Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Billy Hughes

Billy Hughes is a Prime Minister. At least I think he is. I don't know if he's Liberal or Labor. Maybe Liberal. Yeah. I'm leaning towards Liberal.

I THINK he may have been the head dude during the 1920's. My crystal ball is telling me that. No, I'm joking. I read a book about Australia during that time period. I don't remember much of the book, but I vaguely remember them mentioning Hughes.

Now I'm going to go start my research.

Well, Lord Wiki says I was right about the 1920's. Hughes served from 1915 until 1923. As for whether he's Liberal or Labor....that gets a bit confusing. It looks like he started out as Labor, but then drifted to the Liberal side. I'm sure we'll learn more about that later. Let's rewind to the beginning.

Baby William was born on 25 September 1862, in London to Welsh parents.

Daddy Hughes was Baptist. He was a carpenter at the House of Lords. For those of you as ignorant as me, House of Lords is part of the British Parliament.

Mommy Hughes was a farmer's daughter. She was thirty-seven when she married her son's father. I'm guessing that was pretty old for marriage in those days. Little William ended up being her only child.

When Hughes was seven, his mom died. He was sent to live with his paternal aunt in Wales, but also spent some time with his mother's relatives. This seems typical of those who lost their mother in bygone days. They don't seem to stay with their fathers much. They go off and live with other family.

At the age of about fourteen, Hughes returned to London. He worked as a student teacher. In his late teen years, he lived with his dad and aunt. I wonder if this is the same aunt who took care of him in Wales.

Hughes migrated to Australia in 1884. He would have been about twenty-two. Why did he do this? Was it a spur of the moment decision; or had he been planning it for awhile? Did he go alone; or was family with him?

Lord Wiki says that when Hughes got to Australia he worked as a labourer and bush worker. What's the difference between a labourer and worker?

Well, this dictionary says a labourer is a person engaged in physical work, esp of an unskilled kind.Well, I guess maybe when he did his bush work, he used skill. Who knows....

In 1886, Hughes arrived in Sydney. Where had he been before that?

Anyway, he lived in a boarding house in Moore Park. There he ended up marrying his landlady's daughter....Elizabeth Cutts. The two lovebirds eventually moved to Balmain. Hughes opened up a shop. He did odd jobs, fixed umbrellas, and sold political pamphlets. The latter is pretty interesting. I've never heard of selling political pamphlets. I thought those were usually given away for free.

Hughes joined the Socialist League, and The Single Tax League. He became a street corner speaker for the latter. Wow. So when we see people shouting at us on the streets....who knows. Maybe one day they'll be the leader of the country. I wonder if Obama ever did street corner speaking.

Now I'm reading about this Single Tax League. Lord Wiki says it was an Aussie political party in the 1920's and 1930's. It was an anti-tax group. That's funny. How would that fit with the Socialist League. Aren't Socialists pro-taxes?

The Single Tax League didn't want to get rid of all taxes. They just wanted to reduce it all down to one tax. The party was most popular in South Australia.

Around this time, Hughes also did work with the Australian Workers Union, AND may have joined the Labor Party. Lord Wiki seems a bit unsure about the latter.

In the late 1800's, Hughes got into the New South Wales Parliament via the seat of Sydney-Lang. That seat is gone now....has been gone since 1904.

While part of Parliament, Hughes also became president of the Waterside Worker's Union. Their website says he remained president until 1916. Then he was thrown out because they didn't like his views on conscription. What were his views? Well, I guess I'll find that out later.

I guess having these two demanding roles wasn't enough for Hughes. During this time, he also got himself a law degree. By 1903, Hughes was a Barrister.

Lord Wiki says that unlike most Labor people, Hughes supported Federation. I didn't realize that Labor hadn't supported Federation. I guess I didn't read carefully enough when I studied the Federation stuff. Or maybe I had misunderstood something.

In 1901, he joined FEDERAL Parliament via the seat of West Sydney.

The last person to have this seat was Daniel Minogue. He left in 1969. Could he be related to Kylie and Dannii?

Well, Lord Wiki doesn't mention that, so I'm doubting it.

In Parliament, Hughes opposed Edmond Barton's desire to form a small professional army. Hughes wanted compulsory universal training. I guess this means he wanted military stuff to be required. So, I think that answers my question from before. I'd say that Hughes was PRO-conscription.

Hughes wife died in 1906. The couple had six children together. Hughes didn't send them off to live with an aunt. His eldest daughter took care of the younger ones.

About five years later, he found a new wife....Mary Campbell. I guess she'd eventually become wife of the Prime Minister.

Hughes became Minister of External Affairs in Chris Watson's Ministry. When Andrew Fisher was Prime Minister, Hughes became Attorney-General.

