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9. 9 Men of 1897

THE FEDERAL CONVENTION ELECTION resulted in the return of a number of those who had previously been associated with the movement. In South Australia this was especially the case, for Bray having died and Playford being in England, the remaining five delegates to the 1891 Convention were all approved by the electors. Their relative positions had altered. Kingston especially had grown in self-confidence and power of influence and speech. His successful Premiership added to his prestige as it rendered him the mouthpiece of the majority. Sir John Downer, though less changed, had mellowed and matured so that in spite of his occasional relapses into silence and aloofness, he was a more prominent figure than heretofore. Cockburn but little less impracticable and Gordon decidedly more federal remained as before but Sir Richard Baker, now President of the Council, defended his old views with more resolution and more personal emphasis.

Tasmania was faithful to four of her former representatives, Fysh, Brown, Douglas and Moore. Except that Douglas with increasing age showed signs of increasing impatience, they were little altered. Western Australia also retained four: Forrest, with vastly more self-confidence, self-importance and experience, had become a leading figure. Lee Steere and Loton continued almost silent members while Hackett, now ranking among the most influential men of his colony and well able to take part in the discussions, was suppressed owing to his sense of the little likelihood there was that his colony could as yet enter into any union. In New South Wales three of the men of 1891 were retained, but they were the only candidates, for Parkes, Jennings and Suttor had died and Dibbs as a Civil Servant was no longer eligible. Barton, who headed the poll, had developed physically and mentally. Still handsome though extremely stout, his fine presence had gained by the fire and zeal with which he had devoted himself to the national cause. McMillan broadened by experience of public life had gained in freedom of style and pleasantness of manner. Abbott enjoyed the added dignity of many years' experience in the Speaker's


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Chair. From Victoria, Deakin was the only delegate connecting the two Conventions, though three of his old associates had been fellow-candidates.

Measured by all-round ability the South Australian delegation was undoubtedly the strongest. Howe and Solomon who constituted its tail were men of business training and shrewdness who were capable of taking part in debate. The former, tall, heavy and somewhat lumbering, began life as a policeman. The latter was a dark, well-whiskered, portly Jew speculator who had undertaken a variety of enterprises in Northern and Western Australia as well as in South Australia. Mr Glynn, a little Irish barrister, large-nosed and florid, with a brogue as broad as he was long and the figure of a jockey and the reputation of a hard and reckless rider, if not the best-read man of the Convention, certainly carried more English prose and poetry in his memory than any three or four of his associates. Theoretical, thoughtful, and pedantic in style and delivery, his high character and elaborate but sincere courtesy rendered him a favourite out of the Convention rather than in it, where owing to a somewhat stilted manner and air as of one repeating a lesson he failed of his due effect. For all that, he was one of the most painstaking and devoted of all the throng. J. H. Symon, Q.C., the leader of the Bar of South Australia, above the medium height, blonde, well-poised and so nearly absolutely bald that what little hair he had was invisible, had passed through but a short parliamentary experience and still retained more of the traditions of the court than of the legislature. He had however taken an active part in public affairs as an antagonist of the radical party and most particularly and personally of Kingston, with whom he had recently engaged in a public correspondence the most violent in vituperation that the colony had ever witnessed. Thoroughly well-informed, above the middle height, endowed with a rich and powerful voice, an impressive manner and a great command of language, he was if not the best, decidedly one of the best of the set speakers in the Convention. An expert lawyer and practised advocate, he had every trick of the practised pleader at his fingers' ends and employed them without stint where necessary. But decidedly the strongest addition to this team was Mr Holder, former Premier and now Treasurer of the colony. A Wesleyan local preacher and country newspaper editor as thin as a paling, dark, swarthy, narrow-faced and narrow-shouldered, like Mr Symon he had one eye useless and a chest which seemed destined for consumption; a powerful voice, clear if rather


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monotonous and preachy utterance, curt sentences and great facility of speech. But all these were united with a singularly lucid mind and faculty for logical exposition, great mastery of detail and cautions judgment which influenced his hearers more and more as they came to realise his thoroughness and fairness in debate. The varied quality of the South Australian team and distinctive abilities of its members rendered them when united the most powerful phalanx debate.

