Monday, February 1, 2010

James Scullin

I know who James Scullin is because I saw him the other day. Well, no I didn't see him. I'm not seeing ghosts of past Australian Prime Ministers. I saw his name while researching Joseph Lyons. Scullin came before Lyons as Prime Minister. Since Lyons was the tenth Prime Minister, Scullin would be the ninth.

Speaking of ghosts, I watched part of one of those ghost hunter shows yesterday. I usually don't watch those shows because they look boring and silly to me. But this one was about Port Arthur so I decided to give it a try. The beginning was great. A tour guide there shared her stories and experiences. The stories were great. But when they got to the ghost hunting stuff.....BORING. I totally believe in ghosts, and I totally can believe that Port Arthur is haunted. But to sit there and watch these investigators get excited over footsteps? Not my cup of tea. I think I'd rather watch a fictional ghost story where something more substantial happens. I don't want footsteps. I want trees grabbing children from their windows, and clown dolls attacking from under the bed. I want blood oozing from walls and heads spinning. Well, I wouldn't want those things in real life, of course. But they're fun in movies.

I hear footsteps in my house all the time. I just assume they're animals in the attic. Maybe I'm wrong. And if they're ghosts, I say fine. As long as they don't bother me, I won't bother them. We can all exist happily together.

Oh yeah. This post is supposed to be about a Prime Minister. Let me back to him.

Lord Wiki has a picture of Scullin. To me, he looks like someone who should have a southern accent. I don't know why. I can't picture an Australian accent coming out of his mouth. I picture a Texas one.

Baby James was born in Trawalla Victoria. I'm looking at Google Maps now. It's about forty-five minutes west of Ballarat. If our 2012 Australia plans work out, we'll be passing it on our drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. From what Lord Wiki says, Trawalla is best known for being the birthplace of James Scullin.

He was born on 18 September 1876. His parents were both Irish. Daddy Scullin was a railway worker. James attended state primary schools.

When he got older, Scullin worked as a grocer in Ballarat. He kept up his education with night school and trips to the public library. He also participated in debating clubs.

In 1903, Scullin joined the Labor Party. He would have been about twenty-seven then. Around that time, he also helped out with the Australia Workers Union, and he became an editor for a newspaper in Ballarat called the Evening Echo.

Scullin became Prime Minister in 1929. He was Australia's first Roman Catholic Prime Minister. The Prime Minster before him was conservative Stanley Bruce. Although Bruce was out of office, the conservatives still had control of the senate when Scullin was in there. 

Two days after Scullin took the job as Prime Minister, the stock market crashed in NYC. Wow. That's a lot to have on your leader-of-a-country plate.

As I talked about in the Lyons post, there was a lot of debate over what to do about the Depression. The Treasurer Ted Theodore wanted to inflate the economy with deficit spending. Future Prime Minister Lyons did not like this approach. I think I understand what Lord Wiki is saying. Theodore's approach is where you spend what you don't have with hope that you can build up the economy. I can look at it with a small-scale analogy. Two people want to start a restaurant. They both don't have a lot of finances to start with. Person A borrows a ton of money so he can rent a nice property, hire a lot of people, and have impressive ingredients. He feels he can make a lot of money, and then pay it back. Person B worries this is dangerous. He starts his business by opening up a small restaurant in his own kitchen. He doesn't have the money to hire anyone so he does all the cooking, cleaning, and serving himself. He can't afford fancy ingredients, so he makes do with what he already has. He feels that as he slowly makes money, he'll build up his restaurant.

Does that analogy work, or do I have it all wrong? Well, I hope it's at least a little accurate.

Mr. Theodore would be the one wanting to borrow money for his restaurant. Unfortunately the guy was accused of corruption. This was known as the Mungana Affair. It allegedly happened when Theodore was the Premier of Queensland. It involved property ownership. With all this going on, he couldn't be Treasurer anymore. Scullin took on the job himself. Then he rushed off to the United Kingdom to get a loan from them.

Oh this is interesting. Scullin didn't just get a loan while in London. He also got King George V to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs as Governor-General. This was significant because Isaacs was the first Australian-born Governor-General. Some people were not happy with this development. They felt it signified that Australia was becoming a republic. For some folks, that's a negative thing. They want to keep that connection to Mother Britain. Well, it's eighty-years later and the connection is still there. I guess we can say that the appointment of Isaac Isaacs did not severe the ties.

As I said in the post about Lyons....with Scullin out of the country, Lyons and the Deputy Prime Minister sneaked in some conservative economic stuff.

Then Scullin returned from England. When he got back, he reinstated Theodore as Treasurer.

Now Scullin was caught in the middle of two sides. On the right you have Lyons who has jumped ship and joined the conservative boat. He's now the daddy of the party that will eventually become the Liberal Party. Then on the left, you have Jack Lange. To him, Theodore's leftist economic policies were too much on the right.

