Labour History

“More Like a Swagman than a Parliamentary Candidate”: Federal Election Meetings in Rural New South Wales and Victoria, 1910–22

Labour History (2018), 114, (1), 37–51.


Public meetings were one of the key electioneering methods employed in early twentieth-century Australia. These meetings and the beliefs that surrounded them did much to shape the era’s broader approach to electioneering. Rural candidates embarked on extensive tours of their constituencies, reinforcing a political culture focused on local representatives. Wide-ranging networks of party supporters were required to organise and publicise these tours, and so the public meeting also helped sustain a need for large party memberships. Meetings could be used to target some voter groups, but the time-consuming character of candidates’ tours meant that this potential was not often fully realised in the country.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


1.Colin A. Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,”inElectioneering: A Comparative Study of Continuity and Change, ed.David Butler andAustin Ranney(:Clarendon Press, 1992), 88, 100, 103;Sally Young, “A Century of Political Communication in Australia, 1901–2001,” Journal of Australian Studies 27, no.78(2003): 104, 108;Sally Young, The Persuaders: Inside the Hidden Machine of Political Advertising(:Pluto Press, 2004), 24, 83–85;Stephen Mills, The Professionals: Strategy, Money, and the Rise of the Political Campaigner in Australia(:Black Inc., 2014), 82–88. Google Scholar

2.Ian Ward, Politics of the Media(:Macmillan, 1995), 185–89;Young, The Persuaders, 236–48. Google Scholar

3.Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,”88;Young, The Persuaders, 155–56. Google Scholar

4.Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,”88;Ward, Politics of the Media, 216–21;Young, The Persuaders, 80–86, 109–10;Mills, The Professionals, 260, 262–63. Google Scholar

5.Stephen Mills, The New Machine Men: Polls and Persuasion in Australian Politics(:Penguin Books, 1986), 8–10; Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,” 103–104;Young, The Persuaders, 52–56, 63–66, 68–70, 228–30;Mills, The Professionals, 196–202, 243–46. Google Scholar

6.Mills, The New Machine Men, 8–10; Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,” 103–104; Young, “A Century of Political Communication,” 104;Young, The Persuaders, 23, 58–64;Mills, The Professionals, 79. Google Scholar

7.Mills, The New Machine Men, 2–3, 95–97;Ward, Politics of the Media, 180, 183–84;Young, The Persuaders, 8–26;Mills, The Professionals, 77–88. Google Scholar

8.Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,” 102. Google Scholar

9. Ibid., 88, 95; Young, “A Century of Political Communication,” 104–105;Young, The Persuaders, 80, 84–85;Mills, The Professionals, 82, 90–91. Google Scholar

10.Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,”88;Ward, Politics of the Media, 217–18;Young, The Persuaders, 49–50. Google Scholar

11.Mills, The Professionals, 91. Google Scholar

12.Hughes, “Australia and New Zealand,”88;Young, “A Century of Political Communication,”97;Young, The Persuaders, 155. Google Scholar

13.Mills, The New Machine Men, 3. Google Scholar

14.Young, The Persuaders, 22. Google Scholar

15.Ward, Politics of the Media, 187–89. Google Scholar

16.P. B. Westerway, “The Election in Parkes,”inAustralia Votes: The 1958 Federal Election, ed.D. W. Rawson(:Melbourne University Press, 1961), 150;Colin A. Hughes andB. A. Knox, “The Election in Brisbane,”inRawson, Australia Votes, 202. Google Scholar

17.R. Hetherington andR. L. Reid, The South Australian Election 1959: Policies, Parties and People(:Rigby, 1962), 92. See alsoJennepher Stephenson, “Townsville North 1963,”inImages and Issues: The Queensland State Elections of 1963 and 1966, ed.Colin A. Hughes(:Australian National University Press, 1969), 325. Google Scholar

18.D. W. Rawson andSusan M. Holtzinger, Politics in Eden-Monaro(:Heinemann, 1958), 76–77;Hetherington andReid, The South Australian Election 1959, 92;James Jupp, Victoria Votes: The State Election of 15 July 1961(Sydney: Australian Political Studies Association:1961), 14. See alsoMurray Goot andSean Scalmer, “Party Leaders, the Media, and Political Persuasion: The Campaigns of Evatt and Menzies on the Referendum to Protect Australia from Communism,” Australian Historical Studies 44, no.1(March2013):73–74. Google Scholar

