Wayne Crawford: Tasmania Recalls Only Australian PM, Lyons, and 1932

Roundup: Talking About History

The only Tasmanian ever to become Prime Minister, Joseph Aloysius Lyons, presided over a year which changed Australia as perhaps no other -- 1932.

It was a fateful year of momentous events which included the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the birth of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the mysterious death of the legendary racehorse Phar Lap, the dismissal of the New South Wales Premier Jack Lang by Governor Philip Game, and the start of Test cricket's infamous Bodyline series.

All these nation-defining events, crises and scandals have been the subject of various books, television series and documentaries, but it took American-born journalist Gerald Stone to recognise that all this stuff of national legend happened within a single year and roll the stories together into one book called simply 1932 - a Hell of a Year.

Joe Lyons does not figure in all the events -- the Bodyline series and Phar Lap's death, for instance, happened without his involvement -- but he was certainly a central figure in all the major political events of the year and the era.

Stone -- who has become one of Australia's best-known journalists having moved here from the US in 1962 and been the founding producer of the Nine Network's 60 Minutes program and the editor-in-chief of The Bulletin magazine -- notes that as well as everything else, 1932 more than any other year marked Australia's plunge into the worst of the Great Depression.

The sacking of the pugnacious Premier Lang -- "the Big Fella" as he was known -- was over his repudiation of interest on overseas loans to British banks during the Great Depression.

Famously he declared it "nothing short of madness to keep paying massive amounts of interest to overseas moneylenders while families of unemployed Australians are starving".

Stone records that in the 1931 election campaign Joe Lyons had made the so-called "Lang threat" a key issue.

"Before that drama had run its course, it would transform the very nature of the Australian federation, shifting the balance of power between the federal and state governments in a way that could never have been imagined by the founding fathers," Stone writes.

"Indeed, it would be a change so drastic as to be described as revolutionary, though without the rivers of blood."

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