Was It All Cricket?
Chapter 7 — An Historic Event — Australia a Commonwealth
An Historic Event
Australia a Commonwealth
An event of historic importance to the British Empire, and one which created world-wide interest, took place in the first year of my stay in Melbourne. This was the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia. Long years of discussion and negotiations had finally solved this complex problem of bringing all the States into a federation, with a Federal Parliament paramount in national affairs. With this feat accomplished, Australians were desirous of showing the world that the “birth of a nation” such as theirs was worthy of ceremonial celebrations of the highest order.
The announcement that H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall and York—later King George V—was coming to open the first Commonwealth Parliament, stirred the imagination, and gave an immense fillip to the enthusiasm and already high anticipation of Australians.
Melbourne was made the temporary political centre of the Commonwealth, pending the selection of a Federal capital, which, according to the Constitution, must be in New South Wales, but not within one hundred miles of Sydney. This was a compromise and solved a difficult problem.
Australia happily selected the appropriate date of the first day of this century for the adoption of the Federal Constitution. The inauguration ceremony took place in Sydney on January I, r 901, when Lord Hopetoun, the beloved first Governor-General of Australia, on behalf of the Queen, declared Australia a Commonwealth.
The election of members of the first Federal Parliament was held at the end of March, but as far as Melbourne was concerned, public festivities were reserved for the opening of Parliament two months later. Great preparations were then made. Flags and bunting were on every building, and at night the city was ablaze with lights. The railway stations at Flinders Street and Spencer Street, studded with a myriad of page 93 bright coloured lights, arranged most artistically, were a beautiful sight. One of my memories is of standing at the top of Bourke Street, looking down on the huge crown picked out in electric lights that was erected on top of the Spencer Street Station. This was one of the features of the illuminations. Great arches were erected at various vantage-points along the city streets, and streamers were hung from one side to the other. Printed on one of these across Bourke Street were the words, “Welcome to George and Mary”—typical of the colonials' affectionate familiarity.
Over every verandah on the route of the procession temporary grandstands were erected, and seats were soon at a premium. I sometimes feel ashamed of the price I paid for two seats in Swanston Street, midway between the stately Anglican Cathedral and the Town Hall.
The day of arrival was now at hand. To enter Melbourne via the Yarra or Port Melbourne is like entering a house through the back entrance, but St. Kilda, a beautiful seaside suburb, six miles from the centre of the city, with St. Kilda Road as the connecting avenue, provided the ideal setting for the initial reception.
The Melbourne people were thrilled with this arrangement, for anything of a national character was always measured by comparison with what Sydney could do, and they knew that once anyone passed through the Heads, Sydney could provide a view of one of the finest harbours in the world. To give Melbourne its due, the Queen city, on this auspicious day, gave the Royal visitors an entry comparable with the best that Sydney could furnish.
The R.M.S. Ophir, an Orient liner, had been converted into the Royal Yacht and made a fine picture as she steamed up Port Phillip accompanied by the flagship of the Australian Navy. As she drew near her anchorage, those along the beaches and foreshore were able to see the whole panorama, and later watch the Duke and Duchess of York being welcomed as they reached the pier and set foot on Australian soil.
St. Kilda was to play an important part throughout this week of celebrations, for warships of every naval power had come to represent their countries and were anchored in the bay off-shore.
The stage was now set for the principal event of the tour— page 94 the opening of the Federal Parliament—and on a glorious late autumn day the sun shone down on a brilliant scene, the like of which had not before been witnessed in this part of the world, and one worthy of comparison with a coronation procession in London.
Australians do not wear their hearts on their sleeves about Royalty and loyalty, but get under their skins and you will find that besides possessing a national spirit of their own, there is the same pride of Empire as is general throughout the Dominions. Australians certainly did themselves justice this day; their warmth of welcome must have thrilled their future King and Queen, and enabled them to envisage the Empire being strengthened by Australia's becoming a nation instead of remaining a group of individual colonies.
