Billy Hughes’ Canberra Son

Stephen Holt

William Morris Hughes remains the archetypal Judas-figure in the demonology of the Australian Labor Party.  He was a leading figure in the early party but split from it in 1916 over the issue of military conscription and threw in his lot with the anti-Labor forces in federal politics.  There was no reconciliation with his former comrades. 

What is still vaguely remembered, though, is that Billy Hughes had a son who in the grim years of the 1930s was involved in organised agitation in support of unemployed workers thereby creating a piquant contrast with his father’s act of desertionThis latter-day embrace of the labour cause within the Hughes family took place in Canberra and forms a significant episode in its local political history.

 Ernest Morris Hughes, this returning son, was born in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt in 1897[1] at a time when Billy Hughes was a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales.  He was his father’s fourth child and first son.  Although his legal name was Ernest he was known as Bill within the family.  His mother Elizabeth died in 1906 and his widowed father, now Attorney-General in Andrew Fisher’s second federal Labor government, remarried in 1911.

Reflecting his father’s upward mobility young Bill was enrolled at Melbourne Grammar (1911) before going on in 1913 to study at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College in Richmond, New South Wales. In 1916 he volunteered to fight in the Great War.  He was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallery and devotion to duty in an attack on the enemy at Gueudecourt in February 1917.  His father’s friend Keith Murdoch described him as “brave and fearless though somewhat haphazard, and is a great favourite with all except his superiors”.  He never did become an officer.[2]

Billy Hughes regarded Bill as “very much an ordinary boy”.[3] It was newsworthy nonetheless for a son of Australia’s extraordinary wartime Prime Minister to be serving as a private in the ranks.  Wartime press reports readily identified Bill as the “eldest son of Mr W M Hughes” or as “his eldest boy”.[4]  Such attention does not seem to have irked or irritated young Bill; at the very least he did not feel compelled to carve out a separate identity through an act of defiance.  He stuck by his father during the Conscription controversy of 1916-17 which culminated in a split in the Labor Party and the Prime Minister forming an alliance with his erstwhile anti-Labor opponents.  During the lead up to the second conscription referendum in December 1917 Bill, in a letter to his father, declared himself to be “very much in favour” of conscription.  His only regret was that he was too young to be able to vote yes in the referendum.[5]

After the fearfulness of war peace was a let down.  The original intention was for Bill to make his living on the land.  He entered the post-war labour market armed with a reference from the Principal of Hawkesbury Agricultural College who stated that, in his opinion, young Ernest had shown “considerable aptitude” and would prove to be a successful farmer.[6]  Life on the land, with all the attendant financial pressures, was simply too hard in Bill’s case though.  An indication of that something might be wrong came in 1922 when the Age newspaper carried a report of a court case in which Bill Hughes faced a charge of not eradicating saffron thistles on a property at Molka in Victoria.[7] In the event the charge was dismissed.  Bill later gained qualifications as a dairy supervisor[8] and his father, who ceased to be Prime Minister in 1923, was ready to subsidise his farming efforts.  But it all came to nought.  By 1924 Bill had moved from rural Victoria and was residing in the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda where there were no cows or pigs to tend to.[9]

Bill instead was enrolled in the workforce which paved and mended post-war Melbourne’s roads although it seems he was employed in some kind of supervisory role rather than as an actual labourer. Whatever his exact status, life was hard.  His father had wanted him to stay in the country and the two now had little if any contact after Bill moved to Melbourne in 1924.  Over the next few years the young man acquired a wife – her name was Hersee – and they then became the parents of two children (Beryl May and William Morris) without the former Prime Minister having any knowledge at all of these highly significant domestic developments.

By the winter of 1927 Bill was facing something of a crisis.  With his growing domestic responsibilities he was eking out “a meagre existence” in the road construction industry and things were only bound to get worse.  The stone paving methods then in use were being superseded by new-fangled concreting techniques and, furthermore, work increasingly could only be obtained by tendering for contracts let by local municipal councils.  Bidding for such work required cash for security and the deposit and Bill did not have any available money at hand.

