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8. Chapter VIII Australia's Political Leaders

An historic picture—A ship with too many captains—The angry member and the wife with the umbrella—Sir Edmund Barton's ponderous style—Alfred Deakin—Sir George Reid's humour—Three parties in Parliament—Some members—David Syme—The work done.


THE Australian continent and Tasmania were at last united in a federal union. The Federal Parliament controlled national affairs—namely, defence, external relations, Customs, Excise, postal and telegraph matters. To the six State Parliaments were left the management of such local matters as education, state railways, lands administration, agriculture, police, health, etc.

In accordance with the constitution, the Commonwealth Parliament sat in Melbourne until a site was selected on which to build a federal capital.

I was then a young man. It was a never-to-be-forgotten time. It was the beginning of Australia as a nation.

The Parliament was opened in May 1901 by H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall, subsequently King George V.

The opening ceremony took place at the Melbourne Exhibition, which was specially fitted up for the occasion. The huge building was packed with notables from all parts of the Commonwealth and distinguished

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visitors from abroad. On the dais were the Duke and Duchess, also the Governor-General and Lady Hopetoun and the various state Governors and Lieutenant-Governors.

A notable feature of the event was the excellent voice of the Duke. It resounded through the hall, clear and distinct.

The splendour of the gathering was somewhat marred as the Royal Court was still in mourning for Queen Victoria.

In St. James's Palace there is a remarkable picture “The Opening of the Commonwealth Parliament.” It was painted by Mr. Tom Roberts, who was commissioned to do it by the Commonwealth Government. He was required to include in it all the notabilities and federal members. The key to it gives the names of no less than two hundred and seventy-seven persons, so it is not surprising that it is a huge canvas. It measures eighteen feet six inches by eleven feet nine inches.

I sat one morning, also the following afternoon, whilst Tom Roberts painted my head and shoulders in the picture. He had been given sittings by the Duke and Duchess, and various other prominent persons present at the opening ceremony. In two or three instances men were included who were not present. For example, Sir George Reid, Leader of the Opposition, was absent through illness, but he is in the picture.

Roberts had a delightful personality. He put the best he had into all his work, and he was a hard worker. During the sitting, perhaps it was to give

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relief to the subject, he frequently said, “Have a rest.” Then, he was most entertaining. He danced and whilst he danced he sang snatches of songs in foreign languages, learned by him in his student days on the Continent.

The picture troubled him a good deal. It was impossible for it to be historically correct and include all the details required and yet be artistic. In the circumstances he did wonderfully well. The background is particularly good. Beams of sunshine are coming down, the atmosphere of the interior is well represented, flags and banners are dimly seen and a framed portrait can be faintly discerned high on the walls showing Sir Henry Parkes, who worked so hard for federal union, looking down on the scene. Parkes had died some years previously, and his picture was not in the building, but it was Robert's idea to put it there. Certainly if the departed could revisit the earth, Sir Henry was present in spirit.

When Roberts had worked for about eighteen months on the picture I asked him about it. “I have begun to hate it,” he said. “It has become mere mechanical work; it is difficult to get people to sit for it, and I'm longing to finish it so that I may get on with more congenial work.”

The picture took two years to finish, and Roberts received for it only £1,100.

Each of the members of the first Commonwealth Parliament got as a present from His Royal Highness the Duke of Cornwall the Bible on which he was sworn in as a member. The Bible contained the Duke's

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signature. Furthermore, each member was given the right to use for life the title of Honourable within the Commonwealth.

It was a Parliament that contained many intellectual giants—leaders of men. The first Federal Ministry consisted mostly of the Premiers of the states who had been invited by Mr. Barton to join his Cabinet. It was a highly prized honour to be a member of that Parliament, and in each state many of the leaders in public life, prominent lawyers and merchants, were elected to it.

It is true that amidst this collection of able and experienced men there were, as happens in all Parliaments, some political “accidents”—men without the knowledge, experience, or capacity to be fitting representatives. One member, Mr. Skene, who, like myself, had never served any parliamentary apprenticeship before election to the first Commonwealth Parliament, admitted that he felt surprised at finding himself one of such a brilliant company. He told me that he asked himself, “How on earth did I get here?” Later, when he knew some of the members better, his chief wonder was not how he had got there but how some of the other fellows had got there!

Still, it is safe to say that of the seventy-five representatives and thirty-six senators—that is, the one hundred and eleven men constituting the first Federal Parliament—there were forty or fifty of exceptional outstanding ability. Most of the others were vastly above the average. In proof of this it is only necessary to glance at the previous and subsequent careers of the

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members as ministers, judges, administrators, soldiers and captains of industry.