The procession was most impressive, and a fitting introduction of the Duke and Duchess to the people of the Commonwealth, for there were many visitors from the other States. From my seat I had a view of the Royal carriage as it approached the entrance to the city. Halting for a moment on Princes Bridge to be welcomed by Sir Samuel Gillot, the Mayor of Melbourne, the Royal couple were soon in the heart of the city and in the hearts of the people. From the moment of their entry vociferous cheering greeted them as they drove at a slow pace along the route to the Exhibition Building, where the ceremony was to take place. An enormous crowd lined the streets, and mounted police, on white horses specially trained, had difficulty in keeping the enthusiastic people back.
But interest in the procession did not end with the passing of the Royal carriage, for there followed the Governor-General and Governors of other States, the Prime Minister and his colleagues of the first Federal Cabinet, and representatives of other countries, including Sir Joseph Ward of New Zealand, as well as soldiers and sailors of the Empire. It was a magnificent spectacle. The vividness of the Duke's uniform, followed by the Earl of Hopetoun in his uniform of State, lent a note of distinction to the appearance of the occupants of the leading carriages. By comparison, the bell-toppers and black coats of the statesmen and politicians looked sombre, but then followed a blaze of colour that was to astonish Australians, for every British regiment was represented. In page 95 uniforms more brilliant than those usually worn by Colonial soldiers, these men of the Homeland became the centre of attraction and were cheered to the echo. There was always an extra loud burst of applause when a unit of some famous regiment passed by. Great as this spectacle had been, the soldiers of the Dominions were next to play their part in keeping the crowd intensely interested to the end. Here were Indians with their turbans and bright colours; New Zealand regiments, including the Maoris who had attended the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London; and Fijians, with their bushy black hair, white vandyke-edged kilts, bare legs and bare feet. But Australia provided the greatest number, for soldiers from every State in the Commonwealth were there, and no regiments, either mounted or on foot, made a finer showing than the New South Wales Lancers, and the Australian Light Horse. Last, but not least, came a troop of Australian stockmen who, in their riding-breeches and garibaldi-red shirts, represented the country life of the Commonwealth. They were mounted on lovely horses, and with coiled stock-whips tied to their saddles, made a picturesque showing. The colour and khaki of the army, the blue of the navy, and the scarlet of the military and naval bands made a continuous and changing scene.
On reaching the Exhibition Building, the Duke and Duchess ascended the dais, in front of which were seated the Members of the first Federal Parliament, while accommodation was provided for a vast assemblage. Special prayers were read by the Governor-General, and the Old Hundredth Psalm was sung. The King's message declaring Parliament open was read by the Duke of York, followed by the firing of a Royal Salute by artillery stationed outside the building. The Governor-General then administered the oath to the Members of the new Parliament, and the greatest event in the history of Australia was over.
For a whole week the people of Melbourne gave themselves up to celebrations; banquets, dances and parties took place everywhere. The Duke and Duchess had a strenuous time, for there were many official functions. First, there was a levee at Government House, and on the following day a reception at Parliament House; there was a great Military Review at the Flemington Racecourse, when the Duke and the Governor- page 96 General, mounted on thoroughbreds, inspected the troops—this was a splendid affair. The Duke's horse was very restless, and well it might have been, for he rode Revenue, a Melbourne Cup winner. In the midst of these engagements there were sporting events which relieved the Royal couple of some of the strain of arduous official duties. There was a stockmen's buck-jumping display in the Government House grounds, which showed off the fine horsemanship of Australia's back-country young men, in days when the horse was the king of transport. A regatta was held on Albert Park Lake, and was followed in the evening by a conversazione at the Exhibition Building. Boomerang throwing by aborigines at Royal Park, and a Chinese Pageant through the city streets, were unique contributions to the festivities. The Mayor of Melbourne gave a reception at the Town Hall, and this marked the approaching end of the social functions. There followed Divine Service at St. Paul's Cathedral.