The most conspicuous figure of the Convention, its official author and in matters of moment its leader, was the Premier of New South Wales [G. H. Reid], physically as remarkable as his predecessor Parkes, but without his dignity, and even more formidable in discussion because less self-respecting. Even caricature has been unable to travesty his extraordinary appearance, his immense, unwieldy, jelly-like stomach, always threatening to break his waistband, his little legs apparently bowed under its weight to the verge of their endurance, his thick neck rising behind his ears rounding to his many-folded chin. His protuberant blue eyes were expressionless until roused or half hidden in cunning, [and] a blond complexion and infantile breadth of baldness gave him an air of insolent juvenility. He walked with a staggering roll like that of a sailor, helping himself as he went by resting on the backs of chairs as if he were reminiscent of some far-off arboreal ancestor. To a superficial eye his obesity was either repellant or else amusing. A heavy German moustache concealed a mouth of considerable size from which there emanated a high, reedy voice rising to a shriek or sinking to a fawning, purring, persuasive orotund with a nasal tinge. To a more careful inspection he disclosed a splendid dome-like head, high and broad and indicative of intellectual power, a gleaming eye which betokened a natural gift of humour and an alertness that not even his habit of dropping asleep at all times and places in the most ungraceful attitudes and in the most impolite manner could defeat. He never slept in a public gathering more than a moment or two, being quickly awakened by his own snore. He would sleep during the dealing of cards for a game of whist and during the play too if there was any pause, but he never forgot the state of the game or made a revoke. In the Assembly or in a train he indulged with the same facility both of sleeping and waking if necessary with an appropriate retort upon his tongue. His extreme fatness appeared to induce this state and for that his self-indulgence was chiefly responsible since he denied himself nothing that he fancied, sucking ice or sweetmeats between meals


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and then eating and drinking according to his fancy. In some respects he was the antithesis of Parkes, who used to quote scornfully a confession of Reid's that he never read a book unless it were a sensation novel. Apparently nothing else could keep him awake. He had no taste for literature, for art, for bric-à-brac, or the study of the past. Newspapers satisfied his tastes; he was fond of society and social amusements, but even at the theatre his preferences were those of the crowd. In other respects he resembled Parkes for he was inordinately vain and resolutely selfish, a consummate tactician even more cunning, if anything excelling him in variety and violence of vituperation. He was almost as impecunious but contrived to keep out of debt, whereas Parkes said of himself and another member that they were alike in that they consistently lived above their means. He was as much an admirer of the fair sex, so that when once on a specially dashing woman appearing in the Gallery of the New South Wales Assembly, and Parkes being asked who she was, replied in sardonic style: ‘Well I don’t know myself. I've asked George Reid and Wise and they don't know, from which I conclude that she must be a woman of good reputation.' The Chief difference between them was that while Parkes was a Liberal of the old school, making concessions to the Labour and Radical party only so soon and so far as he was compelled, and seeking in the main to develop a policy of his own, Reid won their cordial sympathy by making their aims his own and having no other policy than that which would assure him his majority. He appeared to be sincere in his allegiance to Free Trade until his Budget of 1898, but certainly pinned himself to no other principle, suiting himself to his surroundings with more coolness and less friction than his great predecessor. As a platform orator he was unsurpassed. His voice could reach a great crowd and his deliberate drawl enabled the densest among them to follow him. At his best his arguments were well shaped and perspicuously expressed with admirable directness and in the plainest words, often in slang, but always so as to be understood. He once remarked to a Victorian whom he closely watched during the Convention, that his manner of addressing that body was as if he were merely ‘thinking aloud’. ‘You don’t make platform speeches that way do you?' said he, ‘or you cannot reach the people if you do.’ He made his one long appeal to their sympathy and sensibility and, provided he got it, cared nothing for his own consistency or dignity or their comments upon his obvious trickiness and insincerity so long as his


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cleverness captured their support. He did capture it whenever he desired. Yet Renan, that master of the pure eloquence of limpid prose, in his address to the French Academy on the reception of Lesseps, incidentally said: ‘To speak well is to think aloud. Success oratorical or literary has never but one cause, absolute sincerity.’ Either he meant permanent success or he thought only of cultured audiences. [Reid] was not merely a humourist but a great actor assisting his low comedy parts with irresistible gesture and expression. He cared nothing for the heights of outlook or depths of insight, discarding all decorum of deliverance, finish of style or grace of expression, aiming always at the level of the man of the street and reaching it by jest, logic, appeal, rant or ruthless abuse as appeared most effective. He always was effective for he possessed a really marvellous political instinct, a readiness and adaptability, a quickness of repartee and a rolling surge of ad captandum arguments which were simply irresistible. He knew the average man better than he knew himself for he was the average man in every respect except in his amazing platform powers, political astuteness and the intensity of his determination to carve out and keep the first place for himself in New South Wales and in Australia if possible—but in New South Wales at all events until sure of the other by any means and at any cost.