It was said of the first Ministry that it was like a ship with too many captains on board. They had all been leaders in their own states and could not get out of the habit of giving orders and having their own way.

The tone was high and an excellent spirit prevailed amongst the members. There was a determination not to permit of occurrences that would be a reflection on the National Parliament of Australia. The Speaker, Sir Frederick Holder, was an ideal occupant of the office. Possessed of a thorough knowledge of the standing orders, prompt and accurate in his decisions, strict but just, he was respected by all. I never remember his ruling to be questioned or that any member was suspended during the three-years life of the first Parliament. All members were anxious to secure for that Parliament a good reputation.

Members were remarkably temperate. A goodly number were teetotallers. There were, however, two or three exceptions, and on one occasion I was involved in an incident that might have had an unpleasant ending, but happily terminated in a rather amusing way. I was one of the deputy chairmen of committee. One evening when the House was in committee, the chairman, Mr. Chanter, who was presiding, sent a message saying he wished to speak to me. When I went to him he asked me to relieve him in the chair, and he whispered that he had been told that Mr. X (one of the members), who was waiting to rise and catch his eye, was so far intoxicated that his friends were afraid he would make a fool of himself,

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perhaps create a scene and bring even the House into disrepute. Mr. X had risen three or four times already, but the chairman told me that he had carefully avoided seeing him. Mr. X was furious at not being called on. The chairman asked me to take his place. I was not supposed to know that Mr. X had risen previously, and so I could see other members and call on them. In committee each Member may speak several times on the same subject, but the speeches are almost invariably short.

I took the chair, and as soon as the member who was speaking sat down, Mr. X sprang to his feet, but I saw another member who had risen. Mr. X felt there was a conspiracy not to let him speak. And so there was.

The members were determined to save him from himself.

Leaders have prior claims to be called, and the leaders of the Government, Opposition and Labour Parties each rose to postpone the necessity for calling on Mr. X to speak.

All attempts to get him out of the chamber and so close the discussion, by passing to another clause, failed.

Mr. Deakin had charge of the Bill, and finally I had to let him know that there was no alternative but to call upon Mr. X and to look out for a squall.

Mr. X was sitting in his place on the back cross benches, his face red as fire and his eyes blazing. When the opportunity came he sprang to his feet and I called on him.

His fury was so intense that he could not speak for

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a few seconds. When his voice came it was thick with whisky and rage.

“Mr. Deputy Chairman,” he roared, “I have been ignored, slighted, insulted by the chairman and also by you.” Suddenly a spasm passed over his face, he grabbed his side, he looked behind him and collapsed to his seat. Soon after he left the chamber.

What happened was something that the reporters could not see from where they were. Mr. X's friends, in their despair, had brought Mrs. X to the House and had placed her in a gallery immediately behind where he sat. The gallery was level with his seat. She got there just before he rose. She was a stern lady with a long umbrella. When her husband rose she thrust the umbrella through the rails of the gallery and gave him a terrific prod in the ribs. Hence his collapse.

I could not see the prodding from the chair. It was highly disorderly to interfere with a speaker when addressing the chair, but my attention was not drawn to it.

Effective as was the method adopted in the case of Mr. X, a parliamentary official told me of a method that was still more effective. The incident happened in a later Parliament. A member was drunk and troublesome. The Speaker warned him several times. The official spoke privately to the Whip of the unruly member's party. The Whip went to the member. They engaged in an animated discussion in a low tone. Finally, the Whip got up and left the chamber. Shortly after, the member who was causing trouble also went out. When the Whip was asked how he got his drunken colleague from the House, he said: “I went to him and whispered to him that he was drunk

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and should leave. He refused, and I said he was a disgrace to Parliament and to the party we both belonged to, and that if he came out I would give him such a thrashing that he would behave himself for the rest of his days, but I knew he was a coward and would not dare to come out. This roused his ire. I then went out and locked myself in a room whilst the irate drunkard went searching for me everywhere.”