One of the last acts of our future King and his Consort was attendance at the demonstration of the Victorian public schools at the Exhibition Building, when the Duchess, pressing a button, hoisted the flag that flies in so many parts of the world. At the same moment, Union Jacks were hoisted in every school in the Commonwealth.
It was a great privilege to be a witness of so much, and I am thankful that I was able to be interested in more than the ceremonial part of these great celebrations.
Among my intimate friends in Melbourne was one of Sir Edmund Barton's first private secretaries, who was later to win a high place in his country's civil service. Entrusted with so much that is confidential, a Minister's secretary is naturally reticent on matters of State, but my friend was free to tell me many side-lights on the characters of the men who comprised the first Federal Cabinet.
Before referring to them, one should ask, “What was behind all this ceremony, and why did it mean so much?” For many years it had been clear that individual effort by the separate Colonies was not the way to build a united and great Australia. Important national questions were looming up, and hastened the consideration of ways and means of unifying conflicting interests.
Lord Hawke's Team—New Zealand Tour, 1902–3
C. Bannerman. B. J. T. Bosanquet. C. J. Burnup. A. D. Whatman. J. Stanning. P. R. Johnson. R. Spencer.
G. J. Thompson. S. Hargreaves. P. F. Warner (Captain). A. E. Leatham. E. M. Dowson.
T. L. Taylor. F. L. Fane.
London Countyv.Gloucestershire, June 1903
Next came New South Wales with her Free Trade policy, for the people of this State were disciples of Cobden and Bright, and not content with its adoption in their own Colony endeavoured to get others to follow. New South Wales had always been the “Mother State,” and more or less dominated the affairs of Australia in her earliest years. She had once controlled New Zealand from Sydney, on behalf of the British Government, until Governor Hobson was appointed to represent the Crown in this Dominion. Added to this was the old sore of the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria. A glance at the map will show that the Murrumbidgee would, have been a more natural and equitable division of territory. This may not have been fair to New South Wales on the eastern side of the State, but the fact remains that on the western side the railway lines of Victoria cross the boundary and run as far as Balranald, to serve the Riverina district of New South Wales. This means that the wool and grain from that territory come to the market in Melbourne. Accepted as the natural order of things, this did not figure largely in the minds of the people, as did the Protection Tariff policy of Victoria, which was used not only against goods from overseas countries, but also against New South Wales as well. There was a Customs Clearing Station at Albury, and the luggage of passengers travelling south was closely examined by Victorian customs officials.
It will not be hard for readers to visualize the dangers to inter-State friendships. Intense industrial activity developed in Victoria, especially as the industries in the southern State were not, at first, hindered as much as were those in New South Wales by the harsh spirit of the Trade Union movement that was then so rapidly gaining strength throughout Australia. When one turned to South Australia, it was found that the page 98 men of Adelaide usually took the same view as the Victorians in State affairs.
Western Australia was, however, a different proposition and had a difficult decision to make. Perth was 2,000 miles west of Adelaide, and little more than a decade had passed since this State had been raised from the status of a Crown Colony to that of a self-governing one. The discovery of the great Coolgardie gold-field was followed by the equally great rush to the rich Kalgoorlie field. For ten years this Western Colony had forged ahead, and continued to attract adventurous young men from the Eastern States—“t'other-siders” they called them. This increase in the population, together with an ambitious Public Works policy, added to the prosperity of the State. While gold was the magnetic attraction for those who went west, other developments were taking place. Great tracts of the country were suited to wheat growing; the Jarrah forests were producing timber that found a substantial market in London; the apple crop was nearer the London market than those of South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. What, however, exercised the minds of West Australians when federation was first mooted, was the fact that all manufactured goods were cheaper when purchased from England. No wonder they hesitated to become a State within the Commonwealth.