Faced with this pressure Bill turned to father to seek further financial help.  In the course of two surviving letters written over the space of nine days[10] he indicated his transformed domestic and employment circumstances before going on to request a loan of £200 so that he could tender for a contract being advertised by the local council in St Kilda.  More generally, he wrote that he would be “greatly relieved to get employment of any kind no matter where it was”.  He believed that he could be employed as a supervisor of road works of any kind.  There was also the hope that, on the strength of his dairy certificate, he might be able to get work in Australia’s brand new bush capital at Canberra. With the move to Canberra Bill’s father no longer had any binding ties to Melbourne so something had to be settled soon before maintaining an intimate contact became harder.

Though he had no intention of unconditionally lending his son the stipulated sum of £200 Billy Hughes was prepared to subsidise his son provided he could keep a direct eye on him and see that he was trying to make good.  He therefore seized on to Bill’s stated willingness to leave Melbourne and come to Canberra.  To advance this scheme in the first instance he went to the top and approached Sir John Butters, the Federal Capital Commissioner, and told him of Bill’s offer to work as a supervisor of road works in the new capital.  Any help at all would be appreciated.[11]

Notwithstanding this approach to the Federal Capital Commissioner, Bill did not receive special treatment when, having accepted the deal offered by his father, he arrived in the national capital in the spring of 1927.  His initial place of residence was at the Capitol Hill Camp near Parliament House.[12]  Here he, once the son of a Prime Minister, dwelt and ate alongside carpenters, linesmen, kitchen staff and other pioneering Canberra workingmen as he settled down to find permanent work.

Bill’s incongruous situation on his arrival in Canberra attracted some initial press interest.  This was not to his liking at all though.  For the moment he bridled at the thought of being used as an oddity to add colour to newspaper coverage of his father’s eternally colourful political career which at this stage centred on hostility to his conservative successor as Prime Minister S M Bruce and his Country Party coalition partners.  Bill’s determination not to provide the press with anti-Bruce comments of any kind seems to have killed off the early journalistic interest.

By the winter of 1928 Bill Hughes’s family was renting a house in Jardine Street, Kingston.  Bill was, he told his father, getting by “quite satisfactorily” on work tended by the Federal Capital Commission, with his father lending him the money (at interest) to cover the security and deposit.  Bill was “extremely grateful” for this assistance.  The hope was that he would soon be self-sufficient, financing new bids for tender from the profits of his previous work.[13]

This shimmering prospect, though, was soon clouded over.  On 16 July 1928, having no contract work currently at hand, Bill wrote to his father to convey the unfortunate news that after searching for work for nearly a fortnight he had been offered a job as a labourer.  He had never had to earn money in this way before; previously he had been a ganger.  It was time for some plain speaking.  After nine months, he told his father, the Canberra experiment had proved to be, in financial terms, “a rank failure’.  Bill realised – leaving his father’s approach to Sir John Butters aside – that the contracts he had been offered to date reflected the FCC’s settled policy of giving preference to married returned men.  He himself in his individual capacity did not have any particular aptitude for generating money through contract work.[14]

Bill went on bidding for contracts from the FCC but there were long periods between jobs.  A flurry of recorded activity occurred in the autumn of 1929 when Bill successfully tended for three contracts.  He continued to rely on his father for the money to cover each bid and Billy as ever continued to urge him to “wade in and make a success of the jobs”.  By landing a succession of contracts his son might finally be able in a year or so to be financially independent. This fond paternal hope lived on.[15]

Bill’s work as a contractor invariably was not without its problems. The severe Canberra winter had to be factored in and stroppy workers could be hard to handle at times.  One contract involved the laying of paving near the Capitol Theatre.  The FCC noted that “a certain portion of the work was not satisfactory, and time was given in which to make it good”.[16]  During this maintenance period the FCC was not obliged to hand over any of the money owing under the contract.

