Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Belshaw's World - memories of political battles past

My last column began one Sunday in 1919 when twenty-nine year old Inverell share farmer David Drummond was asked to stand for the newly formed Progressive Party in the multi-member Northern Tablelands, Legislative Assembly seat.

Drummond agreed to stand and then threw himself into organising for the new party. Early in 1920, the Party’s electorate council met in Glen Innes to consider the eight nominations that had been received. Party rules dictated that any member in good standing could run, but it was clear that only two candidates could be successful.

There was immediate pressure on Drummond to withdraw. He refused, and the candidates were packed off to the Municipal Council Chambers to decide among themselves 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.

Immediately after lunch the candidates, with Drummond dissenting, asked the Electorate Council to indicate which four were most likely to succeed. The Chairman, Colonel H.F. White, refused on the grounds that 'it would be really pre-election selection which they had come into existence as a Party to destroy'. The candidates returned to the Council Chambers.

The pressure was intense. 'We are getting nowhere', one candidate said angrily, 'Drummond is a beggar to argue'. As a number of candidates needed to catch the 5 pm southbound 'Glen Innes Mail', the other candidates agreed that they should hold a ballot among themselves to select the most likely four, but that the result should not bind Drummond. Drummond, 'heartily sick of playing a lone hand all-day', agreed, as did Council Chairman White. One candidate, Fleming, withdrew, leaving seven candidates in the ballot.

Drummond came fifth. Catching the south-bound 'Glen Innes Mail' that night for Uralla where Pearl and the children were staying at nearby Arding, Drummond realized that publication of the ballot result must damage his changes. He therefore decided to return to Inverell where the FSA District Council was meeting the next day to get its endorsement for his action. That decision changed his life, for waiting on the Uralla platform next morning he

.. met a farmer who casually remarked "All the other candidates are going down to meet Central Council tomorrow. I suppose you will be going". In a flash I replied just as casually "Yes I will be going" though it was the first I knew of it.

In many ways this deliberate attempt to exclude Drummond from the field is not surprising.

He almost certainly did not appear a good candidate to party officials. He was young, very deaf (and adequate hearing aids were still some years off); relatively unknown outside his own district and a non-smoker and non-drinker lacking in easy social graces. Equally, his stubbornness at Glen Innes had not endeared him to the other candidates or their supporters.

This stubbornness now came to his aid. He calculated that he just had time to travel to Inverell as planned: north by train to Glen Innes then sixty-eight kilometres across country, get a letter from his District Council stating that they still regarded him as a properly endorsed candidate, then get back to Glen Innes to catch the 5 pm south-bound train.

Next morning Drummond presented himself at the FSA's Sydney headquarters where the Party's Central Council was to meet. The Party's General Secretary (J.J. Price, also General Secretary of the FSA) tried very hard to convince Drummond that he should withdraw. Drummond refused, produced the Inverell District Council letter, and was asked to wait. From where he was sitting, he faced the lift.

At that moment one of the chosen 4 at the GI meeting stepped from the lift. I have often heard the expression "So & So was so surprised he literally tripped over his own feet". This was the only occasion on which I have ever seen it. I had been deliberately barred ... from information that the Central C'ncl would interview candidates that morning and here I was calmly sitting outside the Council room when I was supposed to be 400 miles away in the peaceful countryside.

While waiting his turn to speak to the Council, Drummond decided on his approach. He would 'pull no punches' and therefore delivered a vigorous speech finishing with a final shot that reflected both the divisions in the countryside and Drummond's own position as a small farmer:

You claim to be a Farmer's Party yet every attempt has been made to prevent the one bona-fide farmer from being endorsed as a candidate. At present your team consists of two Graziers, a store keeper & a money lender. If you think with this team you are going to beat the Labor Party which has one if not two genuine Farmers in its team, then I believe you will find yourself badly mistaken.

The appeal was successful. Next day it was announced that Drummond had been endorsed as one of the Progressive Party candidates.

In my next column I will tell the story of that first election campaign.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 4 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

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