The discovery of the Coolgardie gold-fields, told to me by a man who took part in the rush, is an interesting one. Prospecting had been carried on for years up in the Kew district, where fair returns could be obtained by those who followed the bed of the river that was nearly always dry. There lived in the west a young man named Bailey, an adventurous spirit, who preferred the outdoor and lonely life of a prospector to that of a city occupation. He would return from the wilds with his gotten gains, lead a bright life for a week or two, and when broke, go back to his claim. He was a splendid athlete, and could run a hundred yards in very nearly even time. It is told how he would stroll into a country town in his mining clothes. In the pub at night, he would lead the subject round to running. It was not long before he had been challenged to race the local champion who was readily backed. It looked easy money for these habitués of a country hotel, and there was a good deal of side betting. The locals got their first shock when they saw the beautifully built Bailey strip for action. page 99 The race itself showed how they had been fooled. Australians are good losers, so besides providing Bailey with the means for a more extended holiday in town, they also stood him drinks many times over.
Bailey was a studious sort of chap. He figured that if the storm-waters off the hillsides and gullies carried the gold into the Kew river-bed, it must come from the country inland. He placed his theory before a friend named Ford, and persuaded him to accompany him far into the interior. It was a trip full of hardship. They engaged black boys for the camp, and searched day after day, and week after week, for the gold Bailey had said was certain to exist. One day they sat down on a ledge for a rest and chatted. Bailey, with his little prospecting hammer, began idly tapping away at an outcrop without looking at what he was doing. As if by chance he looked down at the place where he had been aimlessly hitting. His eyes nearly jumped out of his head. It appeared to be almost pure gold. Soon they were ripping into it with their tools, only to prove that the find exceeded their wildest dreams.
When they got their first thousand or more pounds worth, it was arranged that Ford, a big strong man, with a shock of red hair and a beard to match, should take their winnings to the nearest town where there was a bank. Ford was not only strong, he was also shrewd. After depositing his gold and registering his pegged-out claim, he took every precaution against being followed on his return journey. He was too crafty for those who would shadow him, and by a devious route got back to the camp. Soon they had won another lot, and this time it was Bailey's turn for a trip to town. But Bailey was not as shrewd as Ford; he spent his nights in the tavern and must have become communicative. At any rate the sleuth-hounds were on his track. No sooner had he arrived back at camp than swarms of prospectors appeared on the scene.
Thus it was that Bailey, although he had collected fivers and tenners from the rustics of the district by his artful wagering and his pace on the running track, was now to repay them a thousandfold when he unwittingly led them back to Coolgardie and to fortune. The newcomers had to suffer the same hardships and privations as Ford and Bailey, who found the absence of water a great drawback. Water had to be carried page 100 many miles by blacks. When a settlement had sprung up overnight the question of water became of paramount importance. By now the whole world knew of the great discovery of gold, and Australia was to experience the greatest gold-rush since the days of Ballarat and Bendigo. Storekeepers and hotelkeepers thrived equally with gold-miners, but there always remained the question of water, water! The water-carriers were now charging an exorbitant price.
The Western Australian Government then decided to play its rightful part, and not only push on the railway into the area, but also provide the settlement with water, A clever New Zealand engineer named O'Connor put forward a grandiose scheme of pumping water through pipes across the three hundred miles of country between Perth and the new gold-fields. Many fierce arguments took place, for opinions were divided as to whether such an engineering feat was possible. The government of the day decided on its adoption, and O'Connor was entrusted with this scheme. It proved a tremendous undertaking; four or five great pumping stations, placed about fifty miles apart, were to pump the water from one to another. Hostility to the project continued throughout its progress, and it so worried O'Connor that he took his life at the moment when his goal was in sight. It was a tragic end to the career of a brilliant engineer. The scheme was a huge success from the outset, and from 2s. 6d. a gallon, and even more in drought years, the water rate dropped to make the cost of a thousand gallons no more than a single gallon had formerly cost.
We all know of the oil pipe-lines across Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Some people know of America's great water scheme, by syphon, to supply the Panama Canal area; but few people outside of Australia know of this wonderful system of water-supply for Coolgardie, and the area that is known as “The Golden Mile.”