Odd signs of Bill’s involvement in Canberra’s private construction industry appeared in the local newspaper in the latter half of 1929.  On one occasion he advertised for five experienced concreting hands.  Some months later he advertised to do contracting work at a moderate price.[17]

The fatal economic month of October 1929 saw Bill again approaching his father to fund a bid for a “big job in my line”.   Hard times had already commenced.  The son was “a little perturbed because of the depression” but still looked forward to “a moderate amount of work shortly”.[18]  The slump was inexorable though.  On 26 January 1930 Bill informed his father that things were “very bad here” although under the circumstances he was still getting along “comparatively well”.[19]  Reality however could not be denied.  By the following April Canberra, Bill had to admit, had “gone flat”.  The threat of impending dismissals cast a gloom over the entire infant capital.[20]

The Great Depression killed off Bill’s hopes – which his father was desperate to realise  – of his becoming a successful and independent private contractor.  Life had become a battle for sheer survival.  In 1931 Bill’s landlord, it seems, gave him notice to quit his home in Jardine Street although Bill was happy to go because foreclosure meant that he had no more debt.[21]  By 1934, after moving to Giles Street in non-gentrified Kingston, he was involved in road maintenance work that was “strenuous” and “infinitely more arduous” than the same class of work that he had done back in Melbourne.[22]  He gained extra income as best he could; in the spring of 1934 he advertised that he had a six years old milch Jersey cow for sale.[23]

Bill’s father had long since thrown in his lot with the anti-Labor forces in Australian politics.  Bill, however, was ready in the wake of his Depression-era misfortunes to chart an opposite course. He was prepared to return to the bosom of Labor.  His declining standard of living caused him, in 1934, to definitely associate himself with trade union activity and labour politics.  After he became a labourer on the roads he joined the legendary Australian Workers Union. On 11 April 1934 he appeared as a witness for the AWU when annual leave claims by various unions came before the ACT Industrial Board.[24]

Just before Christmas he was included in a deputation which lobbied the Minister for the Interior on behalf the provision of “good conduct holidays” for ACT workers.[25]

Early on in the following year references in the Canberra Times charted his strengthening labour connections.  He was President of the local AWU branch in Canberra[26] and also was Vice President of the Canberra branch of the ALP.[27]

Bill’s new alignment had no impact on his filial affection even though his father was labor’s arch-rat.  He was well aware that his father was dubious about his work ethic in view of his lack of financial prowess and was prepared  on that account to make him the object of his barbed wit (on one occasion he described his son as  a “Roads Scholar”).[28]  He resented his father’s attitude but was determined not to lose contact; he wanted, he told his father, to show his continued pride in and loyalty to the extended Hughes family.[29]

His signal failure to make his mark as a private contractor eased Bill’s integration with the workers and the unemployed of Canberra.  He could rely on being able to connect with a solid body of fellow battlers.  At the start of 1935 there was a concerted push in the Canberra branch of the ALP for the conservative Lyons federal government to shift the balance in its public works employment policy in Canberra away from the carrying out of such work by private contractors in favour of more use of departmentally controlled (and employed) day labour.[30]

On 13 March, following a meeting of relief workers which he chaired, Bill Hughes participated in a deputation which met the Minister for the Interior (Thomas Paterson).  The deputation dwelt on the failure of the Government to provide adequate day labour in Canberra.  Bill’s erstwhile diffidence in the face of journalistic curiosity had become a thing of the past.  There was no more shying away from potential public references to his link to the celebrated Billy Hughes.  He was so eloquent in denouncing stand over tactics by contractors that the Minister suggested that he must have “inherited a certain picturesque touch”.  The Minister, when he came to respond, assured the deputation that Canberra men would be given preference in government contracts.[31]

The Minister also promised that his Department’s current policy of providing one week’s work in five for single unemployed men would be adhered to.  Failure to uphold this guarantee led to another meeting of the unemployed.  Chaired by Bill, it called on the AWU to support a march to Parliament House to demand more relief work for the unemployed.  The meeting also decided to fund and organise efforts to resist eviction orders.[32]  On 8 April Bill chaired the meeting at which AWU endorsement was given to the proposed march.  The demonstration was intended to show that unionists and the unemployed were a united force.[33]

Wednesday night, 10 April, saw an estimated 200 to 250 men, women and children converge on the steps of Parliament House where they were met by various distinguished Labor members of parliament.  A deputation, which included representatives from the Chamber of Commerce (Dr D C Henry and T M Shakespeare) as well as from the unemployed and the AWU, filed inside.  The Minister for Interior told the deputation that there would be one week’s relief work in two for married men and one week’s work in four for single men until June for which month full-time work was expected.  Bill Hughes, when it was his turn to speak, presented another “pathetic and picturesque plea” on behalf of the Depression-ravaged unskilled workforce in Canberra.   A newspaper report of the meeting also highlighted Bill’s confident assertion that the unemployed in Canberra has in fact increased since the Depression – from 200 in 1929 up to 800.  Earlier, in an address from the steps outside he had proclaimed to all the unemployed present that “with true solidarity they could look forward to the day when the emancipation of the workers would be a fait accompli’.[34]  It was stirring stuff.

In September 1935 the people of Canberra had to choose new elected members of the ACT Advisory Council.  As part of its program for the election the Canberra ALP campaigned for the provision of unbroken full-time relief work.  Bill Hughes chaired a meeting which resolved to hold another demonstration at Parliament House.  He also supported a call for further support from the Chamber of Commerce.[35]

On the evening of 25 September, in response to a notice in the Canberra Times, some  1200 men, women and children who had walked for up to five miles demonstrated outside parliament House to show their support for a policy of full employment.  A deputation which included Bill Hughes, the Rev C J S Faulkner, Dr L W Nott and T M Shakespeare from the Chamber of Commerce (and owner of the Canberra Times) then met their old friend the Minister for the Interior who “promised definitely” that relief work during the following 12 months would not fall below one week in two for married men and one week in four for single men.  Full-time work would be provided in the month of June and for a month prior to Christmas. “This was”, the Minister said, “the absolute bedrock rate”.[36]

Bill Hughes was again eloquent in the minister’s presence.  As investigations officer for the anti-eviction cause he had, he said, come into contact with “appalling cases of want, destitution and malnutrition in Canberra”. Such was his fervour on the issue that he had been obliged earlier, in a letter in the Canberra Times, to deny that he was standing as a candidate in the election for the ACT Advisory Council, appearances notwithstanding.[37]

Bill no longer worked on the roads.  He had obtained employment as a gardener, presumably with the Department of the Interior.[38]  Deputations to his Minister in support of the Canberra unemployed had, by 1936, become a fixture of the political calendar and he was invariably included in the event.  On 1 October he was present as chief spokesperson when the Minister outlined the minimum work allocation for the remainder of the 1936-37 financial year to representatives of the AWU and the ACT Trades and Labour Council.[39]

A renewed effort had to be put in once the 1936-37 financial year ceased.  On 27 June, a Sunday, Canberra AWU members, after noting a proposed reduction in relief work after 30 June, agreed to support a further mass meeting in front of Parliament House to hear a report from a deputation.[40]

The deputation met the Minister for the Interior on the following night. Married relief workers, they were angered to learn, had no guarantee of continued work after July and single men, under new arrangements, would lose two weeks of work in every three during the chill winter months  The Minister gained no friends when he suggested that unskilled men might supplement earnings from relief work by trapping rabbits or gardening.  While the Minster conferred with the deputation inside the building a public meeting was convened outside beneath the window of the Minister’s office.  It was chaired this time by a gardener from the Causeway, William Hurley, and the other speakers, “warmly applauded”, included Bill Hughes.[41]  Newspapers as far away as Queensland noted that even as E M Hughes was addressing the open air rally of the destitute his father W M Hughes, clad in a frock coat, was pacing the parquetry floor of King’s Hall inside the building.  It was such a striking contrast.[42]

Clearly desired publicity was being generated in abundance.  To build on the momentum Bill Hurley, as chair and convenor, summoned another public meeting for the following chilly Canberra night in support of a demand for single men to be given at least one week’s work in two.[43]    

In the event the demonstrators proved perhaps to be too successful in attracting public attention.  Following the outbreak of wintry agitation in the capital of Australia the Lyons Government considered that something drastic needed to be done.  It decided to take extraordinary action to prevent any more protest meetings being held in the area immediately surrounding Parliament House.  On 22 July, without any warning, the Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance 1937 was promulgated in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.  This ordinance provided that meetings of more than 20 persons were to be unlawful if any public affairs were discussed at them and that police officers could arrest people present without warrant.  Contrary to accustomed practice the ordinance was not shown to the Advisory Council before it was promulgated.[44] 

The Minister who signed off on the Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance was R G Menzies, the nation’s youngish Attorney-General.  His action was immediately denounced as repressive by the Canberra Times which claimed that the new measure had “created a profound resentment among all sections of the community”.  Labour spokespersons were “particularly bitter”.  The newspaper quoted Bill Hughes as saying that “overseas dictators had apparently imbued the present Government with a desire to enforce such tyrannical methods.[45]  The press presented Bill as the avowed enemy of “Hitlerism” in the national capital.[46]

Hughes reiterated his criticism at a meeting of the Canberra ALP (“wicked and diabolical”).[47]  Four days later a public meeting at the Albert Hall attracted some 300 to 400 people, including, a sympathetic Canberra Times pointed out, a large number of women and public servants.  A committee, which included Bill and a number of clergymen, was appointed to oversee a petition calling on Parliament to suspend the Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance.  The petition also called for self-government for the people of Canberra and for a better deal for the unemployed.[48]

It was hoped that the Albert Hall meeting, where several of the sharp differences that dogged inter-war society – class, gender, sectarianism – were mercifully absent, would cause the Government to withdraw the Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance.  Surely it would back down given the universal opposition (“forcible but dignified”) that it had aroused; there would be no need for open defiance.[49]  Yet in fact it was the protestors who caved in.  On 5 August Attorney-General Menzies announced that his controversial new ordinance would be amended to restrict its operation to within 100 yards of Parliament House (originally it was 300 yards).  In addition, extension of the ordinance by proclamation to other areas of Canberra was ruled out.[50]  The prominent protestor T M Shakespeare, who had rallied the Canberra Times behind the campaign, promptly discovered that the ordinance, as amended, was nothing more than a repetition of provisions that had already existed for years under the Police Offences Ordinance.

These two adverse developments, it is judged,[51] caused the agitation to die down fairly quickly.  Menzies gazetted his amendments on 19 August;[52] five days later, when parliament reassembled, there was no nocturnal protest rally of any kind for the newspapers to cover.  Such a demonstration was clearly illegal and the ad hoc cross-class coalition formed under the aegis of the Canberra Times had no intention of breaking the law.  It melted away.  The Government, sensing the sudden loss of solidarity with the representatives of the unemployed, could afford to be more dismissive of their demands.  On 11 September the Canberra AWU appointed yet another delegation to confer with the Minister for the Interior in relation to relief work.  This time, however, the Minister was unable to make time to see the delegation.[53]

The Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance remained in force but its passage had confirmed Bill Hughes’s unique status.  He was the son of the renegade Billy Hughes who had returned to the bosom of the labour movement and as such had gained national recognition.  The Sydney Morning Herald singled him out as the leader of the unemployed against whom the obnoxious ordinance was particularly directed.[54]

The late winter of 1937 was, on the personal side, a sad time for the Hughes family. On 11 August newspapers carried the news of the sudden death in London of Helen Hughes (“beautiful, talented and wilful”), the 21-year old daughter from Billy Hughes’s second marriage.  Bill Hughes’s political stance had not undermined his affection for his father.  He penned a letter of condolence in which he said that his heart went out to his father and his step-mother in the family’s tragic bereavement.[55]

Bill Hughes ceased in 1937 to be President of the Canberra branch of the AWU.  His focus was now on the Labor Party.  In March 1938 he became secretary of the Canberra branch, serving until 1942.  During his time as secretary he was considered by the branch to have rendered “splendid service”.  Active membership rose to 100 with branch funds showing a satisfactory credit balance.[56]  A loyal party man, Hughes campaigned, unsuccessfully, in an election for a seat on the Hospital Board in 1939.[57] On the eve of the accession of the federal ALP to government in 1941 he campaigned on behalf of the selected Labor candidates for the Advisory Council and the Hospital Board. [58] He also, early on in World War 11, supported deputations on behalf of the newly unemployed.[59]

Hughes’s decision to stand down as secretary of the Canberra ALP was tied directly to John Curtin’s appointment as Prime Minister.  Politically, Bill was a keen oppositionist before October 1941 but things were transformed under the new federal Labor government. Bill responded passionately to the call – expressed fervently by Curtin – for Australians to “fight or work”.  He was ready to sacrifice for the sake of his country.  Bill would have preferred to enlist in the Second AIF; he was considered too old though so instead he enrolled in the Commonwealth Government Training Scheme.  He seems to have undertaken work in a munitions factory. This involved a change in residence to Sydney; his resignation as secretary of the Canberra ACT reflected this change of career.[60]

The power of fame was undiminished.   Bill continued to feature in newspapers as the son of Billy Hughes; the only change that occurred was in his father’s political situation.  In 1940 his seven-year-old son Stanley was killed when a bicycle on which he was travelling collided with a truck at the intersection of Cunningham and Kennedy streets; the press inevitably identified the young victim as “a grandson of the Attorney-General (Mr W M Hughes)”.[61]  A year later the Canberra Times, in relation to another son, noted that police had been informed that William Morris Hughes, “a grandson of the Minister for the Navy (Mr W M Hughes”) had run away from home; the young man was identified in similar terms when, a day or so later, he was located in Surry Hills.[62]

Bill looked to this paternal connection to help him get back to Canberra as soon as the era of wartime sacrifice ended.  On 20 August, in the immediate wake of Japan’s surrender, he contacted his father by letter to see if he would approach the appropriate officer in the Department of the Interior to support an application, sent in two days earlier, seeking reappointment as a gardener.  He was determined to be reinstated without any loss of status or money.[63]

Billy Hughes, a prominent Opposition member since 1941 (he was indeed Leader of the United Australia Party in the 1943 federal election), was ready to lobby a Labor minister on his son’s behalf and, more importantly, the Labor minister concerned was ready to be helpful.  Billy Hughes made a written representation to H V Johnson, J B Chifley’s Minister for the Interior, on 4 September and an interim reply was despatched on 10 September.  Bill was “keenly appreciative” of what his father was doing.[64]  On 25 September the Minister officially told Billy Hughes that “employment will be available to your son in the Parks and Gardens Section of the Department”.[65]  This was, strictly speaking, not a formal notification of full reinstatement; it seems to have sufficed nonetheless.

During his time away in Sydney Hughes’s prominent role in the agitation in the previous decade for more work for relief workers in Canberra began increasingly to slip from the public memory.  In 1944, at a meeting of the ACT Advisory Council of which he was a Labor member, Hughes’s erstwhile comrade William Hurley presented a garbled version of the stirring events in the winter 1937 in a debate on a motion calling for the repeal of the Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance. Hurley, the chair of the two public meetings in June 1937, declared himself to be “the person responsible for the Ordinance” even though the press coverage at the time indicated otherwise.  There was no reference by Hurley to the role of Bill Hughes or any other possible target other than Hurley.[66]

On returning to peacetime Canberra Hughes’s activist tendencies were still evident.  He tried to organise  an association of people trained, like himself, under the wartime Commonwealth Tradesman Training Scheme.[67]  But the relationship that he once had with the local labour movement never resumed its intimacy and indeed ended in rather unpleasant circumstances.  The AWU, which had buoyed him up in the wake of the Depression eventually cast him down.

