22/03/2005 - 21:00

Joe Poprzeczny: State Scene - Greenough saga takes a new twist

22/03/2005 - 21:00


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The Mid-West region’s state seat of Greenough, which skirts the northern port city of Geraldton, has a range of claims to fame.

The Mid-West region’s state seat of Greenough, which skirts the northern port city of Geraldton, has a range of claims to fame.

First and foremost it was the only Liberal-held seat to be lost at the recent election to Coalition partner, the Nationals, with sitting Liberal MP, Jamie Edwards, relatively easily toppled by former Mid-West ABC television presenter Grant Woodhams.

Secondly, Greenough is the most northerly seat to have been held by a Liberal premier.

The late Sir David Brand held Greenough between 1945 and 1975 for the Liberals and was premier between 1959 and 1971.

Thirdly, Greenough is the state’s only original rural seat – meaning it was created in 1890 when Western Australia gained self-government – and still carries its original name.

The other four state seats that fall into this pioneering category – Fremantle, Geraldton, Bunbury and Albany – embrace towns or cities.

Fourthly, two of the bids made by the Nationals – once called the Country Party (CP) – to regain Greenough from the Liberals were by candidates who were locally-based, high-profile broadcasters.

And finally, for nearly two years during the mid-1940s, Greenough was held by a member who was deceased.

No, State Scene has definitely not gone barmy. Readers can be assured that Greenough, between January 14 1944 and November 13 1945, so for 22 months, was held or represented by a member who was then dead.

But firstly some other background on Greenough, after which the details on those unusual wartime 22 months when a deceased MLA held the seat, meaning its constituents were in fact without a parliamentarian, will be revealed.

Greenough during the 1890s and early part of the 20th century was represented by what can fairly be described as conservative members.

Between 1914, when it was won by John Nanson, and 1924 it was a CP-held seat.

In 1924 Labor gained Greenough and held it until 1930, when William Patrick regained it for the CP.

Patrick held on until 1943, when it again went to Labor.

In that year – a good one for Labor at both state and federal levels, when the party was led nationally by Western Australian prime minister, John Curtin – Greenough returned to Labor with the victory of John Verdun Newton.

Now, there were several interesting things about Newton.

Firstly, and not surprisingly, he was born in Dongara, so was a local lad, being the son of a farmer from nearby Mingenew.

Secondly, when he won the November 20 1943 contest for Greenough for Labor by gaining 1,944 votes to Patrick’s 1,737 votes, he was serving with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in the UK.

According to an official state parliamentary publication, Newton had enlisted on August 17 1941 and embarked for the UK on August 24 1942, so was out of the state for more than a year before being elected.

The parliamentary publication says: “Elected MLA Greenough November 20, 1943; not sworn in. Flight Lieutenant [Newton] …  reported missing January 14, 1944.

“Death presumed January 14, 1944 after reported missing from flight air operation, target Brunswick, Germany.

“On July 31, 1945 panel of members appointed to inquire whether vacancy existed; panel reported August 28, 1945; seat declared vacant September 27, 1945.”

With historic Greenough being declared vacant in late September 1945 – the month after the war had ended in the Pacific – a by-election was called for October 27, 1945.

This resultant fight for Greenough was to be a three-cornered contest, with the Liberals represented by a local shopkeeper, David Brand, while the CP had endorsed a man named Frank Horwood. Labor’s candidate was Edward Newton.

Unfortunately State Scene has been unable to establish if Edward Newton was a relative of the late flight lieutenant Newton’s, but suspects he was probably a brother.

Edward Newton scored the most primary votes but lost because the CP’s preferences put David Brand ahead.

David Brand, later Sir David, who was to become Greenough’s 12th member, went on to easily win the next 10 elections and in five of these  – 1950, 1956, 1959, 1965 and 1968 – he was declared elected unopposed.

At the 1962 contest, then well known WA Communist Party activist and Perth electrician, John Rivo Gandini, challenged Mr Brand.

However, Mr Brand won 4,188 votes, or 95.4 per cent of the 5,029 enrolled electors, while Mr Gandini only scored 202 votes, or 4.6 per cent.

With Sir David’s retirement in 1975 the Liberals looked hard for a candidate with a similar relaxed and casual manner to help ensure victory.

They consequently pre-selected local farmer Reg Tubby.

This proved to be a smart move since Mr Tubby held the seat until retiring shortly before the 1989 election when the Liberals again won Greenough with his successor, John Minson, who would later become a deputy Liberal leader.

One of the main reasons a search for someone similar to Sir David had been embarked upon was because the Nationals had shrewdly pre-selected Reg Thompson, who was then a local media identity, a radio broadcaster, and therefore was well known across this predominantly rural electorate.

Interestingly, the Nationals adopted the same ploy 30 years later by preselecting Mr Woodhams, who had been working for the ABC in the region since the mid-1990s, and will be the 105-year-old seat’s 16th member.

On this occasion, however, the Nationals’ move came up trumps since he toppled Greenough’s sitting Liberal member Mr Edwards, who had succeeded Mr Minson.

History was therefore repeated by the Nationals’ choice of candidate, but from the Liberals’ standpoint it failed to repeat itself since Mr Edwards hadn’t withstood the Nationals’ second broadcaster challenger.

It’s now therefore a case of one all.

Labor’s Greenough legacy is, unfortunately, a tragic one.

When Labor won this rather unusual rural seat in late 1943 their man was on active service combating Nazism, so was unable to be sworn in as member for Greenough.

The 27-year old flight lieutenant Newton paid the ultimate price for country just 56 days after having been elected historic Greenough’s 11th MLA.


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