Country Politics 1943-1963 War, Wool, Socialism and Swinging Seats




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National Issues in campaigning in Farrer

The campaign during the 1949 election in Farrer and the major issues discussed were much like the election campaign nationwide. The Country Party campaign was very effective with several catch cry’s including “You’ll feel a mighty fool in Chifley’s Conscript Pool,”68 and “Refuse to be socialised.”69 Mackay, while emphasising the Socialist, Communist line of the coalition, gave his campaign a distinctively country slant. For example, Mackay suggested that if Labor was returned and allowed to implement their socialist ideals, farmers could be taken from their properties to work in other industries or their properties could be resumed for “Soviet pattern collective farming.”70 Mackay leaves a simple question for voters “Is it Socialism or freedom?”71 It was this simplicity that characterised the 1949 election, although other issues were introduced by candidates, the election was decided on this one question. Whether it was valid or not is now irrelevant, that is the way voters perceived it.


Fairbairn, the Liberal candidate, tried to elaborate on issues other than Communism during his campaign; he focused on petrol rationing, claiming, “we will get you all the petrol Australia needs without rationing.”72 He also claimed there had been “gross maladministration in government departments” with “100 new civil servants a day.”73 But, in reality, the basis of his campaign was the necessity of defeating the Socialist Communist Labor. In a self-written ad, Fairbairn said, “If you want controls, forms, shortages and restrictions, then vote for the Socialists. If you want increased production, better purchasing power of the pound, and development of the nation, particularly in country areas, then vote for the Liberals.”74 In a later article Fairbairn illustrated that he was very in touch with the post war middle class views and hopes of his electorate when he stated “The Australian Liberal Party believes Australians should be able to earn more, produce more, save more and own more.”75
In the face of the widespread appeal of Fairbairn and overwhelming socialist argument, the Australian Labor Party’s T. McGrath was not a strong favourite. He did not try to deny the Labor party’s Communist connections instead he asked voters to “judge the party on its eight year record.”76 He did argue that if, as the coalition was claiming, Labor decided to implement civil conscription it could not occur without a referendum.77 At this time, Labor was a strong believer in Keynesian economics. To greatly simplify a complicated economic theory McGrath claimed that long term planning by Labor would ensure full employment for the worker “in which case every other section of our community will be enjoying prosperity.”78 Like his opponents, McGrath made an appeal to the country element of the Farrer electorate by claiming that “under Labor government farmers had received low interest rates, wheat stabilization schemes and long term overseas contracts.”79
Country-mindedness

There were mentions of country issues by all the candidates. The Country Party candidate, Mackay, reverted to traditional Country Party arguments namely that “two thirds of Parliament represents metropolitan seats and Industry” so a party that represents the interests of country people was vital to ensure development and the “removal of restrictions to allow more opportunities for people in the country”.80 Mackay argued that he is a suitable candidate who has experienced hardship and fought for his country.81 Fairbairn also made concessions for the lingering agricultural elements of his electorate. “I have been reared on the land, my father and grandfather before me were on the land, and I feel that I am well qualified to understand the needs of a country electorate.”82 However, unlike his opponents, Thomas McGrath did not promote his country roots, despite the fact that he probably had more experience and profile as a farmer than his opponents, being chair of many boards including the farmers’ representative on the Rural Reconstruction Board of NSW.83 Whether McGrath had decided that the changing demographic of Farrer would not place an emphasis on his grazier background, or he was well known and did not need to promote that element of his experience, is unclear. Either way, in this election, it probably did not matter; his alliance with the Labor party was enough to defeat him.




