Thursday, August 19, 2010

Belshaw's World - Drummond's uphill election battle

Drummond may have gained Progressive Party pre-selection, but he still faced a hard battle to gain election for Northern Tablelands.

Under the new electoral system, three members were to be elected. Drummond considered, accurately, that the Labor vote would be disciplined and that their number one candidate, Australian Workers' Union organiser Alfred McClelland, would certainly be elected first. He also considered, again accurately, that Colonel M.F. Bruxner, the Progressives' star candidate, would be elected next. This left Drummond contending for third place against a galaxy of candidates, including two sitting members, F.J. Thomas and H.W. Lane.

If that were not difficult enough, each Progressive candidate had to organise his own campaign committee and pay for his own personal expenses including publicity, printing, advertising and travel. This was no problem for the wealthy and popular Bruxner, but it was quite another matter for the still poor and struggling Drummond.

During the campaign, a local stock inspector described the Drummond campaign organisation as 'one newspaper and a handful of cockies'. They may only have been 'a handful of cockies', but their loyalty and work were vital.

The support given by Drummond's old friends from Mt. Russell, the Coshs, was particularly important. Supported by brother Arthur, Leonard Cosh appointed himself Drummond's advance agent and political secretary. Their uncle, Stephen Cosh, provided transport.

Stephen Cosh had recently lost his wife. He offered to drive Drummond around the electorate free of charge 'except for petrol and a tyre or two', subject to the condition that he would not stay in hotels because of his nervous condition.

This offer was a Godsend to Drummond, who had a store of inexhaustible energy and a powerful voice, but little money.

Their normal practice was to move from meeting to meeting, up to ten in a single day. Drummond would usually speak in the open air, then adjourn to a room with his local committee to sign scrutineer and other forms and lay out the plan of organisation. After the meetings were finished, he and Stephen would retire, often as late as 1 am, to a quiet place in the countryside to spend the night.

They had always to be ready for the unexpected. Arriving in Ashford one night, they found the whole village in darkness, for the circus was in town and the whole countryside was at it. With no chance of coming back, Drummond asked the manager if he could speak at half-time. The manager responded dubiously, “that if I could stand it he supposed he could.”

At interval, Drummond bounded into the ring with a small wooden box. "Ladies and Gentlemen”, he said. “My name is David Drummond Progressive Candidate at the forthcoming State Election. Take a good look at me and make up your mind what you think of me. Vote Drummond No. 1". He then grabbed the box and made a fast exit before the bottles etc. began to fly!

Drummond’s political message was simple. His theme was always 'Decentralization, Development and Decent Government'. He usually finished by saying that “'Parties, Platforms and Policies' existed for only one reason, 'the good government of the people.' When they ceased 'to serve this end they should cease.'”

The Northern press with its new state emphasis played an important role in the Progressive's campaign. Progressive candidates such as Drummond were generally already separatists, and could therefore both identify with and be identified with the Thompson led newspaper campaign for statehood for the North.

Press support was particularly important for the lesser known Drummond.

Drummond's old friend, Ernest Sommerlad, supported him strongly through his paper the Glen Innes Examiner. In addition, Sommerlad persuaded the supporters of F.J. Thomas, the sitting member for Gough (Inverell and Glen Innes), to exchange preferences with Drummond.

This preference deal proved critical, for on 20 March 1920, Thomas’s preferences put Drummond into Parliament.

The result was a surprise to many. As The Land put it some years later:

“Mr Drummond was a young farmer of Inverell. He had ideas, and had been active in the Farmers and Settlers' Association. No one knew much about him, but that was of no consequence. He proceeded to tell them. There were no widely signed requisitions for him to contest Northern Tablelands. They were not required. He had made up his mind. He informed the electors he knew about politics, and would be able to run the country as it ought to be run. At first he was not taken seriously, but he was quite confident the people would elect him to Parliament, and they did.”

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 11 August 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


Geoff Robinson said...

The PR system did make for much more interesting and representative contests! If only the current NSW govt could be persuaded to reintroduce it in the hope of holding a few seats...

Jim Belshaw said...

It did indeed. Interesting point on NSW Labor, Geoff. With three member seats, they would end up by holding a minimum of a third of the seats, maybe more than 40%. The way things stand at the moment, they could be reduced to a rump.

In terms of our joint interest in history, if the coalition were in fact to wipe out in New England at Federal level as I suggested, that would be a significant historical moment.

It's interesting reading the on-line editions of the local papers. They are no where near as good at giving a local feel as the print editions.