Biographical Dictionary of the House of Representatives

Biographical Dictionary of the House of Representatives

The Biographical Dictionary of the House of Representatives project charts one of the most prominent groups largely missing not only from the Australian Dictionary of Biography, but also from the wider annals of Australian history—the men and women who since Federation have held the position of Speaker, Deputy Speaker, or Clerk of the House of Representatives.

The Department of the House of Representatives engaged the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University in 2018 to prepare and publish online biographies of these men and women, who presided over, managed and supported the work of the House. The resulting sixty-four biographical entries, written by an array of skilled contributors, appear on the Centre’s website. The Department has also provided thematic articles on the roles of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Clerk.

The project biographies do not form part of the ADB, but are likely to be used to inform ADB revisions and new entries. They supplement existing ADB entries on some of these figures, mainly by providing more material on their roles in the House. The core of each project entry is the subject’s service as Speaker, Deputy Speaker or Clerk, but a balanced account of the whole person is also provided. Some figures achieved a degree of fame, such as Frederick Holder, former Premier of South Australia and the first Speaker of the House; the irascible but dedicated Archie Cameron; and the first female Speaker, Joan Child.

Others had previously received far less attention, such as the many-faceted Americaphile Deputy Speaker James Garfield Bayley; the reforming Clerk of the House Alan Turner; and the shortest serving Clerk, John McGregor, who died suddenly on the parliament’s first working day in its new home in Canberra.

Former Clerk of the House, David Elder (himself the subject of a project entry), observed at the start of the project that ‘Australians are used to seeing the day to day political struggle of the House on the news but this project will tell us a much more reflective story about the role of the House and how it works. As an institution it is absolutely central to our democratic framework. The project will help explain three of its key offices’.

Current Clerk of the House, Claressa Surtees, noted that ‘the project represents the considerable efforts by the National Centre of Biography and the Department of the House of Representatives, along with a range of contributors. The biographies shine a light on those who served our nation, as Speakers, Deputy Speakers, and Clerks from the time of Federation.’

Issues that this project explores include the relationships Speakers had with governments and their party; how they contributed to changes in parliamentary procedures; and the Speaker-Clerk relationship.

The project was guided by an expert Project Advisory Group chaired by Catherine Cornish, former Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives. Other members included Emeritus Professor Judith Brett, La Trobe University; Emeritus Professor Geoff Gallop, University of Sydney; Mr Ian Hancock, School Visitor, National Centre of Biography, ANU; and Associate Professor Paul Strangio, Monash University.

The Department will also shortly provide thematic articles on the roles of the offices of Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and Clerk.

For further information, contact Dr Stephen Wilks, stephen.wilks@anu.edu.au or (02) 6125 2349.

Updated:  30 November 2021/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications