Letters to the Editor || Margaret Hurle - Founding fathers

With dual-citizen politicians in the news, it’s interesting to look at a member of our founding Commonwealth Parliament in 1901.

King O’Malley was controversial, outlandish, outspoken, annoying, a great self-promoter, and responsible for some vital decisions made in the early years of our country that set it on the road to where we are now.

And it’s likely that he had no right to be in the Australian Parliament.  

Not that he was ever a dual citizen of anywhere; it looks very much that he was an American pure and simple.

According to his own account, he arrived in Queensland in 1888 along with a coffin which he had carried on board because he had been told he had six months to live.  

He lived in a cave until his health improved, abandoned the coffin, and walked down the coast from near Rockhampton to Melbourne where he set about a successful career as an insurance salesman.  

He stated himself to be an American, and made a string of claims about his history, few of which could be checked in those days of poor and fragmented communication and record-keeping.  

He served briefly in the South Australian Parliament, during which time he won a technical victory in a libel suit against an American man who said he had fled the country to escape an embezzlement charge.

Then he turned his attention to the Commonwealth Parliament which was emerging from the Constitution Conventions.

His proclaimed American status had been a problem when he nominated for the South Australian colonial parliament. 

He overcame that by declaring that although he had grown up in America, his mother had stayed with her sister for his birth, and her sister lived across the border in Canada, making him a subject of Queen Victoria and therefore eligible to serve in Australians parliaments.  

In those days the concept of Australian citizenship hadn’t emerged; if you were a citizen of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or other places in the British Empire, you were simply a British subject.

Ironically, if that situation still prevailed, six of the seven Dualists of 2017 would have had no case to answer as their dual citizenships related to New Zealand, Canada, Wales, Scotland and Cyprus. (The seventh, Matt Canavan, was off the hook because his Italian link was through his grandmother and was deemed to be too distant to count.)

So our man, American or not, entered our first Commonwealth Parliament as a member for Tasmania, stirring up the embryonic public service and his fellow politicians with his hands-on style of administration and his insistence on doing things his way.  

He worked on the formation of the Commonwealth Bank, old age pensions, the banning of alcohol, and a trans-Nullarbor railway. 

In the first year of the Parliament he moved that a national capital be established on a greenfield site, and as Minister for Home Affairs he threw himself into its planning, being a strong ally of the husband-and-wife team of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin who designed Canberra.

He also took the “u” out of the name of the Labor Party, preferring the American spelling.

He was strongly anti-war, which cost him his seat in 1916.  

When he died in 1953 he was the last survivor of our first Parliament.

So it looks as if some of the foundation stones of our country were set on the shaky ground of an ineligible member.  

If we took it into our heads to proclaim his actions invalid and to undo his work, there would be a lot of eggs to be unscrambled.  

Putting the ‘u’ back into the Labor Party would be the easiest part.

Margaret Hurle

Manilla