On 4 September 1947 the ACT Industrial Board heard detailed evidence in an appeal, supported by the AWU, against the dismissal of a labourer from the Parks and Gardens Section of the Department of the Interior.  The labourer, it was not disputed, had done wonders in improving the grounds of the Hotel Ainslie.  Nevertheless on 22 August Bill Hughes, employed as a ganger, had dismissed the man for allegedly being off duty in one of the rooms of the Hotel Ainslie during working hours.  The case went badly for Hughes when it was revealed that vital evidence in the form of time dockets had been altered.  Though he denied doing so, the Industrial Board considered that Hughes had altered the evidence.  It ordered the dismissed man’s reinstatement.[68]

As a result of the man’s dismissal the AWU subjected Hughes to a black ban.  No one was allowed to work under him.  In September 1948, after Hughes appealed against the ban, the AWU waived it.  Unlike his father, whose fall from grace had been so much more spectacular, he was forgiven his trespasses against the creed of labour solidarity.[69]

In 1949, Hughes’s wife Hersee died, aged only 43.[70]  He remarried and continued to reside in Kingston.  In 1952 he was one of the pallbearers at his father’s funeral in 1952.[71]   His second wife Edith died in 1972 by which time the couple were living in a cottage on the side of Binalong Road, The Oaks.  While living in Canberra Edith attended evangelical meetings which culminated in her baptism.[72]  Her husband, having inherited his father’s longevity, lived on until 1986.[73]

The Unlawful Assemblies Ordinance 1937, which had been devised to stifle the protest movement which Bill Hughes had helped to organise and lead, was still in force at the time of his death.  No federal Labor government ever saw fit to revoke it.  Indeed, in 1947 one of Ben Chifley’s ministers (Nelson Lemmon) threatened to invoke it against protesting workers from the Eastlake Hostel.[74] 

The ordinance remained part of the law of the land in Canberra until 2001 when, in a burst of enlightenment, the Howard Government repealed it.  Its repeal followed a report from the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories in which the ordinance was condemned as “outdated and contrary to the democratic principle of freedom of expression”.[75]  This action was a powerful if tacit and unintended acknowledgment of the commitment of Canberrans led by Bill Hughes who struck out for a fairer society in hard times in the 1930s.  His fascinating role in Canberra’s democratic history deserves to be recorded for posterity.


