New project to document House Speakers and Clerks

Monday 10 December 2018

The ANU School of History has begun work on a new parliamentary dictionary listing the biographies of Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks for the House of Representatives stretching back to Federation in 1901.

The project, which is expected to be completed in early 2020, has been commissioned by the Department of the House of Representatives and will be undertaken by the National Centre of Biography, within the School of History.

Project co-ordinator, Dr Stephen Wilks of the ANU School of History, said not enough is known about these people whose job it is to oversee the House and ensure Members obey the rules, and follow procedures.

“These are very, very important people, they essentially run the show in our nation’s Parliament, yet very few people know much about them,” Dr Wilks said.

“It’s a big gap in Australia’s parliamentary history.

“This project will be a major contribution to the understanding of Australia’s rich and all too often unplumbed parliamentary history and traditions.”

The project will be modeled on the ANU National Centre of Biography’s highly renowned Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), which includes 12,000 short biographies on the lives of significant Australians throughout history.

Dr Wilks said work had already begun on biographies for the 91 people who had served in the roles, including at least two who passed away whilst at work in the Chamber.

“Australia’s very first House Speaker Frederick Holder died on the job,” he said.

“He collapsed in the House following a stormy all-night sitting in 1909 in the middle of delivering a very short but now famous Australian political speech – ‘Dreadful, dreadful!’.

“He never regained consciousness and died soon after.

“In 1927 John McGregor suffered a very similar fate, collapsing in the Chamber after just a few weeks as Clerk.

“He was carried out by two Members of Parliament before passing away.”

One complete The Dictionary of the House of Representatives Project: Speakers, Deputy Speakers and Clerks of the House will appear online with the ANU National Centre of Biography and the parliamentary website.

About ANU School of History

The ANU School of History is known nationally and internationally for the quality of research its staff and research students produce. This world-class research spans many regions and topics, with specialist Centres for Indigenous and Environmental history. The School is home to the National Centre of Biography, and maintains a vibrant culture through teaching, seminars, and welcoming Australian and international visitors. ANU is ranked first in Australia, and twelfth in the world for History (QS 2018 Rankings). Follow ANU School of History on Facebook and Twitter.

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Updated:  10 December 2018/Responsible Officer:  CASS Marketing & Communications/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications