Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation by Anne Henderson

‘Who would have imagined that a woman born in 1897, married at seventeen, and the mother of twelve children, would be an achiever ahead of her time?’

Dame Enid Muriel Lyons (1897-1981) was born on 9 July 1897 at Duck River (Smithton) in Tasmania. She was the second of four children born to Eliza (née Taggart) and William Burnell. In this book, Ms Henderson raises the possibility that Dame Enid’s real father may have been Aloysius Joyce, the son of a wealth landowner in the Burnie district. I found this possibility difficult to reconcile with the character of Eliza Burnell contained in the book, but I guess it is possible. Does it matter? Not to me: Dame Enid has long been a hero of mine.

Moving beyond Dame Enid’s parentage, Ms Henderson describes her childhood and upbringing. Later, when the family moved to Cooee (now a western suburb of Burnie) where Eliza opened a store and a post office, Enid attended the Burnie State School. Enid and her older sister Nell attended Teacher Training College in Hobart and it was in Hobart at the age of 15 that Enid first met Joseph Aloysius Lyons, then the Labor member for the Tasmanian state seat of Wilmot. They married in Wynyard, on the 28th of April 1915: Joe was 35 and Enid 17.

And so began a partnership, which ended when Joe Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, died in office on 7 April 1939. Joe and Enid had twelve children, the youngest of whom was born in 1933. Enid and Joe had been effective partners in life and politics: they supported each other.

On 21 August 1943, Enid Lyons was elected member for the Tasmanian federal seat of Darwin (now Braddon). She was the first female member of the House of Representatives. In her maiden speech on 29 September 1943, she spoke about social security, the declining birth rate, and the need for an extension of child endowment. She also spoke about the family, about housing and the need to look ahead to policies for the post-war period.

Ms Henderson covers in detail Enid Lyon’s life and legacy. After she left politics in March 1951, she remained active: including writing three books of her own, as well as serving as a commissioner of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

On moral issues Dame Enid was conservative, in keeping with her Catholic faith. Some of her children described her as remote. But it is clear that Dame Enid worked hard, and in her first parliamentary term could take some credit for the extension of child endowment and free medical treatment for pensioners.

This is the second time I have read this book. In between reads I have visited both Home Hill (the Lyons family home in Devonport) and the small cottage in Stanley where Joe Lyons lived with his aunts. Joe and Enid Lyons were a formidable team.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about Enid and Joe Lyons and their achievements.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Party Animals: The Secret History of a Labor Fiasco by Samantha Maiden

‘Consider the evidence of federal elections in Australia’s recent history – the winner is frequently the party that can paint its opponent as more risky and radical.’

A lifetime ago, back in 2019, we had a federal election. It seemed like almost everyone thought that the Labor Party would win. But Labor did not win, and in this book Ms Maiden examines some of the reasons why.

‘High expectations of a Labor victory led to little consideration being given to querying Labor’s strategy and policy agenda.’

What went wrong? It is easy to blame the Murdoch tabloids and the Clive Palmer effect. It is easy, as well, to point at the franking credits policy that was poorly explained and easily used by the government to scare self-funded retirees and pensioners. And what about Bill Shorten’s unpopularity? But there were internal factors as well: a disorganised party believing polls, and keen to make big-spending promises. The irony: A Labor party, keen to push an agenda that suited some voters (mostly white-collar, well-educated, and living in urban areas) at the expense of other traditional Labor voters (including the blue-collar workers who have been watching their employment prospects diminish for years). This is not the Labor Party that many members of my family have supported for over 100 years. I am torn between wanting to see some of Labor’s progressive policies enacted and wanting Labor (once again) to listen to, understand and represent the needs of the voters they seem to have lost in Queensland and Tasmania.

I agree with this quote:

‘What Labor is left with as rusted-on supporters are inner-city, university-educated, middle class voters.  People that look a lot like most Labor MPs and the staffers that work for them.’

And I wonder what Labor intends to do to address this before the next federal election.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Calamity and Conquest by Allan Hawke

‘A chronicle of the convict Joseph Blundell and his consort Susan Osborne’

Blundell’s Cottage, close to Canberra’s Lake Burley-Griffin has an interesting history.  I was fortunate enough, a couple of years ago, to be part of a guided tour through the cottage and to learn some of its history.

Canberra is a relatively small city, and many of us who have worked for the Australian Public Service at some stage in the past forty (or so) years will know of Dr Allan Hawke.  I had the privilege of working with (and learning from) him in the Department of Defence during the first few years of the 1980s.

But it wasn’t until quite recently, reading about the book launch of ‘Calamity and Conquest’ that I learned of the link between Allan Hawke and Blundell’s Cottage.  Intrigued, I bought a copy of this book.

Allan Hawke is a great great grandson of Joseph Blundell and Susan Osborne through the 10th of their 11 children.  The Blundell story, which begins long before Joseph travelled to Australia, has been extensively researched by Allan Hawke and others.  Joseph Blundell was sentenced to death for attacking a gamekeeper while poaching and was transported to NSW (for life) in 1826.  And it appears that Susan Osborne was an alias adopted by Mercy Balcombe in 1842, when she absconded from her husband and fled with Joseph Blundell to the Limestone Plains (now the site of Canberra). Scandalous!

