Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Country Party turbulence in Murray

This is the fifth in a series of monthly columns written by Alan Henderson about Deniliquin district historical events and issues. Alan’s grandfathe­r purchased ‘Warragoon’ on the Finley Road in 1912. Alan was born in the Deniliquin Hospital in 1944 but m

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One of my volunteeri­ng activities in retirement is tour guiding in the Australian Museum of Democracy in Old Parliament House.

I worked there in the Legislativ­e Research Service from 1970 to 1973.

Old Parliament House was the home of the Commonweal­th Parliament for 61 years from 1927 to 1988.

During those 61 years, only one serving Prime Minister was defeated in a party room ballot - Billy McMahon defeated John Gorton in 1971.

Over the same period, the Country Party had four leaders - Page, Cameron, Fadden, and McEwen.

In the subsequent 33 years, five Prime Ministers have been deposed in party room ballots - Hawke, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, and Turnbull.

And the Country Party/National Party have had nine leaders - Anthony, Sinclair, Blunt, Fischer, Anderson, Vaille, Truss, Joyce, McCormack, and Joyce again.

I had the impression stability prevailed in the early decades of the 20th century.

However, when I researched the political dimension of my grandfathe­r’s life, I discovered chaos in the Murray Electoral Council of the Country Party.

John H Henderson (1865-1934) was staunch supporter of the Country Party.

Selection of candidates for the state election in 1930 was a priority when John was appointed the deputy-president of the Blighty branch of the Country Party in September 1929.

Subsequent­ly he was appointed one of four vice-presidents of the Murray Electoral Council.

The Nationalis­t-Country Party Coalition had won the 1927 state election, but the electorate of Murray was represente­d by the Labor party, reflecting in part the votes of miners in Broken Hill.

With the excision of Broken Hill for the 1930 election, there was optimism that the narrow loss in 1927 could be turned to victory for the Country Party.

However, for a single member electorate, they selected three candidates to stand against a single Labor candidate!

The candidates, J A (Joe) Lawson of Deniliquin and F W Grabau and J E Dowling of Balranald, were all prominent citizens within their communitie­s.

Dowling had been the unsuccessf­ul candidate in 1927 and expected to be endorsed again as the sole candidate but Deniliquin delegates resisted.

Questions were raised about the bone fides of Dowling’s World War I record and also, that he was not a genuine Country Party supporter because in the 1925 Federal election, he had stood as a Nationalis­t party candidate.

Another considerat­ion, unreported, might have been his Catholicis­m – from its inception to the 1960s the NSW Country Party had only one Roman Catholic member of parliament.

Under the heading ‘Bitter fight by Dowlingite­s against Lawson’, the Deniliquin newspaper, The Independen­t, which was anything but independen­t on this subject, reported the council decision to retain Joe Lawson as one of three candidates as a triumph.

“It was the hardest fight and the finest victory at a political gathering we have ever seen ....

“The Deniliquin section adhered to their original policy of letting the three men go to the polls so that the electors should have all the say they wished and, led by Mr J H Henderson, of Warragoon, they put up a splendid fight, one that will live in the political history of the Murray for many a day to come.”

That was not the limit of the editor’s hyperbole.

“[With] ding-dong fighting, hammer-andtongs debating, and truth and fairness on our side turned what looked like certain defeat into a glorious victory.”

In July 1930, Dowling withdrew a

as

candidate which left two Country Party candidates, Lawson and Grabau, to contest the election against the young Labor Party candidate, Alderman Jack Donovan of Deniliquin. Donovan defeated Lawson by 121 votes. The ‘splendid fight’ in the Electoral Council may well ‘live in the political history of the Murray’ electorate but regrettabl­y, for the wrong reasons.

As the sole Country Party candidate, Joe Lawson won the seat of Murray in June 1932 and in 13 subsequent elections - 12 as a Country Party candidate and two as an independen­t, dying in office in 1973.

He entered parliament as the youngest member and died as the ‘father of the house’ aged 80.

I have no recollecti­on of ever seeing Joe Lawson, let alone meeting him but I do recall family members referring to our local member as ‘old Joe’. Now I know why.

 ?? ?? Joe Lawson. Photos courtesy of Deniliquin & District Historical Society.
Joe Lawson. Photos courtesy of Deniliquin & District Historical Society.
 ?? ?? Jack Donovan.
Jack Donovan.

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