Sir Edmund Barton was ponderous in speech and appearance. His language was involved and appeared to have been given to him to conceal his thoughts. His parliamentary speeches were difficult to follow. One paper accurately described the Prime Minister's speeches in pointing out that an ordinary person would say, “To-day is a fine day,” but Barton, in his parliamentary language, would say it thus:

“I have considered all that bears on atmospheric conditions, that is so far as they apply since sunrise, and having taken them fully into account—and duly weighed them—I have no hesitancy in stating that from the point of view of the person who considers firstly his personal comfort rather than what perhaps may be best for those interested in, say, the agricultural industry, the climate is favourable, in fact fine, but I wish it to be clearly understood that in making this statement I am speaking only of what exists at the present moment and am not prognosticating what changes may take place before nightfall.”

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Amongst members of the first Federal Parliament Sir Edmund was extremely popular, and properly so. He was unfailing in his courtesy and never personal in his criticism of opponents. He was generous to all; he did not value money, though he was known to be in anything but affluent circumstances.

When the term of the Parliament was drawing to a close there was much discussion as to who should be the first judges of the Federal High Court. Amongst members the hope was general that Sir Edmund would be the Chief Justice. It was felt that he was in every way eligible. His standing as a lawyer justified the appointment, and it was also a fitting reward for his services towards the accomplishment of Federation. It was stated in the Press that he would be Chief Justice. That evening he solemnly informed the House that the announcement was incorrect, as he would not take the position. His exact words were, “I find that a constant misrepresentation has been made and is being reasserted each day to the effect that I intend to appoint myself to be Chief Justice. I wish to state that the idea of doing so has not been present in my mind, and that nobody knows better than the Attorney-General that it is not and never has been my intention to do so.” Mr. Deacon said, “Hear, hear,” and Mr. Andrew Fisher voiced the feeling of the House by interjecting, “The Right Hon. gentleman is quite entitled to the position.”

Most of us regretted his decision, but we did not realise that he did not pledge himself not to go on the bench, and a few days later were surprised to hear that he was one of the three who had accepted High Court judgeships, Sir Samuel Griffiths being Chief Justice

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and Sir Edmund Barton and Senator O'Connor his colleagues.

The day the appointment was officially announced he remarked to me that it was not without regret he left public life for the placid atmosphere of the High Court bench. “Public life,” he remarked, “with all its worries and striving, is diversified and has compensations.”

I was a member of the Revenue Tariff party that sat in opposition to his Government because of its policy of protection. Knowing that he could have got the senior position had he wanted it, I said to him:

“As you are going on the bench, I am certain the members on both sides of the House are sorry you did not take the Chief Justiceship.”

“I would not take it, as I am convinced that Sir Samuel Griffiths is a better man for the post than I am.” Such was the reply of Sir Edmund Barton.

Probably Sir Edmund was right. Griffiths enhanced his reputation on the High Court bench. Barton's brilliancy was universally admitted, but his friends said he was lazy. He could not have been as lazy as they represented or he never could have done all the work he got through both before and after he became Prime Minister. Certainly, after he became a judge, he seemed to lose energy and the bonhomie that was his great attraction. His most characteristic utterance from the bench was, “I concur.”

Alfred Deakin, who succeeded Barton as Prime Minister, was tall and handsome, dark featured and

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with a full black beard; the most charming personality in the first Parliament; a delightful conversationalist—bright, witty and novel. When Parliament adjourned each evening for tea there was always a spare three-quarters of an hour, and he usually spent that time walking in the delightful garden at the back of Parliament House. I was often his companion, and I look back on my talks with him as amongst the happiest of experiences. He loved reading, and his knowledge of English literature was extensive, and whatever subject he discussed he adorned.

“Come, Kirwan,” he would say to me, “let us have a walk and a talk.”

That meant we walked and he did the talking. It was as I wished. I was a deeply appreciative listener, and he seemed to know it.

It amazed me the length and variety of the passages from great writers that he could quote in verse and prose.

Our views were far apart on the subject of protection, which was then the bone of contention between federal parties. We never talked about politics, and he rarely mentioned his work to me, but I remember his confiding in me his wish to produce a speech worthy of the occasion when as Attorney-General he was introducing the High Court Bill.

“I am,” he said, “cursed with the fatal gift of fluency.”

His words, he said, always carried him away and he wished he could deliver the speech slowly and deliberately. We had more than one talk about it, and I was naturally interested and was in my place when the time came for him to deliver it.

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He began as he had intended, carefully choosing his diction and avoiding rapidity of speech and super-abundance of words. That continued for about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, then some interjections came and he verbally bolted—the usual torrent of words flowed freely.

I watched, and perhaps looked disappointed.

In the midst of his outpourings he caught my eye. My face must have reminded him of his original intention.