The Personality

The first Member of Parliament for Farrer was David Fairbairn a Liberal from Woomargama near Albury.84 Fairbairn was born in Surry, England in 1917 educated at Geelong Grammar and Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was an avid rower.85 In 1939, he took over the running of his family’s pastoral property at Albury before joining the R.A.A.F for the duration of the war.86 In 1945, he married Ruth, the daughter of a doctor and they had three daughters.87 At the 1949 election, Fairbairn was young and good looking. He was an incredibly well spoken gentleman and appeared to be of reasonable intelligence. A stark contrast to the local small farmer, or businessman candidates who had been representing the Hume and Riverina electorates. Fairbairn was very much upper class, and although he was, by occupation, the manager of a pastoral property, one got the feeling that he did a lot of managing and very little farm work. However, this did not seem to bother the Farrer electors, who continued to vote for him as their representative until his retirement in 1975. Fairbairn was perhaps a fitting representative for the changing and developing Farrer electorate, which was hoping to continue to attract the middle class aspiring worker, and had a rapidly declining agricultural sector. With the changing demography of the area, most noticeably, large numbers of people who were born outside the Riverina in urban areas,88 the apparence of country mindedness being a factor in the voting choices of the electorate becomes much less recognizable.



Hume

By 1949, the new Hume electorate was experiencing some changes in its population and main economies. In the Tumut and Snowy Mountains area, the building of the Snowy River Scheme was just commencing bringing people and jobs to the area.89 The Batlow Co-operative set up a cannery and the demand for fruit and vegetables continued to grow, employing most of the areas population.90 There had been an increase in the number of small farmers, mainly through Soldier Settler schemes and the breaking up of large family properties between sons.91 This was particularly evident in the Cootamundra, Young, Yass and Boorowa areas where small-scale mixed farming enterprises were becoming more popular.92 This population of small farmers became the main swinging vote element in Hume, with many of the farmers working on larger properties, or in seasonal work such as shearing to supplement their income when the need arose.93 They identified themselves as both workers and farmers, and as a result, they sometimes voted Labor and sometimes they voted Country Party. There was still a predominant agricultural economy in Hume particularly focused on the production of wheat and wool.94


In 1949, the election was between just two candidates, the sitting member, Labor’s Arthur Nieberding Fuller and the Country Party’s Charles Anderson.95 The new distributions for the Hume electorate should have favoured Fuller. He had lost the two major cities, both of which were rapidly growing with middle class public servants, to Farrer, and when given the choice between the two seats chose to stand for Hume where there had been greater support for Labor.96 Fuller was beaten by just 767 votes.97 Interestingly both candidates lost their home divisions, with Fuller losing Tumut by 92 votes, which represented a swing of 8%, and Anderson losing both the divisions of Young and Cootamundra, between which he lived.98

National Issues

The nationwide issue of Communism was the main subject discussed during the Hume campaign. Fuller, unlike many of his fellow party members, tried to directly address the issue. He took out advertisements in every newspaper in his electorate saying “Don’t Be Fooled”99 followed by a pledge “In answer to the wicked lies of the Anti-Labor Party that Labor intends to direct manpower, and socialise shops, farms and factories, these statements are untruths. No Government has the power to do these things without consulting the people, by way of a Referendum, and I pledge myself to resign my seat in Parliament if my statement is not correct.”100 Despite his directness Fuller was defeated by Anderson, who when he could manage to not talk about his war experiences stuck to the party line. He repeatedly said at meetings, “The modern version of the old skull and crossbones is the hammer and sickle.”101 There were very few new ideas in Anderson’s campaign. In twenty days of advertising in three papers there was just one ad in the Cootamundra Herald that does not refer entirely to Communism, Socialism and Nationalisation. Part of this ad claimed that Charlie Anderson supports “A £250 million expenditure on gigantic and vigorous scheme of rural development.”102 This appears to be Anderson’s only concession to Country Party policy and the rural nature of his electorate. However, this was an election where national issues dominated and the character of candidates and local issues were subservient to the Communism issue.


Local Issues

By 1949 people had developed some unflattering views of Fuller. The Sydney Morning Herald happily printed some of these views in the lead up to the election and The Cootamundra Daily Herald and the Tumut and Adelong Times reprinted the article during the campaign. As well as being amusing they were reasonably detrimental to Fuller, especially when the same article had nothing but praise for his Country Party opponent Anderson. “Mr Fuller is a tall thin man with a long neck, a circumstance which has brought him the unflattering nickname of “Pilsener,” because of a fancied resemblance to the outline of the long thin bottle which contains that popular beverage.”103 Even Fuller’s speaking technique was ridiculed. “He is not an impressive speaker, but at least makes himself audible.”104 The paper even goes so far as to claim that in his role as party Whip he is a martinet.105 Finally, the same article mocks Fuller’s occupation with a reference to the fact that he is in the same business as the US president Harry Truman however “the Canberra Press Gallery sometimes wonders whether his garish ties reflect his personal taste or a frugal desire to put to use those items of neckwear which have not proved ready sellers.”106 The paper’s opinion on Mr Fuller is perhaps better spelt out when an editorial claims the sitting member “has been sitting too long.”107