19.Ian Wilson, The 1958 Federal Election in Yarra(:Australian Political Studies Association, 1959), 12;Creighton Burns, Parties and People: A Survey Based on the La Trobe Electorate(Melbourne: Melbourne University Press:1961), 43;Hetherington andReid, The South Australian Election 1959, 91–92; S. O. D’Alton and Alison Darby, “The Darby for Manly Campaign1964–5,” inPolitics in a Suburban Community: The NSW State Election in Manly, 1965, ed.John Power(:Sydney University Press, 1968), 98; Ian N. Moles, “Townsville South1963,” inHughes, Images and Issues, 310. Google Scholar

20.Westerway, “The Election in Parkes,”151;Hughes andKnox, “The Election in Brisbane,”202;Jupp, Victoria Votes, 10, 14;Burns, Parties and People, 43;K. W. Knight andM. N. B. Cribb, “Salisbury and Sherwood 1963,”289; Moles, “Townsville South,” inHughes, Images and Issues, 310;Neal Blewett andDean Jaensch, Playford to Dunstan: The Politics of Transition(:Cheshire, 1971), 120–21, 240. Google Scholar

21.Marian Simms, “Election Days: Overview of the1901Election,” in1901: The Forgotten Election, ed.Marian Simms(:Queensland University Press, 2001), 10;Clem Lloyd andJolyon Sykes, “George Houston Reid: ‘Dry Dog Days,’”inSimms, 1901, 63–68; Dean Jaensch and Haydon Manning, “‘We Want a White Man’s Continent’: The Free Trade and Protection Campaigns,” inSimms, 1901, 104–109; Clive Beauchamp, “The Macquarie Campaign: The ‘Tried and Trusted’ Local Member,” inSimms, 1901, 158–59; Malcolm Palmer, “Six Local Campaigns: Capricornia, Fremantle, Hunter, Indi, New England, Newcastle,” inSimms, 1901, 167–69, 171–72, 175–77, 180; David Clune“1858–59,”inThe People’s Choice: Electoral Politics in Colonial New South Wales, ed.Michael Hogan,Lesley Muir andHilary Golder(:Federation Press, 2007), 68–72; Lesley Muir, “1874–75,” inHogan,Muir andGolder, The People’s Choice, 160; Lesley Muir, “1877,” inHogan,Muir andGolder, The People’s Choice, 183–84; Lesley Muir, “1880,” inHogan,Muir andGolder, The People’s Choice, 214; Lesley Muir “1882,” inHogan,Muir andGolder, The People’s Choice, 240; Lesley Muir, “1885,” inHogan,Muir andGolder, The People’s Choice, 266–67. Google Scholar

22.Simms, “Election Days,”10; Lloyd and Sykes, “George Houston Reid,” 64–66; Palmer, “Six Local Campaigns,” 171, 175–77, 180. Google Scholar

23.Simms, “Election Days,”10; Jaensch and Manning, “We Want a White Man’s Continent,” 104; Palmer, “Six Local Campaigns,” 167, 172. Google Scholar

24.This methodology was adapted from Takao Fujikawa, “Public Meetings and the Making of Public Opinion in Late 19th Century New South Wales” (MA thesis, Australian National University, December1986), 42–74. This is a study of public meetings generally based on advertisements placed in theSydney Morning Heraldbetween 1871 and1901, rather than of election meetings specifically. Google Scholar

25.It has remained unusual for a country to experience five national elections over a space of ten years. SeeMichael Gallagher andRichard Sinnott, How Ireland Voted 1989(:Centre for the Study of Irish Elections, 1990), 1. Google Scholar

26.See for exampleAlbury Daily News, 18 December1909, 3;Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 9 October1909, 4. Google Scholar

27. Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March1910, 8. Google Scholar

28.On the significance of meetings being opened to the public, seeDavid Goodman, “Public Meetings and Public Speaking in Colonial Australia,” Australian Cultural History 16(1997/98):108. Google Scholar

29.Jon Lawrence, Electing Our Masters: The Hustings in British Politics from Hogarth to Blair(:Oxford University Press, 2009), 57, 153, 188–90;H. G. Nicholas andD. E. Butler, The British General Election of 1950(:Macmillan, 1951), 235;D. E. Butler andR. Rose, The British General Election of 1959(:Macmillan, 1960), 136;David Butler andMichael Pinto-Duschinsky, The British General Election of 1970(:Macmillan, 1971), 315;David Butler andDennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of February 1974(:Macmillan, 1974), 224;David Butler andDennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of October 1974(:Macmillan, 1975), 295;David Butler andDennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1992(:St Martin’s Press, 1992), 241;David Butler andDennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 2001(:Palgrave, 2002), 217. Google Scholar