He paused and once more proceeded to deliver his speech as he had arranged in his own mind, but further interruptions again caused him to rush along, and finally he seemed to abandon any attempt of departing from his usual style as hopeless. He raced through what he had to say—a torrent of words.

He was most careful in his personal expenditure. It was said he would never take a cab when a tram would serve.

A close friend of his has written that Deakin's philosophy on lying was a curious inconsistency, for he certainly believed that a lie was justifiable if the higher interests of the state demanded it. I cannot think that of Deakin.

Though I was in opposition to the Government, Deakin was kindness itself to me. When I lost my seat at the general elections he immediately wired to me—he was then Prime Minister and I was an Oppositionist—his personal regret, and added, “Hope fortune of war will not discourage you at one rebuff.” It was just like him to say that. He could never be other than thoughtful and considerate, and was specially kind to the

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younger men in politics, even those who were opposed to his views.

Sir George Reid delighted in a hostile audience, and by his witty replies to interjectors [?] he could always put it in good humour and so get a hearing.

He always drew enormous crowds when billed to speak. People flocked to hear his humour and his eloquence, and before his political foes realised what had happened to them he had won them to his views and were wildly cheering opinions that they had come to condemn.

I was a member of the parliamentary party of which Reid was the leader. When as leader of the Opposition he was preparing his first speech in the Federal Parliament, he was desirous of showing that whatever fiscal policy the Government decided on, a majority of the members were returned to support a tariff framed for revenue rather than for protection purposes. He asked a couple of the younger members, including myself, to find out from the election speeches what were the views expressed by members when on the hustings. We made investigations and were doubtful only about one man, a Labour member, Mr. Bamford. Someone said he was a free trader and Mr. Reid put him down as such. The galleries and members' benches were crowded, and when Mr. Reid came to this part of his speech in his notes the names of members were arranged alphabetically and the individual in question happened to come first. “The first name on my list of Revenue Tariffists,” said Reid, “is Mr. Bambord.” A member with a scraggy white beard in a

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far-away corner interjected, “No, I am not.” The Government benches cheered. Reid was not disconcerted. He adjusted his eye-glass and, looking at Mr. Bamford, remarked, “Thank you, that is just what we wanted, we were doubtful about you; our wish is to separate the sheep from the goats; and so you wish us to put you down amongst the goats.” The reply so fitted in with the member's scraggy beard, the whole chamber rocked with laughter.

When addressing a public meeting he was asked to explain some seeming inconsistency with his present views and those expressed in the past.

“Since then,” he replied, “much water has been under the bridge.”

“Which bridge?” cried an interjector.

Quick as lightning Reid replied, “The bridge the water ran under.”

Much of Reid's humour was unconscious. His rotund appearance, his big body, short legs and strange, rather plaintive voice excited humour.

During his later years in public life in Australia he was engaged in a constant effort to appear before the public as a serious-minded statesman. His opponents sought to injure him by representing that he was the “funny man” of politics and nothing else. He strove hard to avoid creating that impression.

One evening on the Western Australian goldfields, before he went on the platform to address an immense crowd that was waiting evidently expecting to be amused, he turned to me and said, “I must not make them laugh.” When he appeared they laughed, and in every sentence the audience sought to discover some humorous hidden meaning, and they often did, though

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it was not meant, and they laughed. No matter how he tried he could not help creating humour.

Reid rarely used his humour except when replying to bitter personal attacks or interjections. He did not indulge in

“The aimless jest that striking has caused pain,
The idle word that he'd wish back again.”

Reid once told me how troubled he was about a remark he had made in the House a day or two previously. He was grievously concerned about it. There was a kindly, well-meaning and industrious member of the first House of Representatives from Tasmania named Piesse. Mr. Piesse was blind of one eye, but Reid did not know it.

Piesse was endeavouring to explain something in one of his speeches in the House. Mr. Reid could not follow his remarks, and he interjected, “I cannot see what the honourable member has in his eye.”

When Mr. Reid was told that Piesse had a blind eye, he could not explain or apologise. It worried his kindly nature for some time afterwards.

The Government and the Opposition were fairly evenly divided—the former had a few more votes than the latter. The Labour Party with sixteen members in a house of seventy-five was able to hold the balance of power. Sir Edmund Barton was accused of pandering to the Labour Party, and his successor in the Prime Ministership, Mr. Deakin, was subjected to a similar accusation. Mr. Chris Watson, the leader of the Labour Party, was spoken of as the Dictator of the

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Government policy. Sir George Reid invariably represented the Prime Minister in an obsequious attitude, answering “Yes, Mr. Watson” to all demands, no matter how preposterous. Whatever truth there may have been in this, it is certain that the Legislation passed by the First Parliament was more democratic than that of any Parliament previously known in Australia.