The Personality

The successful Country Party candidate Charles Groves Wright Anderson, received much more favourable press from the Cootamundra papers, and in fact most of the papers in the electorate. Anderson was a native African having been born in Capetown in 1897 to a journalist father, supposedly one of the first settlers in Kenya,108 and grew up in Kenya, where he farmed for several years.109 He attended Brendon College in England and according to the Sydney Morning Herald article enlisted before he was 18 to fight from 1914-1918 in the German East African campaign.110 He was commissioned as a Captain in the King’s African Rifles in 1916, and received the Military Cross.111 In 1935, he immigrated to Australia with his wife Edith and their two sons and daughters and bought a grazing property at Crowther near Young.112 However, by far Anderson’s greatest achievement and his most publicised accomplishment was his WWII experience. He enlisted in the second AIF in 1940 as a Captain and rose to be Lieutenant Colonel,113 a title that he kept in civilian life and often ran under. He served in the Malayan campaign and, as is quoted in the paper “his gallantry in the disastrous Malayan campaign brought him his VC.”114 Andersons entry in Who’s Who, which individuals submitted for themselves, quotes his entire mention in dispatches that gave him his VC, “magnificent example of brave leadership, determination and outstanding courage, cut off with small force he forced way through enemy lines destroyed ten tanks, four guns, protected wounded and led attacks personally without regard for his own personal safety.”115 Anderson was then taken as a prisoner of war and was in one of the first groups to be sent to the Burma railway.116 Anderson was said to have “earned the respect and affection of his men” an element which newspapers gladly pointed out, as his battalion had been entirely recruited in the Hume electorate.117 This seems to be supported by a letter to the editor printed in the Cootamundra Daily Herald by a group of ex POW’s from Temora who had served with Anderson for the duration of the war.118 They amusingly write of Anderson, “Our first impressions were not impressive spectacles and an accent”.119 They go on to recollect when Anderson was made CO of their battalion after another officer “summed up the reaction of the men when he said that there would be a riot if anyone else but Anderson was given the command.”120 In a tribute, that must say a lot about Anderson the man and must have rung true with many people in Hume, some of whom had received letters from Anderson telling them of the deaths of their sons, the men write; “We all have our own various political ideas, but, knowing Col Anderson as we do, we have tremendous faith in his ability, sense of fairness and capacity for leadership, and all party politics aside, we are prepared to follow him in peace, as we did in war.”121 Before Anderson, the division of Temora had been largely Labor voting, but during Anderson’s political career he did not lose the division once. This would suggest that the ex-soldiers with whom he had served voted for him. Anderson played on his war experience during his campaigns for Parliament, in a speech in Cootamundra he said, “I am a candidate, not because of ambition for a political career, but because I wanted to take up the same job I did in 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. The fight for freedom.”122 Anderson very rarely mentions his occupation as a grazier, and because he was not born in Australia, he cannot claim, as Fuller can, to be Hume born and bred. It appears that Anderson used his military career much as other country candidates use their occupation in farming, as a means of relating to the people of his electorate and ensuring that he was perceived as one of them.
Riverina

The creation of the electorate of Farrer had not affected Riverina as much as Hume. Riverina lost Temora, which proved to be a very strong Country Party division after WWII, and Junee, the Labor railway town, to Hume, and its enrolment had dropped to 39, 000.123 Riverina was still an economy based on wheat, wool and the MIA’s irrigation. Like Hume, as the sizes of properties shrank and the numbers of people employed as labourers in primary production dropped, so to did the strong Labor support base. In 1949, there were three candidates for the Riverina seat: W.E Mitchell a Communist who received 389 votes, Hugh S Roberton for the Country Party and the sitting Labor member Langtry.124 Roberton won the Riverina seat with ease, losing only three divisions: Hay, Leeton and Narrandera by several votes.125