In its early days as a Crown Colony, this Western State, like New South Wales and Tasmania, was used by the British Government as a convict settlement. Whatever the misdeed, the punishment carried the stipulation that never again could foot be set on the land of their birth. This restriction bore harshly on many who were guilty of some slight offence, yet afterwards became reputable citizens. The knowledge of this page 101 enforced residence away from Home led to many humorous references, as the following will illustrate. The elevation of Western Australia to the status of a self-governing colony brought with it the establishment of a Legislative Council and a Legislative Assembly. The elected members of these bodies were distinguished by the use after their names of letters representing their particular House. Australians of that time made fun—they are always fun-makers—of titles. To them, M.L.C. stood for Mustn't Leave Colony, and M.L.A. for Mustn't Leave Australia.
Tasmania, the junior Colony, measured by population and industry, doubted its ability to pay the additional taxation required to cover the cost of administering the affairs of a great Commonwealth. While Tasmania had a great fruit export trade with England, she was in difficulties with Victoria over her potatoes and timber. The mainland Colony had her own hardwoods of a similar kind, and also wanted to grow her own potatoes. Most of Tasmania's trade in potatoes was with New South Wales through Sydney.
Besides these important points of view in each State, there were other difficult and overlapping problems. Defence was, of course, a matter for the continent, customs tariffs should also be on a national basis. Post and Telegraph offices operating separately meant the collection of some portion of the charges from the Colony to which telegrams were sent, and the unification of the railway system also figured largely in the discussions of the time.
I have written enough to show the complex nature of the interests of the different States. Here was a conglomerate mass of ideals. Could it be converted into an element that would serve the interests of all individual States, as well as the continent as a whole, thus forming one great Commonwealth worthy of being called a nation?
That it was accomplished is a credit to the wisdom of the Australian people, who confirmed by referendum the agreements arrived at by their respective leaders. Most of the credit, however, must go to a small band of capable and persevering men who, for years, had carried on negotiations to find a solution of the problems that would lead to the framing of a Constitution acceptable to all. It required all the patience, tolerance and genius of man to find a basis for settling some page 102 of these complex problems. The good old British method of compromise overcame numerous difficulties, and this spirit is to be found in almost every line of the document that was subsequently signed by the men of character and vision who conducted the negotiations.
The Queensland difficulty was overcome by giving that State a monopoly of the sugar supplies of Australia, and a bounty payment on their production, to cover the increased cost due to the substitution of white labour for the coloured workmen previously employed. It must cause some vexation to find colonies of swarthy Italians from Southern Italy now established in parts of Queensland, speaking their own language, and publishing their own newspapers. Ten years ago a cheeky Italian, when asked to give his evidence in English, told the magistrate that he should learn the Italian language!
It is not too late for Australia to make English the only language that may be set up in type and printed. Australia's maxim should be that every foreigner must learn English if he wishes to read an Australian paper. What a heap of trouble the United States of America would have saved herself had she adopted this policy a century and a half ago. The pre-war activities of the Italian nation provide an opportunity for the Commonwealth Government to take action.
The demand of the people of New South Wales that the capital should be in their State, was met when Melbourne opposition was toned down to a limitation of a minimum distance from Sydney. There was no doubt that at this time Melbourne was the most suitable site, but the future prospect of a railway line from Adelaide to Sydney overcame the objections of West and South Australia to the capital being in New South Wales. This cross-country railway has not yet been built, but some day it will be, and Canberra will then be more justified than it is at present. The transcontinental railway to the west, and now aeroplanes, have added to the comfort and speed of travel, but it will be easily understood what it meant in those early years for West Australian members to attend the sitting of the Commonwealth Parliament, and why the people of this Colony hesitated to join in the scheme. Their main objection, however, was with regard to questions affecting their own State, and the others had to go some way to meet them. In the end, all difficulties were overcome.page 103
Tasmania was also to be met in some of her problems, and this brought to fruition the efforts of those able men who had laboured so long to bring into being their bold conception of a great Australia.