Mr. Watson was a compositor by trade, possessed of considerable common sense, moderate and practical in his views and direct in his speech. He was a young man, still in the early thirties, and had served for six years in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, where he was credited with having secured the amendment of the Municipal Act by abolishing plural voting by property owners and giving a vote to occupiers. His party had frequent meetings, and the various aspects of questions coming before Parliament were discussed in detail. The party consisted of twenty-four members, including eight Labour Senators, and, as Mr. Watson invariably was the first of them to speak, it was said that it was not surprising that he had a great reputation for ability, as he voiced the ideas of not one but twenty-four brains. This did not apply to the other parties, as they rarely met and did not discuss either the general principle or details of the Bills presented by the Government. There was, in fact, a certain soreness amongst some of the Labour members because all the kudos went to the leader.

In the first Parliament W. M. Hughes was one of the brightest of the Labour Party. I remember his short erect figure, whilst he delivered a speech on the first Address in Reply. His pronunciation was good, his

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grammar perfect and his utterance indicated culture. The speech was an advocacy of the Swiss system that then existed of compulsory military service.

Like Lloyd George, he was born in Wales. Their characteristics in many respects are similar. In each case their parents were poor; they were both born in 1864 and are self-made men. Lloyd George became an attorney early in life, and Hughes also took to the law, but not until he was thirty-nine years of age. Lloyd George entered Parliament in 1890, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1916 to 1922. Hughes became a member of Parliament in 1894 and Australian Prime Minister in 1915, an office that he retained until 1923. Lloyd George, however, never had the experience of life of Hughes in battling for existence in a new country. After Hughes came to Australia a young man of twenty he was stone-breaking, a carpenter, boundary riding, sank post holes, shed building, droving stock, a hand on coastal vessels, “super” in Shakespearian performances, small shopkeeper and repairer of locks and umbrellas. When engaged on such odd jobs little did he himself or anyone else expect him to become what he was during the war—one of the Empire's foremost public men.

Though Forrest and Kingston did not like each other pesonally, they had several characteristics in common. They were both tall and heavy, hard workers and never spared themselves. In his early life as a surveyor and later as an explorer Forrest to his associates seemed tireless. Mr. W. A. Saw, who accompanied him as a surveyor on some of his bush trips,

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has described how at peep of day he would arouse the party by saying, “We must not eat the bread of idleness.” The horses had to be found and brought in before anyone had breakfast, after which the men put the packs on the horses and started off. It was frequently ten or eleven at night before camp was reached, and then they had tea. Forrest came in on one occasion at 2 a.m., and he left again at sunrise. Many times the party were short of water. After breaking camp in the morning none were allowed to drink until other water had been found, and no food was eaten until a new camp was fixed. The party carried two small kegs and water bags as a standby. The water found was frequently too salt and brackish to use, and on one occasion the party had to tie up the horses all night and continue the search next day. Forrest cared little for food. He was always in good condition and happy, and when travelling to a new camp he would never think of stopping for a mid-day meal. The principal food his party had was pork or bacon and damper, but at times the men ate almost anything they could shoot—shags, cranes, kangaroo rats, etc.—but they did not get down to snakes and iguanas. There were no vegetables, and a boiled plum pudding on Sundays while the raisins lasted was quite an event.

That spirit of cheeriness shown by Forrest in the bush was maintained in Parliament, where he had the qualities of a leader, was good-tempered, displayed a marvellous memory, was tolerant towards views that differed from his own and was ever ready and in fact eager to placate his opponents. Amongst Federal members there were few who were better liked.

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The proportion of lawyers in the first Commonwealth Parliament was high. Amongst them were Sir Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin, H. B. Higgins, Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir George Turner, Sir George Reid, P. McManus Glynn, C. C. Kingston, Bruce Smith, Sir Josiah Symon, Sir John Quick, R. E. O'Connor, Sir John Downer, Sir Richard Baker, Senator Keating, Senator Clemons, and a host of others, more or less distinguished. Much discussion took place on the interpretation of the Commonwealth Constitution.

H. B. Higgins, afterwards a High Court Judge, was prominent in discussing legal points. He suffered from a serious impediment in his speech. Therefore he spoke with great difficulty, and slowly and evidently used as few words as possible, but invariably he made his meaning plain and impressed the House.

