Kyabram Free Press

Reformists packed a Punch

- By Rohan Aldous

A permanent reminder of the part Kyabram played in the restructur­ing of the Victorian Government 120 years ago will be installed on the exact location of a meeting that heralded the reform of the state’s governing body.

A piece of art, formed from two square metres of painted tiles, will be a permanent fixture in the Kyabram Town Hall in Allan St – featuring a satirical salute to the Victorian Premier of the time, Alexander Peacock, and the state of Victoria.

It is a salute to the Kyabram Reform Group, which held a public meeting in the then Mechanics Institute Hall on November 13, 1901, to lobby for a reduction in government department­s, and economic reform.

Mr Peacock, in the piece completed by Rushworth artist Angie Russi, is featured as a fully fanned peacock and Victoria is represente­d by a young woman – reflecting the developing status of the state at the time.

Maria Radanov, a member of the Kyabram Town Hall committee of management, said the piece of art would take pride of place where the leaders of the reform group would have stood all those years ago.

“They wanted to downsize from 95 state members of parliament for half a million people,” Ms Radanov said.

“They didn’t like the way things were going and amount being spent on public representa­tion.”

There are now fewer members of parliament (88) than there were in 1901, representi­ng six-and-a-half million people.

Prominent Kyabram businessma­n George Bishop organised the first Kyabram meeting at the suggestion of Charles Wilson, proprietor of the Free Press. The shires of Rodney and Deakin were invited.

As a result, in April the following year a public meeting at the Melbourne Athenaeum Hall with 300 delegates from around the state saw the beginnings of the National Citizens Reform League, eventually forming 214 branches.

A demand was made for 95 members of the legislativ­e assembly to be reduced to 46 and for the legislativ­e council to be halved from its 46 strong representa­tion.

The group also demanded the ministeria­l total be halved to five, along with reduced government spending and general economic reform.

Mr Peacock resisted the demands of the reform league, the government collapsed in June, and at a general election in October, 1902, was beaten by William Irvine.

A series of cartoons, poems, photos and articles are testament to the reform movement, two years of political satire from Punch magazine following the story and highlighte­d through a Banjo Patterson satirical play.

Kyabram Historical Society’s Eileen Sullivan researched the subject and has provided much of the above informatio­n for today’s article.

Mr Wilson and Free Press editor H. L. Neilson also played a significan­t role in communicat­ing and detailing the work of the reform group.

A plan to launch the tile artwork on the same day as the original meeting, November 13, has been put on hold by the Kyabram Town Hall committee as it grapples with COVID conditions.

“There is another very significan­t date, which was the April 17, 1902, meeting in Melbourne. We plan to unveil the artwork on that date next year,” Ms Radanov said.

“We are awaiting some final details before the engineers at Cantech erect a frame for the tiles and then we have to have a tiler put them into place.

“It will then be a permanent display and a tribute to the reform group of the day.”

The images for the tile artwork have been taken from the pages of Punch.

“It was, effectivel­y, the work of the Kyabram group which resulted in the downfall of Mr Peacock’s government of the day,” Ms Radanov said.

“A small group of people in our town ultimately changed the direction of the government­s — in Victoria, other states, and even the new Commonweal­th.”

 ?? ?? Stand and deliver: Maria Radanov and Sheila Atley with one of the famous Punch magazine cartoons, featuring Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edward Barton (centre), and “Mr Kyabram” on the right.
Stand and deliver: Maria Radanov and Sheila Atley with one of the famous Punch magazine cartoons, featuring Australia’s first Prime Minister, Edward Barton (centre), and “Mr Kyabram” on the right.

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