There’s a wealth of information here, of interest both to members of the extended Blundell family as well as to those of us interested more broadly in Australian colonial history. Allan Hawke succeeds in finding hints (at least) of the people behind the official records.  We may never know why some of them made the particular choices they made but the impact of some of those choices has clearly shaped this nation. 

I enjoyed reading this book, of seeing into the history of a family, of their shifting place in society, of the consequence of choice and of opportunity.  Family stories are important: it’s how we personalise the past.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Tiberius with a Telephone by Patrick Mullins

‘All stories have dual landscapes.’

Sir William McMahon, GCMG, CH (23 February 1908 to 31 March 1988) was the 20th Prime Minister of Australia.  He served as prime minister between 10 March 1971 and 5 December 1972.  Sir William was elected to the Australian Parliament in 1949, and left Parliament in 1982.  He served as a minister continuously for a period of 21 years and 6 months.

Given this period of service, Sir William was a significant figure on the Australian political landscape during the second half of the 20th century.  In this biography, Patrick Mullins tells the story of Sir William’s life, his political career and his attempts to recast views of his prime ministership. Sir William is often identified as one of the main contenders for the title of ‘worst ever Australian Prime Minister’.  Should he be?

‘In politics, the story and the fact are not always the same.’

This is one of the best political biographies I have read.  Mr Mullins had neither access to Sir William’s papers or the support of his family when writing this book.  While it is no hagiography, it provides a good record of the events of the period.  I especially liked the way in which Mr Mullins moved between accounts of events while Sir William was in the Australian Parliament and events surrounding his doomed attempts to publish an autobiography.

‘When I publish my autobiography and tell of the things I had to put up with,’ he said, ‘none of you will believe it.’

This is more than a biography of Sir William McMahon: it is also a comprehensive account of politics in post-World War II Australia, of some of the challenges Australia faced as the Menzies era ended.

And the title?  We can thank Gough Whitlam for that:

‘He [McMahon] was determined, like other Little Caesars, to destroy the Right Honourable member for Higgins [John Gorton]and he sat there on the Isle of Capri plotting his destruction—Tiberius with a telephone.’

I’d recommend this book to anyone seeking more information about the Australian political landscape after World War II.  It’s both well-written and easy to read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Public Art in the ACT

I went searching for some information about pieces of public art in the ACT after a friend asked me about ‘Ainslie’s Sheep‘.  I discovered that there is a lot more public art in the ACT than I’ve seen, and I also discovered that some of the art I’ve seen isn’t what I thought it was.  For example:  Moth Ascending the Capital   does not look like a Bogong Moth bursting into flight to me.

One of my favourite pieces is: Winds of Light  which I walk past when I walk around Lake Ginninderra.  I also like The Owl

For those interested, here’s a list  ACT Public Art

Do you have a favourite piece?  What do you like, and why?

National Carillon, Canberra 15 November 2017

On Wednesday, 15 November 2017, I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group (from the National Seniors Canberra North Branch) to be given a guided tour of the National Carillon.  Our tour was conducted by Astrid Bowler, one of the Canberra Carillon players.

First, a bit of information about the National Carillon.  It was a gift from the British government to the people of Australia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Canberra, and was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 26 April 1970. The tower is 50 metres  tall,  and was designed by Cameron Chisholm Nicol, a firm based in Western Australia.

In 2004, the National Carillon underwent refurbishment which included the addition of two extra bells.  The National Carillon now has 55 bells, which span four and a half octaves chromatically.  The bells weigh between seven kilograms and six tonnes.  We saw the largest bells, and Astrid explained how they were made.

As Canberrans know, the carillon is in regular use.  When I worked in Civic in 1974, I could hear the carillon chiming every quarter-hour.  Short tunes are played on the hour, and there are regular recitals.

For me, one of the highlights of the tour was seeing (and hearing) Astrid play the carillon.  I’d not realised how complex it is, or how the instrument is played with fists rather than fingers.  Such beauty in the sounds made by the bells.

Another highlight of the visit was the view.  The middle three of my photographs above were taken from inside the tower.

Canberra and Adaminaby 13/4/2017

From first light in Canberra, looking east across St Matthew’s Church in Page, to sunrise walking back past the church 30 minutes later: a beautiful start to the day.

Then, by early afternoon we are in Adaminaby.  There’s a lot of traffic on the highway,  plenty of people travelling for Easter break.

There are very clear signs of autumn in Adaminaby now.  As you can see in my photograph looking down York Street.

Belconnen, ACT. 31/3/2017

A beautiful clear morning here in Canberra.  Cool, and windy, but not a hint of rain.  I left home just before 6.30 am,  when it was still dark.  Twenty minutes into my walk, looking back east across Weetangera,  I could see the morning sky begin to glow.

Ninety minutes into my walk,  I was at the north-western end of Florey.  The sun was shining brightly,  and the path looked so inviting.  Time to turn for home.