Sir Isaac Isaacs was also a potent voice in debates. His speeches were appreciated because of his clear enunciation, his correct English and precise reasoning. Later he showed his capacity for high office when he was Federal Chief Justice and subsequently Governor-General of the Commonwealth. He had a good sense of humour. One day he told me he had just come from court where a man charged with assault and robbery was defending himself, and in an endeavour to prove an alibi he called a friend to give evidence that at the time the offence was committed he was several miles away from the scene. The first question he put to his witness was, “Where was I, Joe, when I knocked down that man?”

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A most difficult task in the first House of Representatives was allotted to C. C. Kingston, who as Minister for Customs had to pilot through the chamber a protectionist tariff when the Opposition was pledged to a revenue tariff. The members of the Labour Party held the balance of power, but were free to vote individually as they wished on tariff questions, and the majority of them were either revenue tariffists or lukewarm protectionists. A born fighter, he took his work seriously and fought with vehemence. The strain was too much for his health, and he had not been many years in Federal Parliament when failing health compelled him to abandon strenuous work. As an advanced Radical, had his health remained good, it is possible he might have become Prime Minister of a coalition between the Labour Party and the more advanced members of the Government and Opposition parties. The intense hostility between Kingston and Forrest, though both members of the Ministry, was marked. Each was an autocrat and neither could abide the other.

Once, shortly after I became a member of the Federal Parliament, Kingston came to me and spoke about an individual of good repute whom we both knew in South Australia, a man who had been working for a small salary and was ever trying to make money by gambling in mining shares. A parcel of scrip he held had been forfeited for non-payment of a call. Soon after the forfeiture the shares had a most sensational rise in their market value. The story we heard was that he had not seen the announcement of the call and therefore did not pay it. He felt sore and bitter when the price rose to about twenty times its

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former value and thought he had been swindled. Then he committed the unfortunate criminal act of forgery in an endeavour to show that the shares he held were valid and sold them. He was tried, found guilty and received a heavy sentence.

In Kingston's opinion the defence had not been properly conducted, the facts had not been brought out as they should have been, and in any case the punishment inflicted had been much too severe. There was no criminal record against the accused, and we knew him to be peaceful and law-abiding.

Kingston had a petition asking for leniency. He signed it, got the signatures to it of four or five members of the Federal Parliament who knew the man, including myself, and he saw the South Australian authorities and the judge.

“That's all right,” said Kingston to me as we met in one of the corridors of Parliament House. “I had some difficulty about it, but he's to be released this morning. I'm glad I managed it.”

Next day I saw him again. He had a telegram in his hand and a puzzled, troubled look on his face as he said, “We're in a blasted mess.”

He handed me the telegram, which stated that the man, whom we had got released after less than half his sentence, had left the prison the previous morning. Somehow he got a revolver and ammunition, and in the evening he tried to rob a bank and was caught in the act.

Prison environment had seemingly converted him into a desperado at war with society.

“The blasted fellow,” said Kingston, “must have lost all sense of decency and gratitude. He was told

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that we got him out and he might have thought of the awkward position he has put us in.”

For the second offence he received several years' hard labour.

R. E. O'Connor, who was leader for the Government in the Senate, was popular. There was no man in either House whom all parties held in higher respect. Even those who differed from him politically paid tribute to his honesty of purpose. A majority of the Senate were pledged to a revenue tariff. Perhaps no other man could have successfully steered the protective tariff of the first Federal Government through that chamber. When the High Court was constituted, his legal knowledge and experience and his judicial mind were recognised as eminently qualifying him for the bench, but regret was felt that his services were to be lost in the Commonwealth Parliament. His health, however, was far from good. He knew it, and by accepting judicial office he unquestionably prolonged his life a few years. He was sixty-one when he died.

The first Federal Treasurer, Sir George Turner, a practising lawyer, was less interested in points of law than in endeavours to avoid unnecessary Government expenditure. Cautious and a believer in the policy of “safety first,” there was nothing spectacular about him. A plain man and a hard worker, his financial speeches were masses of figures and unembellished statements of fact. As Premier and Treasurer of Victoria he was the type that was needed to straighten the finances during a troublous period, and he well deserved the credit he received for his careful management

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of the public money. Similar competency was shown by him during the early years of the Commonwealth. In those days expenditure was restricted. I can recall the look of horror that came into his face when Sir John Forrest, referring to a proposed public work, grandiosely remarked, “What's a million?” as if a million were but a few pence.