Have you ever felt caught between two extremes like that? I have! My big example is with parenting. We're very left of mainstream. We homeschool. We've done full-term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, used a sling, etc. To mainstream parents, we're total hippies. But then I've encountered parents who are much more on the left of us. They make me feel all mainstream because we vaccinate, diapered, circumcised, and eat cooked food in our house.

Scullin already had lost part of his Labor Party to the new United Australia Party. Now Jack Lange was defecting with his Lang Labor Group. Poor Scullin. His ship slowly began to sink because his party no longer had the majority in the House of Representatives. Lang's party sided with the United Australia Party. Now that's really stinky. If you're way on the left, why would it be more preferable to side with the party on the right rather than the one in the middle? What was Lang's game plan here?

Anyway, Lyons became Prime Minister. Scullin stopped being Prime Minister. But he did continue to be the leader of the Labor Party. He resigned from that role in 1934, and John Curtin became leader. Scullin stayed in Parliament though, and was an adviser to both Curtin and Chifley. Then in 1949, he resigned from it all together.

Ah. Here's something about the Lodge. Scullin didn't stay there because he felt it was too costly. Instead, he stayed at a hotel in Canberra when needing to be near Parliament. Other times, he and his wife lived in their house in Melbourne.

I wonder about that. Would it save a lot of money if country leaders simply remained at the houses they bought with their own money? Does it waste a lot of tax payer money for leaders to live in big fancy mansions? It probably does. I never really thought about that before. I want to argue that there'd be commuting costs. But country leaders have to travel so often anyway.

Now Scullin's decision not to use The Lodge differs from John Howard's. Howard did not remain in his own humble self-bought property. He lived in Kirribilli House in Sydney. I think that was more about him rejecting Canberra. This article points out that the commuting cost of such a decision WAS very costly to taxpayers. I guess we'd have to compare the cost of commuting to the cost of upkeeping the house. And if a Prime Minister chooses not to live in the house, does it make upkeeping the house that much cheaper? I'm sure it's still open to the public, so electricity, gas, etc. still has to be paid for.

All right. I'm done with Lord Wiki. I'm going to take a break, and then read the government Prime Minister site.

I'm back. I did some leg exercises with my lovely ankle weights. I'm sure you all wanted to know that.

I'm going to start with the Before Office page.

Daddy and Mommy Scullin had nine children. Hey, they were Catholic, remember? Our James was child number five. I guess we could say he was a middle child. Actually that would put him smack in the middle, wouldn't it? I'm a middle child too. Scullin and I have something else in common.

Like many people in the bygone days, Scullin dropped out of school to work. He was fourteen when it happened to him.

Around 1900, Scullin became the manager of a grocery store in Ballarat. He kept himself very busy in the community. One of the groups he involved himself with was the Catholic Young Men's Society. He had particular interest in something called Rerum Novarum. I'm not sure why that's significant. I shall see if Lord Wiki will explain it to me.

Well, Lord Wiki says it was written by the Pope Leo in 1891. It's about the conditions of the working class. It sounds like Rerum Novaram was fairly centrist. It supported worker's unions, but rejected Communism. On the other hand, it rejected unrestricted capitalism.

I'm noticing a theme in this post. It's all about the middle....We have the Rerum Novaram which Lord Wiki describes as being in the middle. Scullin was caught between right and left wing economics when he was Prime Minister. AND he was the middle child.

Scullin continued with his grocery store job as he advanced in the political world. He joined the Labor Party.

In 1906, Scullin tried to get the Ballarat seat in Parliament. He lost to Deakin. I'm not sure if this was local or Federal Parliament. Well, I'll just look up Deakin. Okay, it was Federal. And Deakin was actually Prime Minister at the time. He had the seat from 1901 until 1913.

In 1910, Scullin got a seat, but it wasn't the Ballarat one. He got the seat of Corangamite. He had it for three years, and then lost it. He busied himself with being a newspaper editor. I guess he was still partly involved with politics though. He involved himself with the anti-conscription movement within the Labor Party.

By 1922, Scullin had his butt in a seat again. This time it was the seat of Yarra. He would have that seat until he retired in 1949.

Goodness. There's another caught-in-the-middle thing here. The website says, though consistently opposed to compulsory enlistment, Scullin was neither an unwavering pacifist like Frank Brennan nor a militant Irish nationalist like Hugh Mahon.......

There was a lot of Irish stuff going on. I can imagine it was tough for Irish-Australians. Their Australia had these very strong ties to the Mother Britain. And Mother Britain hasn't always been nice to Ireland. So if you're Irish-Australian....well, you might be caught up in the middle of the turmoil.

Now I'm going to read the In Office page. With Scullin as Prime Minister, Labor had a nice majority in the House of Representatives. They had forty-six of seventy-five seats. The problem was they did NOT have the majority in the Senate. There they had only seven out of thirty-six seats.

Scullin was the first Labor Leader in Australia for thirteen years. Now I think they're referring to Andrew Fisher. Although Billy Hughes, who came after Fisher, started out as a Labor Prime Minister. But he stopped being Labor very soon after becoming Prime Minister. That was 1916. Wait. I guess that would be thirteen years before Scullin was Prime Minister. So they WERE referring to Hughes and not Fisher.

The website points out that when Scullin became Prime Minister and formed his cabinet, no one in the group had ministerial experience...not even Scullin. That's pretty interesting. They were all newbies....well, sort of. It's not like they were totally lacking in political experience. They just hadn't been Ministers before.

Scullin had a rough time because of The Depression. The website says that Australia's problems were less about the Stock Market crash in New York, and more about the fact that they had a lot of debts to repay. I'm guessing though that it was a mixture of both.

The website talks about the reaction to Issac Isaacs becoming Governor-General. Some Australians equated it to treason. They thought it was some kind of conspiracy. Maybe Socialist? Maybe Jewish? There were all kinds of ideas......

Now I'll read the After Office Page. It says that later in his life, Scullin was an advocate for The Commonwealth Literary Fund. This provided grants for writers. I'm all for supporting writing and reading.

His retirement from Parliament in 1949 was due to bad health. He had renal failure. That's no fun. He died in 1953.

The Fast Facts page says that Scullin was the only red-haired Prime Minister. That fits with the whole Irish-bit. I think of red-haired people as being Irish. But I wonder if there truly is a higher incidence of red hair in Irish people.

Well, Lord Wiki says that it's actually the Scottish who have the highest proportion of redheads. They're at thirteen percent. The Irish are in second place with ten percent having red hair.

Scullin played the violin. I have a cousin who's really good at that. She's in a professional orchestra and everything. And currently, my friend's daughter is learning to play.

Scullin made the choice in his life not to drink and smoke. I like that, because I don't drink or smoke. I do eat a lot of junk food, but I've greatly reduced that in the past few weeks.

I'm moving on over to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. There might be something I haven't learned yet. Or sometimes there's something I did read, but I didn't understand it enough to report on it. Then I read it again, and I understand it better. Sometimes it's just reading the same thing multiple times hammers it into my brain. Other times, it's a matter of one website explaining it in a way that's easier for me to understand than another website.

I haven't talked much about Scullin's marriage. He tied the knot in 1907 with Sarah McNamara. She was an Irish dress-maker living in Ballarat. The two never had any children. I'm not sure whether this was by choice, or not. I'm guessing though that in those days, choosing to remain childless was a rarer choice. Even in these days, with overpopulation causing massive problems, people who make this choice receive grief from judgemental people. Wow. We really do live in a crazy world.

I've heard some people say that those who choose to not have children are selfish. Yet many people have children just so they can pass on their precious genes and/or have a little mini-me. Of course, I don't think ALL parents are like that! But some are, and I think they're much more selfish than those who decide to not have children.

Okay. I'll get off my soapbox. Oh, but it's so damn fun up here.

The bio-dictionary says that around 1918, Scullin became quite radical in his Socialist and Pro-Irish views.

He supported the White Australia Policy. That's a bit disappointing, but not surprising.

The website says, Scullin was of medium height and trim build. He had handsome, regular features, which afforded cartoonists little scope for caricature. I think that in itself is kind of funny. Or maybe it's sad. Is it easier to make fun of physically ugly people? Well, maybe not these days. Plenty of people make fun of Paris Hilton, and she's attractive.

The website says he was somewhat puritanical and therefore supported literary censorship. That's a bit disturbing. He lived a pretty modest life, and did not invite much scandal into his personal affairs.

The website says that when the New York Stock Market crashed, the Australian public payed little attention. They had their OWN issues.

I think I probably tend to see the Stock Market Crash as the cause of worldwide disaster. But realistically, it was probably more a symptom of what was going on all over the world. The Stock Market crash was probably more of a sign of trouble than an actual cause of trouble.

During Scullin's first months in office, he had to deal with an issue with miners. There was a lockout in the coalfields in New South Wales. I had to go and find out what a lockout is. I figured it was similar to a strike. Well, it's almost like the opposite. In a strike, the workers refuse to work. In a lockout, the employers refuse to let the employees work. However, Lord Wiki says a lockout is often CAUSED by a strike.

Anyway, Scullin tried to fix things. And his plans resulted in the workers having to return to work on the employer's terms. Many people were unhappy with that.

Other things that Scullin did in the beginning of his term were: suspending compulsory military training, increasing social service payments, and reducing assisted migration. Assisted migration was for the British, right? So maybe he wasn't that racist. Although he might have wanted Australia to be white, he didn't want to go as far as bringing in more white people.

I think Obama could probably relate to these lines. Scullin's reputation as prime minister has suffered at the hands of polemicists who ignore some of the financial problems facing him, problems not of his making. Much of the damage to the economy had been done before he entered office.

People hate Obama and blame him for our economic problems. But it's not like we had a great economy, and he came in and ruined it all. He's trying to fix a country that's very broken, and it's not easy.

Well, that's about all I'm going to say. I'll leave it at that. I need to put away the laundry.