30.Lawrence, Electing Our Masters, 127. Google Scholar

31. Ibid., 152–53, 188–92;Butler andKavanagh, The British General Election of 1992, 240–41;Butler andKavanagh, The British General Election of 2001, 217. Google Scholar

32.Blewett andJaensch, Playford to Dunstan, 240;Peter Loveday, “The Campaign: Parties and Candidates,”inChallenge from the Nationals: The Northern Territory Election 1987, ed.Dean Jaensch andPeter Loveday(:Australian National University North Australia Research Unit, 1987), 99. Google Scholar

33. Fighting Line, 18 June1914, 8. Google Scholar

34. Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 9 December1922, 2. Google Scholar

35. Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette, 5 December1922, 2. Google Scholar

36. Molong Argus, 16 May1913, 4. Google Scholar

37. Daily Examiner, 8 November1919, 5, 19 November1919, 5. Thomson was not able to speak in Grafton until 9 December, with election day being 13 December. SeeDaily Examiner, 10 December1919, 4–5. Google Scholar

38.Small addressed 25 of the 39 Nationalist meetings advertised in theDaily Examinerin1919, as against four by Thomson, and ten by other speakers. Google Scholar

39.Marian Quartly, “‘Politics Among the People’: Political Housekeeping and the Fusion,”inConfusion: The Making of the Australian Two-Party System, ed.Paul Strangio andNick Dyrenfurth(:Melbourne University Press, 2009), 170–72; Baiba Berzins, “Nationalist Party 1919–1930: Organisation and Ideology” (PhD thesis, University of Sydney, 1972), 236–37, 251. Google Scholar

40.Colin Cleary, Bendigo Labor: A Maintenance of Traditions in a Regional City(:Colin Cleary, 1999), 47–48, 50, 55; Meeting held Saturday May 3rd1913at Shire Reading Room, in Minutes of the Australian Labor Party Dandenong Branch March 8th1913-June 19th1922, Papers of Edward A. Cashmore, MS 12563, Box 3410/4 (a), State Library of Victoria (SLV). Google Scholar

41.Lawrence, Electing Our Masters, 57–58, 153;Nicholas andButler, The British General Election of 1950, 235,Hugh Berrington, “Banbury: A County Constituency,”inThe British General Election of 1955, ed.D. E. Butler(:Macmillan, 1955), 137. Google Scholar

42.See for exampleAge, 2 June1913, 10;Sydney Morning Herald, 18 December1922, 10. Google Scholar

43. Molong Argus, 18 February1910, 4. Google Scholar

44. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April1910, 10. Google Scholar

45. Forbes Advocate, 17 July1914, 6. Google Scholar

46. Forbes Advocate, 28 August1914, 2. That Pigott did consistently speak at four meetings a day over this period is unlikely, but not impossible (see Table 1), however as a Liberal he would almost certainly have refrained from speaking on Sundays. Google Scholar

47. Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser, 26 June1914, 4. Google Scholar

48. Daily Examiner, 18 October1919, 4. Google Scholar

49. Australian Worker, 19 April1917, 19. Google Scholar

50. Warrnambool Standard, 4 May1917, 5. Google Scholar

51. Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 1 September1914, 8. Google Scholar

52. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April1910, 9. Google Scholar

53. Riverine Herald, 25 February1913, 2. Google Scholar

54.Age, 9 April1910, 11. Google Scholar

55.John William Knott, “Speed, Modernity and the Motor Car: The Making of the 1909 Motor Traffic Act in New South Wales,” Australian Historical Studies 26, no.103(October1994):224. Google Scholar

56.George Paterson, “The Life and Times of Thomas Paterson (1882–1952): A Biography by his Elder Son George Paterson,”[21 January1987], in National Party of Australia Victoria, PG 2694, Item 627 A, Box 51, Charles Sturt University (CSU) Regional Archives, Page Research Centre Collection. Google Scholar

57.Parker John Moloney toParker John Moloney Jnr., [1940], in Papers of Parker John Moloney, MS2074, National Library of Australia (NLA). Google Scholar