Lord Wiki says that Hughes was the real political brain of the governments. He had SOME of what it takes to be leader, and he probably wanted to be that. But he had a difficult temper...probably due to some digestive problems.

Yeah. It's hard to be a happy joy joy person when you're feeling like crap. I understand.

Now Watson and Fisher were both Labor Prime Ministers, so at this time Hughes was part of the Labor party. When will that change? Is it coming up?

Well, in 1914 Fisher began to be stressed out as Prime Minister. The war got to him, and all that.

Hughes became Labor Prime Minister in 1915. He supported Australia's involvement in World War I, and he believed in conscription. Many people weren't happy with this.

This gets complicated. I think there was some major conflict between the Irish and British at this time. The Irish-Australians were angry about something called the Easter Rising. They were unhappy with the idea of doing something supportive for the British.

I'm reading about the Easter Rising now. It happened in 1916. Basically, the Irish tried to fight for freedom from Britain. They wanted to be a Republic.

On top of all this, there were rumors and accusations regarding WHY Hughes supported the British empire so much. Some folks thought he did it because the British kissed his ass. He liked the attention they gave him.

Is all this true? I don't know. But it's definitely interesting.

All this made the Labor Party lose love for Hughes. In September 1916, they expelled Hughes from the Labor Party. Bye bye.

Although it seems not everyone in the Labor Party abandoned Hughes. When he left, he said Let those who think like me follow me. Lord Wiki says that twenty-four people followed. That's impressive. I'm afraid if I said something like that, I'd be left utterly alone.

Maybe Jack would follow.

Hughes and his buddies formed The National Labor Party. This is all sounding slightly familar to me. Maybe I've gone over it before. Or maybe something similar happened in later history. I think maybe I'm thinking of Arthur Calwell. Wasn't there some kind of split in the Labor Party during his time. And I think maybe that also involved conscription. I could be wrong.

Soon the National Labor Party became the Nationalist Party of Australia. If I'm reading this right, it was developed from a coalition of the National Labor Party and Liberal Party. The party was dominated by Liberal folks, but Hughes became the leader.

I'm trying to understand something here. I have to read it slow.

It seems Hughes made some kind of promise...ultimatum. If his government did not earn the power to do the conscription thing, he'd resign. Well, they didn't earn it. He resigned. But then they couldn't get someone to replace him, so he got back into office.

In 1919, Prime Minister Hughes traveled to Paris for the Versailles Peace Conference. Lord Wiki says he was there for sixteen months. Wow! Isn't that a long time for the Prime Minister to be absent?

Hughes did not get along with the US president of the time....Woodrow Wilson.

I'm not fully understanding why these two men didn't like each other. From what Lord Wiki is saying, it seems to have something to do with war reparations from Germany. Australia demanded reparations, and for some reason that caused conflict. Maybe I'll find more information on that later.

At the peace conference, there was some plan of a racial equality proposal? Some people wanted to include Japan in it. Some people did not. Hughes was one of the people who were anti-Japan. In a way, I can't blame him. Japan did end up doing some very nasty things in later years. But then again, maybe if they felt less excluded, they would have behaved better.

I don't know.

Lord Wiki says that Hughes started losing his political foothold around 1920.

By 1923 he was out of the office. He felt betrayed by his party and held onto anger over this.

It's a bunch of confusing stuff over here. I'll try to understand it. It's kind of like trying to watch a fast game of ping pong.

Okay. Let's see. Hughes supported price controls on produce. The farmer folks didn't like this. The Country Party was formed by rural folks who wanted something different from the Nationalist Party. The Country Party ended up with power. They could choose the next Prime Minister. They formed a coalition with the Nationalist Party, BUT they refused to have Hughes as leader. This kind of reminds me of what happened with William McMahon.

Hughes was pressured to resign. Poor guy.

He bitched about it all in Parliament....allowed it to be known he was unhappy. The Nationalist Party expelled him.

I'm feeling some sympathy for this guy. He's probably not perfect. But it's sad enough to be expelled from ONE political. Two though? That's so sad.

Hughes was a fighter though. He didn't give up and crawl under a rock. He formed a new political party. Australian Party. Later, he made peace with some people and joined the United Australia Party. From what I'm reading, this group eventually became the Liberal Party.

Hughes jumped back into the political limelight. In 1934, he became Minister for Health and Repatriation under Prime Minister Lyon. He did other Ministry stuff under Lyons, and under the Menzies government as well.

In 1937, he ran into controversy again. He wrote a book that angered some people. In this book, he attacked British policies over some German issues. Because of this Hughes was forced to resign from government. But it wasn't over yet for the old guy. Menzies was soon forced to retire as well for some reason. Curtin came into power as Labor Prime Minister. Hughes became Leader of the United Australia Party. I guess that would make him Leader of the Opposition.