Who were these outstanding men who moulded into shape the Articles of Association for this company of States now banded together? Let us return to that great procession in Melbourne, and take note of them as they pass. Each in turn was singled out for the plaudits of the crowd. There was little or nothing of party politics in these early days of Federal Government, and on this day, in particular, these Cabinet Ministers were the champions of all the people.
First came Sir Edmund Barton, the Prime Minister. Clean-shaven, with a shock of white hair, and powerfully built figure, he looked a born leader, and could well sit back and feel pride and satisfaction at the part he had played in affairs leading up to this great event. Sir Edmund, a noted barrister, was a brilliant man. His achievements, outstanding ability and handsome appearance earned for him the epithet of “Australia's noblest son.” In every way a leader of men, his captaincy was of the type of Harry Trott's—Australia's greatest cricket captain. He was a man who liked the social side of life, but his capacity when he was working soon enabled him to overtake any arrears in the affairs of State that may have been awaiting him. Sir Edmund had not been knighted at this time, nor was he until some years later, on his appointment as a Puisne Judge of the High Court of Australia.
I am prefacing the names of Federal Ministers with their titles, even though the honour may not have been conferred upon them until a date subsequent to the events which I relate, for they are remembered best in the light of their highest attainments.
It is not generally known that Lord Hopetoun first summoned Sir William Lyne, as the Premier of the senior State, to form a Ministry. Sir William was a man of fine character but of taciturn nature, and was somewhat difficult-to work with. It must have been a great personal disappointment when he found that the leading men of the other States would not accept his leadership. In face of this opposition, he did not persist.
I do not know whether the original agreement provided for page 104 the first Prime Minister being selected from the Mother State of New South Wales, but it is significant that the Governor-General next sent for Edmund Barton, even though he had never been Premier of his own State, Sir Edmund Barton had all along been one of the most ardent supporters of the Federal movement, and it was said that the mantle of Sir Henry Parkes, the pioneer federalist of Australia, had fallen on his shoulders. Sir Edmund had no difficulty in securing Australia's best men to serve in the first Cabinet, and he paid Sir William Lyne the compliment of including him as Minister of Home Affairs.
Sir Alfred Deakin, Attorney-General in the Barton Ministry, was an outstanding man. He was a polished speaker, and was styled “the silver-tongued orator.” A fine, upstanding figure, tall and athletic in appearance, with a short, pointed beard, he always commanded attention. An ardent advocate for the development of the irrigation scheme covering the northwestern areas of Victoria, bordering South Australia, he was honoured in having the principal avenue in Mildura named after him. He subsequently became Prime Minister of the Commonwealth.
Sir John Forest was one of Australia's greatest men of all time. His faith in Australia, and Western Australia in particular, was unbounded. In his younger days he had been an explorer of note, and had visited most of the boundless spaces of this State. He became Premier of Western Australia and entered Federal politics with a great reputation. There seemed to be an extra cheer for Sir John as he passed along the streets of Melbourne on the day of the Royal procession. It was mainly on his shoulders that fell the responsibility of Western Australia's decision regarding federation. He was given the important portfolio of Minister of Defence, a post well suited to his wide powers of vision and great wisdom. He was a lovely character, and adored by all his colleagues. He will be remembered in history as the first, and so far the only, Australian Member of the House of Lords. At the end of his career he was created Baron Forest of Bunbury, his native town in Western Australia. It was on the voyage to England to take his seat in the House of Lords that he was taken ill and died at sea.
Sir George Turner's name is still revered for the part he played in the earliest days of Federal politics. As a wise and page 105 careful Premier of Victoria, he seemed well suited to the position of Federal Treasurer. He was regarded as the ideal man for this post, and was as careful of the taxpayers' money as if it belonged to himself. Waste and extravagance of public funds he would not tolerate. Never would he have been guilty of the modern tendency to make the Budget an instrument of appeal on the eve of an election. Sir George insisted on handling the finances of the Commonwealth in his own cautious way.