58.Frank Bongiorno, “Politics,”inHigh Lean Country: Land, People, and Memory in New England, ed.Alan Atkinson,J. S. Ryan,Ian Davidson andAndrew Piper(:Allen &Unwin, 2006), 237. Google Scholar

59. Fighting Line, 19 February1913, 17. Google Scholar

60. Glen Innes Examiner, 23 April1917, 6. Google Scholar

61. Wangaratta Chronicle, 27 June1914, 2. Google Scholar

62. Monaro Mercury and Cooma and Bombala Advertiser, 10 March1913, 2. Google Scholar

63. Hamilton Spectator, 19 February1910, 6. Google Scholar

64.Samuel Mauger to Herbert Brookes, 27 December1912, in Papers of Herbert and Ivy Brookes, MS1924, Box 67, NLA. Google Scholar

65.Meeting Nov. 27 [1909]; Meeting Feb. 22 [1910]; and Creswick Branch PLC 22.3.10, all in Creswick Branch Political Labour Council (ALP), Minutes1904–1930, 1977.0057, University of Melbourne Archives. Google Scholar

66.Minutes of Meeting held Shire Hall Saturday March the 8 at 8:30 pm1913; Minutes of Meeting held Shire Hall Saturday March the 21st at 8:30 pm1913; Meeting held Saturday May 3rd1913at Shire Reading Room; and Dandenong, Minutes of Meeting of PLC 25.4.17, all in Minutes of the Australian Labor Party Dandenong Branch March 8th1913-June 19th1922, Papers of Edward A. Cashmore, MS 12563, Box 3410/4 (a), SLV. Google Scholar

67. Forbes Advocate, 17 July1914, 6. Google Scholar

68.General Meeting held 1st. 11. 19, in Coghill’s Creek Minutes, 1917–1940, in National Party of Australia Victoria, PG 2694, Item 178, Box 20, CSU Regional Archives. Google Scholar

69.John McQuilton, Rural Australia and the Great War: From Tarrawingee to Tangambalanga(:Melbourne University Press, 2001), 15. Google Scholar

70. Worker, 3 February1910, 5. Google Scholar

71. Worker, 17 February1910, 20. Google Scholar

72. Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, 31 October1922, 2. Google Scholar

73. Argus, 17 March1910, 6. Google Scholar

74. Worker, 24 April1913, 2. Google Scholar

75. Albury Daily News, 20 October1922, 3. Google Scholar

76. Daily Advertiser, 5 March1913, 2. Google Scholar

77. Worker, 17 March1910, 13. Google Scholar

78. Age, 16 May1913, 9. Google Scholar

79. Wangaratta Chronicle, 3 March1917, 3; 28 April1917, 3; 2 May1917, 2. Google Scholar

80. Singleton Argus, 26 April1917, 3. Google Scholar

81. Western Herald, 12 August1914, 3. Google Scholar

82. Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, 11 July1914, 2. Google Scholar

83.Sally Young, “Political and Parliamentary Speech in Australia,” Parliamentary Affairs 60, no.2(March2007):237. Google Scholar

84.See for exampleNorthern Star, 10 February1910, 2;Albury Daily News, 21 July1914, 3;Northern Daily Leader, 8 December1922, 1. Google Scholar

85. Hamilton Spectator, 23 November1922, 4. Google Scholar

86.Brian J. McKinlay, “Three Events of National Significance in the Corangamite Electorate, 1910–1918,” Labour History, no.16(May1969):50. Google Scholar

87. Warrnambool Standard, 28 February1910, 3; 2 March1910, 3; 4 March1910, 3. Google Scholar

88.Stephen M. Legg, Heart of the Valley: A History of Morwell Municipality(:City of Morwell, 1992), 92. Google Scholar

89.McKinlay, “Three Events of National Significance,” 51. Google Scholar

90. Gundagai Times and Tumut, Adelong and Murrumbidgee Advertiser, 9 May1913, 4. Google Scholar

91. Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate, 1 November1919, 5. Google Scholar

92.Andrew Thorpe, The British General Election of 1931(:Clarendon Press, 1991), 189;Stephen J. Harrison, “The British General Election of 1924”(PhD diss.,Catholic University of America, 1971), 349, 372. Google Scholar

93.Fujikawa, “Public Meetings and the Making of Public Opinion,” 51. Google Scholar

94. Age, 16 April1913, 10. Google Scholar

95.Jackie Dickenson, Trust Me: Australians and Their Politicians(:UNSW Press, 2013), 81–88, 94–98. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Monnox, Chris