[1] Aneurin Hughes, Billy Hughes Prime Minister and Controversial Founding Father of the Australian  Labor Party, John Wiley & Sons, Milton Qld, 2005, p.25.
[2] Hughes, Billy Hughes, p.57
[3] L F Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger 1914-1952: William Morris Hughes A Political Biography, vol 2, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1979, p.68.
[4]Barrier Miner, 18 June 1916, p.3; 29 August 1916, p. 2.
[5] W M Hughes MSS, NLA MS 1538/12/25,29, E M Hughes [EMH]to W M Hughes [WMH],                 5 December 1917
[6] NLA MS 1538/12/36. H Potts, Principal, Hawkesbury Agricultural College, 27 February 1920.
[7]Age, 6 February 1922, p.5.
[8] NLA MS 1538/12/62.  Certificate dated 29 January 1925.
[9] NLA MS 1538/12/59, EMH to WMH, 7 March 1924.
[10] NLA MS 1538/12/131-132, EMH to WMH, 14 August 1927; MS 1538/12/135-137, EMH to WMH,  23 August [1927].
[11] NLA MS 1538/12/138, W M Hughes to Sir John Butters (copy), 4 September 1927.
[12] NLA MS 1538/12/147-148, EMH to WMH, 3 November 1927.
[13] NLA MS 1538/12/167-168, EMH to WMH, 3 July 1928.
[14] NLA MS 1538/12/169-170, EMH to WMH,16 July 1928.
[15] NLA MS 1538/12/204, EMH to WMH, 19 April 1929.
[16] NLA MS 1538/12/216,  C S Daley to WMH,  18 May 1929.
[17]Canberra Times [CT], 8 June 1929, p.5; 11 September 1929 p.5
[18] NLA MS 1538/12/221-222, EMH to WMH, 26 October 1929.
[19] NLA MS 1538/12/228, EMH to WMH, 26 January 1930.
[20] NLA MS 1538/12/243, EMH to WMH, 27 April 1930.
[21] NLA MS  1538/12/809,  EMH to WMH, 17 August 193[1].
[22]CT, 12 April 1934, p.2.
[23]CT, 17 November 1934, p.3.
[24]CT, 12 April 1934, p.2.
[25]CT, 13 December 1934 p.5.
[26]CT, 8 February 1935, p.5.
[27]CT, 23 February 1935, p.4.
[28] H J Gibbney, Canberra 1913-1953, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1988, p.198.
[29] NLA MS 1538/12/280, EMH to WMH, 2 September 1934.
[30]CT, 19 February 1935, p.4.
[31]CT, 11 March 1935, p.1; 14 March 1935, p.4; SMH, 15 March 1935, p.12.
[32]CT, 1 April 1935, p.1; 10 April 1935, p.4.
[33] CT, 9 April 1935 p.1.
[34]CT, 11 April 1935, p.1, 2; SMH, 11 April 1935, p.12.
[35]CT 28 August 1935, p.1; 11 September 1935, p.2; 19 September 1935, p.5; 23 September 1935, p.1;  24 September 1935, p.5.
[36]CT, 26 September 1935, p.1.
[37]CT, 11 September 1935, p.2.
[38]CT, 27 May 1936, p.3.
[39]CT, 2 October 1936, p.5.
[40]CT, 28 June 1937, p.1.
[41]CT, 29 June 1937, p.2; SMH, 29 June 1937, p.10.
[42]Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 29 June 1937, p.7; Cairns Post, 30 June 1937, p.14.
[43]CT, 29 June 1937, pp. 2,3.
[44]CT, 23 July 1937 p.1.
[45]CT, 24 July 1937, p.1.
[46]Morning Bulletin, 29 July 1937 p.8; Cairns Post, 29 July 1937, p.8.
[47]CT, 31 July 1937, p.1.
[48]CT, 4 August 1937, pp.1,2.
[49]CT, 2 August 1937, p.1; 3 August 1937, p.2.
[50]CT, 6 August 1937, p.1.
[51] Gibbney, Canberra 1913-1953, pp.198-199.
[52]CT, 20 August 1937, p.4.
[53]CT, 13 September 1937, p.2; 16 September 1937, p.2.
[54]SMH, 23 July 1937, p.12.
[55] NLA MSS 1538/12/806, EMH to WMH, 16 August 1937; CT, 11 Aug 1937, p.1; Fitzhardinge,
Little Digger, p.641.
[56]CT, 14 March 1938, p.4; 9 March 1942, p.3.
[57]CT, 16 June 1939, p.2; 23 June 1939, p.6; 28 June 1939, p.6; 1 July 1939, p.3.
[58]CT, 26 September 1941, pp.2,5.
[59]CT, 29 September 1939 p.4; 4 March 1940, p.2; 11 March 1940, p.2.
[60] NLA MS 1538/12/1136, EMH to WMH , 15 February 1942.
[61]CT, 14 November 1940, p.5.
[62]CT, 4 August 1941, p.2; 5 August 1941, p.4.
[63] NLA MS 1538/12/1207-1208, EMH to WMH, 4 September 1945; NLA MS 1202-1203, EMH to WMH, 20 August 1945.
[64] NLA MS 1538/12/1211, EMH to WMH, 16 September 1945.
[65] NLA MS 1538/12/1212  H V Johnson to WMH, 25 September 1945.
[66]CT, 30 May 1944, p.4.
[67]CT, 20 October 1945, p.3.
[68] CT, 5 September 1947, p.2; 6 September 1947, p.2.
[69]CT, 17 September 1948, p.5; 25 September 1948, p.6.
[70]CT, 5 November 1949, p.11.
[71] Hughes, Hughes, p.156.
[72]Australasian Record, 4 September 1972, p.5.
[73] Hughes, Hughes, p.117.  A notation at the end of the file on Ernest Morris Hughes in the First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, National Archives of Australia, confirms the date of decease as 13 August 1986.
[74]CT, 17 May 1947, p.4.
[75] Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government for the Attorney-General, Explanatory Statement, Unlawful Assemblies Repeal Ordinance 2001.