Mr. C. C. Kingston, Minister for Trade and Customs, brings us to the end of the list of what might be called “the Big Men of the Cabinet.” He was a brilliant man, but always appeared to be of a somewhat dour disposition. His difficult task of combining and unifying the varying tariffs of the different States was in itself sufficient to try the patience and disturb the peace of mind of any Minister; in spite of this he did his job excellently. He was the bane of his secretary, and his department, for few could read his handwriting. It is said that one clerk, transferred from another department, received promotion due entirely to his ability to decipher Mr. Kingston's writing.
It is worthy of note in passing that forty years ago eight Federal Ministers were considered sufficient to manage the affairs of State for the Commonwealth. At the time of writing, Australia has a Cabinet of seventeen Ministers! This first Commonwealth Cabinet, composed of the strongest men in politics in each State, was regarded as a Cabinet of Captains, and it spoke well for the tact of Edmund Barton as a leader that he was able to weld them into complete harmony.
One regrets that Sir George Reid's hesitancy over the Federal issue, and his extreme advocacy of Free Trade, disqualified him for a position within the Cabinet. Australia had clearly decided to follow a Protectionist policy. At that time the division in Australian politics was Protection versus Free Trade. It was thus that Sir George Reid became the Leader of the Opposition. As Premier of New South Wales, he had led that State along the ways of his Free Trade fiscal policy. When it came to advising the people of New South Wales on the attitude they should adopt towards federation, he did not give them a definite lead. He would not say, “No,” but hesitated to say, “Yes.” The Sydney Bulletin dubbed him page 106 “Yes-no Reid,” an epithet that stuck to him for the rest of his career.
In the first month of this century I went to hear Sir George Reid give an address on his favourite topic—Free Trade. The Athenaeum Hall in Melbourne was packed to the doors. During the day, word had been received that Queen Victoria was dead. When the great orator walked on to the platform, he at once said that the news of the death of our beloved Sovereign made him feel that it would not be appropriate to address them on the subject of Free Trade. Instead, he proposed to speak on the reign of Queen Victoria. For nearly two hours he told a thrilling story of the years between 1837 and 1901. Everyone sat in rapt attention as they listened to the almost fairy-like tale of the girl-Queen of England, later Empress of India, and ruler over an Empire greater than any the world has ever known. The climax came when Mr. Reid (as he was then), after referring to Germany's growing rivalry and apparent intention of disputing Britain's naval supremacy, paused for a moment, then with emphasis said, “Britain doesn't want to fight, but by jingo! …” Although but twenty-two years of age, I felt a thrill run down my spine, and cheered with Australians when tumultuous applause acclaimed this great man, who was ever a champion of the cause of the Motherland.
Stories are legion concerning his wit and clever repartee. Unlike the great Mr. Joseph Chamberlain's quick retorts, which often stung, the geniality of Reid always turned the terseness of the moment into laughter. Once, at a stormy political meeting in Sydney, a man in the gallery hit him on the shoulder with a small paper bag of flour which burst all over him. Looking down at his suit, then up at the gallery, he said in his usual high-pitched voice, “They always said I was a white man.” This led to an outburst of laughter and cheering, and won over the audience for the rest of the evening.
As showing how his opponents were afraid of his quick retort and wit in debate, this example of how they tried to counter it is revealed in a happening in the Federal House. One night, in Melbourne, I read big headlines on the parliamentary page of the evening paper: “A Conspiracy of Silence.” In an important debate, Members of the Government Benches decided to make no interjections, nor to inter- page 107 rupt or heckle him in any way. His opponents chuckled when the ruse succeeded, and the famous George, completely baffled, was at a loss in debate when he had no grindstone on which to “sharped his axe.”