An attractive personality in the Opposition was Sir Edward Braddon, over seventy years of age, white-haired and keen-eyed. His sister was the famous English novelist, Miss Braddon, the author of innumerable best-sellers; he said he had never read one of them. He had had a colourful career before coming to Australia. His father was a Cornishman, and Sir Edward was but eighteen years old when he went to India, where he saw much active service, including the Mutiny. After that he was in the Indian Revenue service, but he found time for big-game shooting and was never so happy as when villagers asked his aid (as they did more than once) to rid them of a man-eating tiger. He was fifty years of age when he retired on a pension. Instead of going to England, as is customary with Indian public servants, to spend the rest of his days lounging in London clubs, he settled in Tasmania, took up land, entered politics, became a member of Parliament and occupied several important positions, amongst them the Agent-Generalship and the Premiership.

He often expressed to me his gratification at having succeeded in embodying in the Commonwealth Constitution what is known as the Braddon Clause, by which for the first ten years after Federation the Commonwealth Government had one-fourth of the

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Customs and Excise revenue and the balance went to the states. Many called it “The Braddon Blot,” and it had some defects, yet during its operation it served a good purpose.

A friend of mine was Senator Staniforth Smith. We had been associated at Kalgoorlie, of which he had been mayor, and in the elections for the first Federal Parliament he was returned at the head of the poll when six members were required to represent Western Australia in the Senate. His tall, well-dressed figure, his ever-smiling, cheery, handsome face and his genial personality took the electors by storm. More particularly was he a favourite with the fair sex, and the admiration he had for them was warmly reciprocated. After his six years' term as a Senator, he retired from the Federal Parliament and received a position in Papua as Administrator and Director of Education. In 1910 he led an exploring expedition into the Upper Kikori district, where it met with disaster. He and his party were missing for weeks. It was authoritatively reported that he was dead. The news was received with deep sorrow at Kalgoorlie, where he was extremely popular, and at a municipal gathering speeches were delivered deploring his end, and a toast to his memory was drunk in solemn silence. A few days after news arrived that he had reached civilisation safe and sound! No one was more amused at the incident than Staniforth Smith. He took great pleasure in reading his obituary notices in Australian papers.

Another friend of mine in the first Federal Parliament was also a Senator from Western Australia: Ned

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Harney, an Irishman and a Trinity College graduate. He was a fine orator of the cultured, courteous, old-fashioned style. He had a wonderful rich deep accent, a delightful touch of the brogue, was full of humour, and he could always arouse a crowd to terrific cheering. His standing at the Bar was high, and he could not afford to neglect altogether his practice, for his allowance as a Senator was but £400 a year, and he spent money lavishly. He was compelled to leave his parliamentary duties frequently during his session in order to appear in the Western Australian courts, and his voyages between Fremantle and Adelaide (the Trans-railway was not then built) were so frequent that he became known as “the member for the Great Australian Bight.”

It was said that on one occasion Harney walked into the Senate, and after listening to the debate rose and made out a powerful case against a certain line of action. He had almost carried the whole House with him when the whip of his party, coming in, passed a slip of paper to him, saying the party had decided to vote in the opposite direction to the one he supported in his speech. Harney read the paper, destroyed it and proceeded to say that in a spirit of fair play he wished first of all to present in as favourable a light as possible the views of those who might be inclined to vote against the way he intended to vote. Then, with tremendous capacity, he demolished all his own arguments one after the other and won back the House to the second viewpoint.

Harney was not more than a couple of years in the Federal Parliament. He went to England, where he practised his profession. Some twenty years later he

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was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal member for South Shields.

At this time I met several times in Melbourne a journalist who had never been in Parliament but whose influence on public affairs was tremendous, and who perhaps as much if not more than any man in the Commonwealth helped to make Australia a strongly protectionist country: David Syme, of the Age. He was tall, spare and thin, seventy-four years of age, grim of visage, keen-eyed and mentally alert, merciless towards political opponents and fanatical. He had warm friendships and pronounced hatreds.

The life-long association, almost love, that existed between him and Deakin had not then come to an end as it did later. It was said that Syme promised Deakin that the Age would adopt a certain attitude on a public question, but a day or two after a leading article appeared definitely committing the paper to the opposite view to what had been agreed on. It was one of the few occasions on which an article in the Age appeared without Syme having seen it. Deakin meanwhile had committed himself. Neither he nor the Age could retreat. The result was a wide breach between the two old friends.

