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The Victorian Premiers

The Victorian Premiers


Edited by Paul Strangio and Brian Costar

In the century and a half since Victoria was granted responsible government in 1856, 44 premiers have presided over the state and colony, from ‘Honest’ William Haines to Steve Bracks. Here is their story.

For the first time this book brings together a comprehensive collection of biographical and political portraits of the Victorian premiers written by leading Australian historians and political scientists. The result is a compelling journey through a turbulent, occasionally anarchic, political landscape. A cast of fascinating characters is brought to life—the mercurial Graham Berry, who in the 1870s threatened broken heads and flaming houses in his heroic struggle to tame the colony’s intractably conservative upper house; the roguish Tommy Bent, the turn of the century ‘can do’ premier whose development enthusiasms were unhindered by probities of office; the bohemian Tom Hollway, who conducted Victoria’s affairs from his suite in the Windsor Hotel; the ‘accidental’ leader Henry Bolte, who became Victoria’s longest serving premier; and the larrikin metropolitan, Jeff Kennett, who turned the state into a neo-liberal laboratory in the 1990s.

A tale of premiers, the book is also a narrative of politics in a state that has vied with New South Wales as Australia’s most prosperous and powerful. It recounts many extraordinary episodes: the precocious development of democracy in a fledgling colony turned upside down by gold immigrants; the titanic bicameral struggles of the 1860s and 1870s that brought Victoria to the brink of insurrection; the bank crashes of the 1890s; the police strike of 1923; the great Labor split of the 1950s; the hanging of Ronald Ryan in 1967; the social democratic adventurism of the Labor decade of the 1980s brought to a shuddering halt by another era of financial collapses; and the neo-liberal experimentalism of the Kennett government. This carefully researched and engagingly written book will leave the reader in no doubt that politics in the ‘Garden State’ has seldom been sedate and its premiers rarely predictable.


Introduction: Premiers and politics, 1856-2006
Paul Strangio and Brian Costar
Haines, O’Shanassy, Nicholson and Heales: The old guard, 1855-1863
John Waugh
“The inevitable McCulloch” and his rivals, 1863-1877
John Waugh
Broken heads and flaming houses: Graham Berry, the wild colonial
Paul Strangio
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? Service and Gillies: The grand coalition premiers 1883-1890
John Lack
David Syme and the three stooges? The bust premiers: James Munro, William Shiels and JB Patterson, 1890-1894
John Lack
The quiet little man in a brown suit: George Turner and the politics of consensus
John Rickard
“Iceberg” Irvine and the politics of anti-Labor
John Rickard
Tommy Bent, ‘a man’
Weston Bate
John Murray and William Watt: The odd couple
David Dunstan
Alexander Peacock: The laughing pragmatist
John Chesterman
Harry Lawson, sure and steady
Margaret Fitzherbert
Elmslie, Prendergast and Hogan: Labouring against the tide
Peter Love
John Allan: The first agrarian
Brian Costar
William McPherson, ‘threepenny’ premier and philanthropist
Richard Allsop
Stanley Argyle: The incidental premier
Geoff Browne
Albert Dunstan: The jumping jack premier
Brian Costar
Tom Hollway: The bohemian
Brian Costar
John McDonald: A remorseful premier
Brian Costar
John Cain snr: The star-crossed premier
Paul Strangio
Henry Bolte: The lucky developer
David Dunstan
Rupert ‘Dick’ Hamer: The urbane liberal
Paul Rodan
Lindsay Thompson: The team player
Vicki Peel
John Cain jnr: The burden of history
Paul Strangio
Joan Kirner: The first feminist
Jennifer Curtin
Jeff Kennett: The larrikin metropolitan
Nick Economou
Steve Bracks: The quiet achiever
David Hayward



Published 19 October 2006
Publisher The Federation Press
ISBN 9781862876019
Australian RRP $59.95
International Price $55.00
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Australian History / Studies
Government / Political Studies

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