Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Belshaw's World - 1919: an election campaign begins

With the Federal election campaign now underway, my mind was thrown back to an earlier campaign. This is the story of that campaign.

One Sunday in 1919, twenty-nine year old share farmer David Drummond delivered the sermon at the church on a property near Inverell. Inverell stock and station agent Ray Doolin was in the congregation.

“We were looking for new candidates (for the Progressive Party), young men for preference”, Doolin later recalled. "Next day I got a few together … and went out to the farm. Drummond was working on shares ... He was very surprised and said he would give us an answer after he discussed it with Farmers and Settlers members and his friend Arthur Cosh.”

A few days later Drummond said he would stand.

The new party may have had a name, but they certainly had no political organisation. Drummond agreed to take on the role of electorate organiser for the newly created three member Northern Tablelands seat, subject to two conditions.

First, he later wrote, “that my acceptance would not invalidate my right to be a candidate. When I had received their assurance that I would still be eligible to contest at the elections, my next condition was that I would accept no payment for my services apart from out of pocket expenses.”

Drummond threw himself into the organising campaign. During the first six weeks, he covered all the Tablelands except for Tenterfield, where another candidate (Michael Bruxner) was well organised.

Drummond’s efforts met with considerable success except in Armidale, where ill-health (he had badly overtired himself) led to the failure of the first organising attempt. He returned to Armidale on Saturday 24 January 1920, and this time successfully formed a branch. He also met R.N. Hickson, a local architect and former New South Wales cricketer, who was to be his electoral secretary and a key supporter for forty years.

Drummond's speech at the second Armidale meeting was typical of his message.

The National Party, Drummond told his Armidale audience, 'was controlled purely by vested city interests and the Labor Party by the industrial interests of Sydney.' Since Parliament was controlled by city interests supported by the city press, the country had been neglected. Further, the pre-selection systems used by those city parties had degraded government and politics. The only solution was a party that represented country interests, that would provide cross country railways and ports, and stop the drift to the city. Drummond summarised the Party's policy as 'decentralization, development and decent government.'

With the organising campaign well under way, the Progressive's Electorate Council met at Glen Innes early in the year to consider candidates.

In addition to Drummond, seven nominations had been received from the branches: M.F. Bruxner (grazier and stock and station agent of Tenterfield); J.S. Crapp (grazier of Uralla); F.B. Fleming (grazier of Moree); P.R. Little (grazier and storekeeper of Bundarra); G.B. Ring (financial agent of Inverell); George Codrington (journalist of Inverell); and A. Piggot (orchardist and farmer of Inverell).

The meeting was to be a very difficult one for Drummond.

The Progressives, whose slogan was 'No pre-selection or pledge', were strongly opposed to any form of pre-selection of candidates. Any Party member in good standing was entitled to run.

That was fine, but only two candidates could hope to be successful in the three member electorate (Labor was assured of the third seat), while there were also financial problems associated with large numbers of candidates.

An immediate move was made to reduce the number of candidates by excluding Drummond. “It was apparent from the outset”, he later recalled, “that the other candidates ... with perhaps two exceptions ... [felt] that I had had a flying start and ... must be excluded.”

It was to avoid just this possibility that Drummond had gained the assurances from the president and secretary of the Council that his organising work would not invalidate his candidature, and he refused to budge.

The Council then packed the candidates off to the Municipal Council Chambers to debate who should withdraw. Just before lunch it was proposed that the candidates should have a ballot among themselves to select the three or four most likely to succeed. Drummond rejected this: he politely told the group that he had been invited to run, was correctly nominated, and until his Committee asked him to withdraw 'there was nothing doing'.

I will continue this story in my next column.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 28 July 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010

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