any MP between 1950 and 2019 and the second-most by a woman after Kathy Sullivan.[7]


When Joh Bjelke-Petersen was knighted in 1984, Flo Bjelke-Petersen became Lady Bjelke-Petersen, and was officially known as "Senator Lady Bjelke-Petersen". She was frequently, but incorrectly, referred to as "Lady Florence" or "Lady Flo".[8] This usage is for the daughter of a peer, not the wife of a knight. Although the name "Lady Flo" is incorrect, it has been almost universally used in the media and among the general public.

Later career[edit]

She was re-elected at the 1983 and 1987 elections (both double dissolutions), and her term expired on 30 June 1993.[9]

In Canberra Lady Bjelke-Petersen was well liked by politicians of all parties, even those who loathed her husband. Her speeches were usually about local Queensland issues and seldom political in content.[citation needed]


On 20 December 2017, Bjelke-Petersen died at the age of 97 after suffering a short illness. She died in Kingaroy at Orana Aged Care where she had resided since August 2014.[10][11] Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk offered to hold a state funeral which was accepted by their son John Bjelke-Petersen. It was held in the Kingaroy Town Hall.[12][13]

Cookbook publication[edit]

She published a cookbook which included her recipe for her trademark pumpkin scones.[14]


  1. ^ ABC Radio interview transcript Archived 22 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ a b c "BJELKE-PETERSEN, FLORENCE ISABEL (1920– )". Australian Senate. Archived from the original on 31 March 2018.
  3. ^ Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen, Senate Biography
  4. ^ "Joh and Flo Bjelke-Petersen on their wedding day, 1952". State Library of Queensland. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  5. ^ Sarah McInerney (5 May 2011). "How to bake the perfect scone". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  6. ^ Australian Biography interview with Flo Archived 21 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ McKeown, Deirdre; Lundie, Rob (12 March 2020). "Crossing the floor in the federal parliament 1950–April 2019". Australian Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 11 April 2021.
  8. ^ Miller, Simon (21 December 2018). "Lady Flo". John Oxley Library blog. State Library of Queensland. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  9. ^ Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen's biodata
  10. ^ "Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen, former senator and Queensland first lady, dies at 97". ABC News. 20 December 2017. Archived from the original on 20 December 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 December 2017. Retrieved 20 December 2017.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Bali, Meghna (22 December 2017). "Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen's family welcomes state funeral offer". ABC News. Archived from the original on 26 December 2017. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  13. ^ Vujkovic, Melanie (4 January 2018). "'End of an era': Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen farewelled at state funeral". ABC News. Archived from the original on 22 October 2019. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  14. ^ Lady Flo's simple pumpkin scones Archived 12 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]