With his tubby figure, he was the joy of the caricaturists who revelled in the opportunities he gave them. The extremists drew him as a circle or oval, with an eye-glass in position, and a dangling piece of cord, and this gave a good representation of the genial Reid.
It is doubtful if there will ever again appear on the stage of Australian politics such another as Sir George Reid. He was later to become an outstanding Australian High Commissioner in London. His oratory and wit made him much sought after at big functions in England. Newspaper editors instructed their reporters to take down all he said.
The famous Dress Suit story is always attributed to him. Invited to be the principal speaker at the annual Press Dinner being held in one of the provincial towns, he lost his portmanteau on the train journey north. To the surprise of everyone, he arrived at the dinner in his ordinary clothes. When it came to his turn to speak, he explained in a jovial way the loss of his travelling bag and how, on arrival in the town, he had endeavoured to repair his misfortune. Sir George, although not tall, was a man of enormous girth. He said that all the fat men of the district had been sought out, but without avail, so he decided to try the shops that hire out suits for special occasions. Then, fixing his eye-glass, he said dramatically, “They all told me that I had no chance of hiring an evening suit for tonight, it being the occasion of the Press Dinner!”
Two other members of the first Federal Parliament, both still alive, are worthy of mention before passing from the scene of those early days of the Commonwealth. The Right Hon. W. M. Hughes needs no introduction. His services are still being utilized by the people of Australia, so it is unnecessary here to deal minutely with a career which, while reaching so far back into the past, continues to play an important part in the Federal Parliament. He became Prime Minister of Australia, and his magnificent lead during the last war marks the highest pinnacle of his fame. His fervent speeches were a clarion call, not only to Australians but also to the people of page 108 the Empire. When Mr. Hughes went home to England in the midst of the conflict, the people of Britain were comforted by the loyal and inspiring words that fell from the lips of this earnest man, whose frail body belied the mind and brain of a statesman. He was at once great among the great men of Britain, and added lustre to Australia's reputation. The fact that he had left Wales as a lad—reared in humble circumstances—to go to the Antipodes, added to the picturesqueness of the story of his rise to fame, and, perhaps, explained the fervour and intensity of his speech.
The name of King O'Malley is remembered to-day only by the older people of the Commonwealth. Forty years ago he was held in high esteem in the field of State and Federal politics. The name in itself attracted attention. It may have been just the passing on of his mother's surname, but to the rank and file of Australians his unusual Christian name was looked upon as a freakish whim on the part of a doting father. At election time, when spirits ran high, the noisy interjectors called him everything from a crowned King to a tribal chieftain of the O'Malleys of County Galway, Ireland. But O'Malley would pay back in kind. At one meeting he told his audience that he was born on the border between Canada and the United States, but just a few yards on the Canadian side. He said he rather blamed his much-respected mother, for had he been born those few yards on the other side of the border he would, by then, have been President of the United States of America!
This lightness of touch and sense of humour, together with his general desire to appear picturesque, rather obscured for a time his outstanding ability. He came to Australia in the 'nineties, as the representative of a big American Insurance Company, on a salary which at that time was considered princely. The call of politics was too strong for him, and in a few years he found a place in the South Australian Parliament. He next appeared as a member of the Tasmanian Parliament before entering Federal politics. This proved to be the turning-point in his political career. He was later to become a Federal Minister with the portfolio of Home Affairs. It was then that he showed his capacity. He was responsible for the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the selection and establishment of the Federal Capital, and for the naming page 109 of Canberra. He also carried out the construction of the transcontinental railway from Adelaide to Perth. Mr. King O'Malley remained a Member of the Federal House for twenty years, and since his retirement in 1920 has lived in Melbourne. This fine old man of to-day must, on reflection, be able to derive much satisfaction from memories of the part that a son of Canada played in shaping the future of a great sister Dominion.
One is reminded of the inexorable march of time when it is recorded that all the members of the first Federal Cabinet have passed away, and few of the members of the first Parliament remain. Their work has now passed to the pages of Australian history, and they are remembered by a grateful people.