When the Liberal Party was formed, Hughes joined that. His last Parliament seat in his life was Bradfield. It's located in the upper North Shore of Sydney, and it's the seat that Brandon Nelson recently vacated (in October). Hughes had that seat until he died in 1952. Wow. He would have been about ninety when he did.

Lord Wiki says he had been a Member of Parliament for fifty-eight years. Apparently, this is some type of record in Australia. Hughes also has the honor of being the oldest Member of Parliament. Although I'm not sure if he has been the oldest ever, or the oldest at that time. Maybe someone later beat him?

He was also the last Prime Minister to be born in the UK.

Well, this Parliament website seems to say that no one yet has beat Hughes as being the oldest Member of Parliament.

In terms of his legacy, Hughes has an electoral district named after him, and a suburb in Canberra. The electoral district is in south-west Sydney.

At one time, Hughes and his wife went on a long drive. They crashed near Albury, and if I'm reading this right....that place was named after him. I'm a little lost.

Now I'm going to jump over to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. I'll see if they say anything that Lord Wiki missed. OR sometimes Lord Wiki says stuff that I don't understand. This website might explain things better.

Daddy Hughes was politically conservative. That might be important. Fathers do influence their kids sometimes. Although Hughes changed political parties so frequently, I'm not quite sure where he stood.

The website says they're not sure why Hughes ended up migrating. They suggest job dissatisfaction. Remember, he had done student teaching. The classes were overcrowded, and all that stuff. Hughes didn't have the best of health, and he was dealing with hearing issues. I guess that made teaching difficult for him. He rushed off to Queensland.

Hughes was an assisted Migrant on a ship called The Duke of Westminster.

His first years in Australia were pretty nomadic. He traveled around doing various jobs.

Hughes dealt with major poverty at times. Then at the Moore Park place, he got a more consistent job as an assistant to an oven-maker.

Hughes supported free trade. Because of this, he at first opposed Federation. But then later, he switched sides.

He supported immigration restriction. He worried that immigrants would undermine wages. He also worried that the cultural and political differences of immigrants might cause erosion. Yeah. People still worry about the same stuff today.

The website says Hughes had eloquence and argumentative ability. I'm sure those talents are useful to politicians.

I'm trying to understand this one. They say Hughes came to England in March 1916. Remember this was when he was Prime Minister of Australia. I guess he became popular over in England. The biographical dictionary says, Some even thought Hughes might be the leader the country needed to replace Asquith. What does that mean? They wanted Hughes to be leader of England? Was Asquith the leader of England?

Well, yeah. Lord Wiki says he was the Prime Minister of England at the time.

So, people in England wanted Hughes to stop being Prime Minister of Australia, and instead come back to his birth land and be Prime Minister there? Wow.

At the Paris conference, Hughes had to fight pretty hard for the right of Australia to be represented independently. I guess some people wanted the UK to speak for them?

At one time, Hughes was struck by an egg in Queensland. This was in 1917. I'm getting that it had something to do with constriction. And it was around the time he made that promise to resign, but then didn't end up resigning.

I'm going to go look at the government's Prime Minister website now. I figure after reading the same story three times, I'll understand it all better.

They say that Hughes still holds the record for being the longest in Parliament. If you discount, the days before Federal Parliament, he was an MP for fifty-one years and seven months.

This website mentions, in a fairly prominent way, Hughes getting the international recognition for Australia as an independent country. So I guess this was one of his most important/memorable contributions.

This background page, says that when the Hughes family lived in Balmain, they lived on Beattie Street. I'll have to find that on Google Maps.

Okay. I see it. Maybe I'll use Street View. I haven't played that game in a long time. Crap. I ended up on Mullens Street. I can never get these things right.

Now I'm on Pashley Street and giving up.

It's probably more important to know that Hughes and his family lived in working class cottages.

This website says Hughes had the gift of gab. He was persuasive. Yeah. Those people really do make good politicians. I'm the opposite. I have the failure of gab. I'm pretty horrible at talking. Although I lecture Jack all the time. Maybe this is good public speaking practice. Is it good parenting? Probably not. I don't think he really listens to me that much.

Here's something interesting. Hughes opposed woman's suffrage. His reasoning was that women were more conservative than men. What? I don't know what offends me more...the fact that he was sexist, or the fact that he didn't want to create voters that might disagree with his politics. I'm so used of sexism. It doesn't phase me that much. So maybe the latter disturbs me a bit more.

Hughes lost a son in infancy. That's very sad, but probably not too unusual in those days. Does that mean it was less sad? I don't know. From what I've read, it seems infant death was more accepted in those days. It seems less of a heartbreak than it does these days. Was that because it was more commonplace? Was it because people in the past were less sentimental towards their children? Or is it simply perception. Maybe it was horribly sad for parents, but in terms of biography....it gets put in as one simple line.

It could be that the tough times forced parents to be resilient. These days maybe parents have more time to wallow in their grief.

When Australia became a Federation, Hughes moved to Melbourne...probably because that's where the Parliament was in those days.

His family stayed in Sydney. His wife ran a bookstore and took care of the kids. Yikes. I wonder if they missed each other.

The wife died of heart disease. What's sad is Hughes stayed in Melbourne while his oldest daughter took care of the kids in Sydney. I hope he returned to visit his family every so often.

The website says Hughes had restless energy and an obsession with physical fitness. I've had periods in my life like that.

Ah, I just read down a bit. They say Hughes had very little contact with his family in Sydney. I think that's sad.

Hughes got married again. His Sydney kids did come to visit him and their new stepmom in London. I wonder if they got along with their stepmom. I wonder if they got along with their dad. Were they angry at him for abandoning them, or was this seem as normal in those days?

Now I'm to the page about his days in office.

One of Hughes nicknames was "Little Digger". This was because he was the Prime Minister during World War I;  and the Australian soldiers were known as diggers. I forgot why they were called diggers. Did it have something to do with mining?

Lord Wiki says there are multiple theories about the origin of the word. He says originally it WAS used for miners. One story says that someone wrote in a letter during World War I, You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe. That might have led to the term, but Lord Wiki won't make any promises.
He says New Zealand called themselves diggers first, and then I guess Australia jumped into the game.

I'm sure some of you will have your own theories you can share with me.

When Hughes spent all that time in England, he left George Pearce as acting Prime Minister. Okay. That makes me feel better. I had thought maybe he left the country high and dry.

Okay, this website gives me a clearer picture of what happened between Hughes and Woodrow Wilson. At the Treaty of Versailles, Hughes was pretty pissed off at Germany. One thing he wanted was control of New Guinea. I guess that had been in control of Germany? Maybe getting the country would be part of reparations for Australia?

Yeah. Wow. I didn't know that. Papa New Guinea was once called GERMAN New Guinea.

Woodrow Wilson fought Hughes on this issue.

Wilson asked if Hughes was willing to fight against the opinion of the whole civilized world. (that sounds like typical bullying to me). Hughes said yes. Wilson reminded him that he had only five million Australians behind him. I guess that was the population at the time? Wilson replied that he represented sixty thousand dead.

Well, I'm tired (still sick) so I'm going to stop here and get some rest.

I look forward to hearing your views on Hughes. Love him? Hate him? Neutral? Come on. Speak up.


  1. Much to be admired about Hughes, but too changeable for my liking.

  2. Andrew,

    He did change a lot. I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing. Maybe?

  3. Dina, as you know I've just read a partial biography about Hughes. I admire him for being the most forthright leader of his era.

    He started as a Labor MP and he was considered the brains of the Fisher ALP government.

    The conscription issue foiled him as a Labor member and PM. I don't know why he insisted on referendums when he could have pushed conscription through parliament. That's a positive in my book, that he wanted a people's mandate.

    Apparently he became friends later with Archbishop Mannix, who symbolically led the anti-conscription campaign.

    You touched on the lack of detail about his early personal life. That's very true. Nobody really knows what he did before becoming a NSW MP.

    He had illegitimate children before having a legitimate daughter, who died tragically n childbirth.

    You mentioned the egg-throwing incident. That led to the formation of the Australian Federal Police because the Queensland Premier (who didn't like Hughes) refused to prosecute the matter.

    Sorry to blog your blog.

  4. Michael,

    Thank you for the information! I didn't find his childhood information any more lacking than most people I've researched...unless someone on the Internet was simply making stuff up. Yikes.

    I guess the information that was a bit mysterious was why he migrated to Australia. I don't think I ever found that. Did the book talk about it?

  5. Such an amazing figure in Australian politics. A member of the house of representatives for over 50 years, he had over 100 secretaries in this time. WOW! Thats what i call staff turn-over. Hughes also founded the CSIRO in around 1915 too. A diverse, complex and inteligent man.

  6. Hi Dina
    I didn't know much about Hughes only about the conscription debate. I think from reading this Hughes was a man of conviction and stood up for what he believed in something I think is severely lacking in today’s politicians who seem to just toe the party line which irritates me to no end. As to me its not Democracy its Authoritarian rule where you do what you are told by the party or you get kick out of the party just like Hughes did.

  7. Australian Bookshop: I'm so excited to get a message from a bookstore. They're my favorite places. I'll have to take a look at your store...well, at least online.

    100 secretaries? Wow. That IS high staff turnover.

    Matt: Hi! I missed you...A LOT.

    I get what what you're saying, and maybe that's what was running around aimlessly in my mind when I read Andrew's comment. Is it worse to frequently change parties and alliances, or worse to cling to one party (and its viewpoints) so you can look consistent?