The best contrast, physical and intellectual, to Reid was presented by his fellow-Free Trader and land taxer, Mr Bernhard Wise, a young Australian educated at Oxford who had become more English in manner than most of the sons of that famous University where he was known as a man of brilliant promise. Indeed no sooner did he go to the Sydney Bar than he was chosen for Parliament and no sooner was he in the House than he became Attorney-General in the Parkes Ministry. He had written a few striking articles for the English magazines and a text-book adverse to Protection, hailed with enthusiasm by the Cobden Club. A man of letters himself, all his tastes were literary. His love and knowledge of art made him [an] active Trustee of the Sydney National Gallery. Handsome as the hero of the female novel, a moustached but beardless Cupid with a rich soft voice and a perfect enunciation, his speeches followed the best English models and were replete with well-turned and telling phrases. A man of culture and of aristocratic tendencies, he was a democrat by conviction, shrinking from no radical proposal except those that seemed to impair parliamentary development. He made some brilliant successes at the Bar but neither there nor in any other sphere


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fulfilled the promise of début, or the potencies of his mind. Parkes tersely likened him to one of those round-butted bottles that cannot stand still, and hit upon the chief secret of his failures. He could not consent to move in familiar or commonplace views but leant always to the new, the startling and unexpected and consequently when once he resigned office to return to the Bar and yet afterwards left the Bar to return to the Assembly, he became summed up by the mass of the very ordinary but business-like politicians as an impracticable and impossible man, and his doom as a leader was sealed. He was too independent in mind and haughty in manner to be a favourite with his fellow-members and too self-respecting to stoop to a crowd when he believed them to be in the wrong. Then again he was sincerely attached to Parkes and loyally staked his fortunes upon those of the grand old man when they were hopeless and declining. If he could have realised this it would probably not have altered his attitude, but as a fact his political judgment was not good. He was by no means an average man and was a bad judge of the actions or impressions of the masses to whom he appealed, while he was feared and dreaded by those of his own class. Having proposed Reid as leader of the Free Trade party, affection for Parkes and dislike of his rival drove him slowly but steadily into extreme and finally bitter opposition to a man whom he envied a little and despised much. Even in the Convention his erratic genius scarcely achieved its due and made far less mark than that of his quieter and more sober colleague, R. E. O'Connor, Q.C., besides Glynn the only Roman Catholic in the Convention, though unlike him, of Australian birth and training. He was one of the type of the Spanish Irish, dark of complexion, regular of feature, the head somewhat small for the upright, well-set, deep-chested, vigorous frame, rather above the middle height and carefully maintained in health by self-control and regular exercise, typical of the prudent, practical nature of the man. Not swift but solid, not widely read like Wise but well-read, with a strong sense of personal dignity, much reserve and yet a straightforward frankness and absolute sincerity of disposition which gradually made him one of the most popular delegates in all the Convention. Liberal Conservative in politics, his steady application and sound sense had won him a high position as a barrister. Without the arts and graces of Wise or the tricks and humour of Reid, he carried more conviction than either by the plain logic, well-linked reasonableness and mature reflection of his remarks. His style was conversational, not oratorical or


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ornamental as Wise's, nor declamatory or playful like Reid's but argumentative and essentially fair-minded, always on the point and to the purpose. No better illustration of the sure weight of real merit of a practical character in any public assembly could be found than the way in which he won upon the Convention from the very first.

Carruthers, Minister of Lands in the Reid Cabinet, a little man with a great voice, was overshadowed by his chief with whom he was not always in harmony and who did not hesitate to publicly put him back in his place on occasion. He had Reid's faults of platform utterance, a good deal of power and sincere Federal enthusiasm; but without Reid's prestige or redeeming humour he made but little figure in the debates. Lyne, leader of the Opposition to Reid, a crude, sleek, suspicious, blundering, short-sighted, backblocks politician to whom Reid owed many of his greatest successes, was still less notable. Brunker and Walker were practically ciphers and Abbott obviously out of element in most of the debates. Imposing as were Barton, Reid, O'Connor, Wise and McMillan, the remaining half of their delegation was so inferior that it reduced them as a whole below the more even quality of the South Australians.

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