I remember my first meeting with Syme. It was whilst lunching at the Athenæum Club, Melbourne. Knowing that I had come from Western Australia and that the personalities of the Commonwealth Parliament were mostly new to me, he asked me who I thought were the outstanding figures. His hostility to George Reid was not merely confined to opposition to

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his revenue tariff policy, but extended to a deep personal animosity. Mostly prompted by a spirit of mischief and a curiosity to see what the reaction would be, I replied:

“Apart altogether from the views he holds, there is, of course, one figure, head and shoulders above all the other members, a man who thinks not for any electorate, town or state, but for the whole Commonwealth, a truly wide-visioned statesman, a really great statesman.”

“And who is that?” asked Syme.

“George Reid,” I answered.

A look of pain, mingled with indignation and anger, came on the wizened face. “You are quite wrong,” he hotly said. “You do not know him or you would not say that.”

My remark seemed to trouble him so much that I was sorry to have disturbed his equanimity. I listened patiently, and he told me at great length his opinion of George Reid. It was far from complimentary.

As I looked up I saw an amused smile on the face of my friend, Dr. McInerney, whose guest I was. As the dour, serious-minded Scotchman continued to warn me against the machinations of Reid, McInerney gave me a comical wink, and I had the utmost difficulty to avoid laughing.


A considerable part of the work of the first Federal Parliament consisted of legislation to create the necessary machinery to carry on the national duties entrusted to the Commonwealth. Most of the Bills were

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of a non-party nature, but there were features of them that were contentious, though not highly so. They chiefly related to the public service, and the amalgamation of the six post and telegraph departments and six defence departments and the institution of the high court.

A decision of vast importance was the institution of a common policy for the establishment and maintenance of what has come to be generally known as “A White Australia.” It meant a determination that Australia—the last of the world's great spaces that remain to be populated—shall be reserved for the surplus population of Europe. This policy to Australians is almost as much as if it were a national religion. It was in the first Federal Parliament that it was decided to adopt the education test for immigrants, a test that may be applied to all immigrants, but in practice is only applied to certain foreigners who desire to become permanent residents. Another vitally important decision of the first Commonwealth Parliament was that Kanaka labour should not be further employed on the sugar plantations of Queensland.

The real division between the Government and the Opposition was the tariff. The issue was whether the Customs duties should be solely for revenue purposes, as the Opposition contended should be the case, or have a strong protective incidence, which the Government favoured. New South Wales had a revenue tariff and Victoria was protectionist, but the Commonwealth Constitution provided for interstate free trade. Border Custom Houses or “Border Barbarisms,” as they were called, were abolished. In all the colonies the tariff had been a bone of contention, and it was not surprising

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that fierce discussions should be aroused in the Federal Parliament on the objective of the first federal tariff.

To those of us who were free traders it appeared clear that we were but an infant nation—we had then a population of less than four million—holding an empty continent with inexhaustible pastoral, agricultural and mineral resources which constituted the country's real wealth. Why should we handicap those engaged in the development of those resources, the products of which could not be protected, in an endeavour to establish industries that merely built up Australia's big cities by artificial means? First make the continent populous and wealthy by encouraging the primary industries, and secondary industries would spring up naturally and under healthy conditions. These, briefly, were the arguments we presented.

We were utterly routed. The duties imposed by the first Australian tariff were high, but, as we pointed out, protectionists were never satisfied and would go on crying out for more and more duties. This prediction was in accordance with what has actually happened.

Lobbying was carried on to a great extent during the progress of the tariff. It was a source of constant irritation. Representatives of factories in the suburbs of Melbourne alleged that if duties were not imposed these factories would be closed down and hundreds of men thrown out of work. It was of no avail to point out that for every additional man protective duties might cause to be employed, the increased cost of developing back-country industries would throw two or three men out of employment in the industries of mining, wool production and wheat growing. To

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protectionists the vision of the greatness of the Commonwealth was obscured by the smoke of suburban factories. It seemed impossible for them to think continentally.

The atmosphere of Melbourne was strongly protectionist, and men, being only human, cannot remain uninfluenced by their environment. Had the first Parliament sat in Sydney amidst the free-trade atmosphere created there by Sir Henry Parkes, the struggle over the tariff would probably have resulted differently. Those members of the Federal Parliament who believed this felt that the framers of the Constitution were wise in deciding that the Legislature should meet in a federal capital far removed from the parochial influences of any of the state capitals. Hence it was that many of us favoured the selection of a site for the capital as soon as possible and the removal of the Legislature and Federal Government offices thence.