National Issues in the Riverina campaign

Like the rest of Australia, the Riverina election was mainly about Communism. The eloquent Roberton in his final summation said socialism “is the issue and there is no other issue. The ALP is pledged to Socialism under the rules laid down by Karl Marx, as applied by Lenin and enforced by Stalin.”126 He then expressed his confidence that the “great people of the Riverina will vote Country Party and save Australia.”127 In contrast Langtry did not mention any campaign issues instead he commented on his enjoyment of the campaign, the enthusiasm of people and his happiness that the “contest has been clean and impersonal” and his confidence of being re-elected.128 It seems an odd way to respond to such a tirade from Roberton and his anti-Labor colleagues and it does not work for Langtry who died just sixteen months later.129


The Personality

Hugh Stevenson Roberton became the member for Riverina. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with dark hair, a moustache and glasses.130 He was a native Scotsman, having been born in Glasgow in 1900.131 His father, Sir Hugh was an undertaker and the conductor of the Glasgow choir.132 After arriving in Australia in 1922 and working as a share farmer growing wheat at old Junee, he married Marjorie.133 Roberton eventually leased and then bought land at Old Junee, but most famously, he wrote for the Coolamon-Ganmain Farmers Review and The Land under the penname of ‘Peter Snodgrass.’134 A role in which he relished having Snodgrass mock things that he, Roberton, supported outside of the paper. Roberton was a well-known member of the Farmers and Settlers Association, of which he was president from 1946-1949.135 Through his association with the FSA, he proposed the “Roberton scheme” for wheat stabilisation in 1939, something he championed throughout his parliamentary career.136 Roberton served with the AIF during WWII as a clerk and was discharged in 1944 for employment in an essential occupation, to help with the harvest.137 It appears that Roberton was apt at using some poetic licence when discussing his war service and education.138 However, in 1949 he won the seat of Riverina and held it until leaving for an ambassador position in 1965.139 Roberton was very traditional. In his maiden speech, he spends considerable time, several pages worth, championing the monarchy and the importance of Australia’s support and commitment to it.140


Country-mindedness

Roberton also displayed his traditional country views. Aside from his monarchist tendencies Roberton, also showed his deep-seated beliefs in country-mindedness in his maiden speech, lecturing on the importance of equal living standards between the city and the country, and the need for continued and improved marketing and stabilisation plans.141 Roberton claimed that the way to stop the drift of country people to the city was to improve country living standards, in particular the implementation of electricity and telephone to all country homes and the improvement of country roads.142 In Roberton’s words, “the same standard will be enjoyed by the valiant men and women who go out into the arable and pastoral areas of this country and bring them to production.”143


The Swinging Seat of Hume 1951-1963

From 1949 until 1963, the seat of Hume swung between Labor’s Arthur Fuller and the Country Party’s Charles Anderson. During this time, the electoral boundaries did not change in any significant way. Yet in 1951 Fuller won the seat from Anderson by 796 votes,144 in 1955 Anderson reclaimed the seat by 1715 votes.145 In 1961, Fuller won again with a margin of just 704 votes146 and in 1963 Anderson did not run and Fuller was beaten by his Country Party replacement J.A. Pettit who sat until 1972.147 Fuller resigned from politics and does not contest the Hume seat again.

During this period, Hume should have been a relatively stable country seat. It shared borders with the very stable Farrer and Riverina electorates and swapped towns with both, with Wagga being in each electorate at various periods during the last century. Yet when both Farrer and Riverina were extremely stable seats, with Farrer electing the “unbeatable” Fairbairn for the Liberal party from 1949 to 1975, and Riverina re-electing Roberton for the Country Party from 1949 until 1965, Hume had five changes in representatives.

Before the Anderson, Fuller battle in Hume, Parker J. Maloney had held the seat for the ALP for twelve years from 1919-1931 and then Tom Collins for the Country Party had been MP from 1931-1943 when he was defeated by Fuller.148 After the tumultuous twenty years of Fuller and Anderson swapping the seat, Hume returns to stability electing just six members in the 44 years since and giving all but two of them ten-year stints.149

The question that must be asked is why Hume was so marginal in this period. Obviously, there is no definitive answer for this. I feel part of the issue was that both Anderson and Fuller had such widespread appeal. Anderson was a real gentleman, a man of the empire, who had fought in both wars, won a VC, was extremely well spoken with a genteel accent and manner, and to this day most local people refer to him as Colonel Anderson.150 He was a man that Hume could be proud to have representing them. Fuller however was a slightly odd looking man, and by accounts he was a very loud, passionate speaker, who was, at times likely to rant about things he was passionate about without thought for tact, as some news articles show. He was heavily involved in the Labor movement all his life, a small business owner, with no mention of military service despite being the right age in WWI, Fuller was born and bred in Hume and prided himself on being a “man of the people.” Today Fuller would probably be classified as “the Aussie Battler.” Despite their differences, Anderson and Fuller are almost identical in their references to the Hume electorate and country issues, which link directly to country-mindedness. Both Anderson and Fuller spoke extensively about rural development, a mainstay of country-mindedness thinking, in their maiden speeches. In 1943 Fuller said “the farmers throughout this country should have all the facilities that we can give them.”151 He refers in particular to electricity and roads and six years later in 1949 Anderson said, “The electors in my electorate have lacked such conveniences of civilized life as electricity, water and good roads.”152 Both described the Hume electorate as a place of agriculture with Anderson saying of the people of Hume, “they have provided wheat, wool, meat and a thousand other commodities”153 and Fuller claiming Hume “is perhaps the most fertile electorate in Australia. We have beef, wool, dairying, maize, millet, fruit and tobacco and great resources of timber.”154 It is interesting to note that Anderson refers to the people of Hume as “they” but Fuller uses the word “we” when referring to the Hume. Both politicians also spend time praising the people of Hume. Fuller always referred to them as “The great hardworking people of Hume.”155 Anderson refers to them as having fulfilled their social contract in providing resources for Australia.156 However, Anderson also often made reference to the “kindly reception” he received wherever he had been speaking and the good manners of the people of Hume in particular “bosses and men in lonely bush places.”157 This also may say something about the candidates with the gentlemanly Anderson valuing the manners of his constituents and Fuller, the battler, valuing their hard work.

Because Anderson and Fuller seem to be very similar in their levels of popularity and in their views of the electorate it is necessary to explore other factors that may be responsible for the marginal nature of the Hume seat.

In Hume, as with all electorates, many people devoutly voted for their party regardless of the candidate or national issues. This was illustrated by several of the women in the Young Historical society who, when asked which candidate they voted for one said, “I would have voted Labor, I always voted Labor because my father did.”158 Interestingly another Lady told me that her family had always voted Labor, her father had been a shearer, rouseabout and farm labourer. She turned 21 after her father returned from World War II and he was given a soldier settler block and from then on, he demanded that the family vote Country Party because they were “now land owners not workers.”159 This represents some of the changes that were occurring in Hume when Fuller and Anderson were battling for the seat. There was a large base of Labor voters in this area, because they had been workers and Labor had, as was demonstrated in the 1943 case study been good at providing country candidates. However many of these Labor voters were now landowners, through closer settlement and soldier settler’s schemes, and ex-soldiers, which gave them an affiliation with Anderson. Similarly, many of the larger graziers, who had always voted Country Party, no longer existed in the Hume area. The farms had been dispersed between sons, and broken up through closer settlement schemes.160 Although many of these people still voted Country Party, their children were often workers and had lost some of the close association with agriculture, which may have changed the way they voted.

These changes in demography and the economy of Hume meant there was a body of people who no longer adhered to traditional voting patterns. They had affiliation with both the Labor Party and the Country Party and with both Fuller and Anderson. This group of voters were then influenced by the national and local issues that of the time, in deciding who they would vote for in a particular election. In the 1951 election, it was local issues that caused a change in representative for Hume, whilst in 1961, it appears to be based more on national issues and the 1955 election was a mixture of both.


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