Songman and the wartime skirmish

A former barrister with a love of history and storytelling plans to illuminate a dramatic and little-known moment in the state’s history.

QANZAC 100 fellow, John Thompson, will sift through the rich resources of the John Oxley Library (JOL) to piece together a political skirmish between wartime Prime Minister Billy Hughes and the former Premier of Queensland, T.J Ryan.

His research will focus on Hansard No. 37, which contained a controversial speech made by the anti-conscription premier in 1917.

An enraged Hughes ordered a raid on the Government Printing Office to confiscate and destroy all copies of the hansard. The JOL has one of only three surviving copies of the controversial material, which forms part of the J.J. Stable collection. Stable was the Commonwealth Government Senior Assistant Censor charged with the duty of seizing the hansards.

John Thompson said as “Billy Hughes had so many conflicts with so many people that the Queensland conflict is easily lost in the mix”.

John Thompson

John Thompson

Queenslanders were divided in their views of the event. “The dynamics were complicated” due to the nature of the conscription debate, he said.

“Being anti-conscription did not mean being anti-war.”

“Ryan was a famously left-wing child of Irish Catholics and Hughes was extremely pro-Empire.

“In 1916 the Irish Rebellion took place in Dublin, with the pronouncement of the Irish Republic.  To be pro-Irish was to have your loyalty to Australia’s role in the Empire brought into question.  This was just one aspect of their vast political differences.”

The QANZAC fellow has an intriguing history of his own. Trained as a criminal barrister he rejected his life at the bar to find meaning in the entertainment industry.

He has been involved in the folk music scene in Australia for over 30 years as a singer, songwriter and performer.

He tours internationally with the group cloudstreet and has performed at festivals around Australia and the United Kingdom.

In 2013 he performed with the Australian production of War Horse in the role of the Songman (the narrator).

“This developed my interest in the music and stories of the First World War,” he said.

When not playing and singing, John maintains an active interest in politics, current events and the absurd.

Q ANZAC 100 fellows:

Elaine Acworth

Neville Buch

Robert Hogg

John Thompson

If you would like to hear the Q ANZAC 100 fellows talk about their research, please join us for Under the skin on Tuesday 8 September at 9am. To book tickets please go to Eventbrite

Dianne McKean – Q ANZAC 100 Team

Posted in collections, digitised content, Fellowship, guest blogger, Homefront, people, Qld Faces of WWI, research | Tagged , , , , , WW Browse Queensland's World War 1 Centenary
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  1. Ian Lang

    The following item re the Keid brothers from Graceville has some relevance to the Ryan/ Hughes stoush. Six brothers enlisted and by 1917 only two were still alive. Some elements of “Saving Private Ryan” in this as well. When Edward Keid, one of the two remaining brothers in the 9th Battalion was killed at Passchendaele in November 1917, the Keid Family had lost four sons. Harry Keid had already returned to Australia for “family reasons” and representations began to have the last surviving brother, Henry Keid returned to Australia also.

    On 27th November 1917, the Chief Secretary to the Queensland Premier T.J.Ryan sent a cable to the Australian Agent General in London; Andrew Fisher:
    “Relatives of Private H.C.Keid strongly desire his return to Queensland (stop) Five of his brothers have been on active service 4 killed(stop) Keid now on furlough in London where I understand General Birdwood is at present(stop) Good opportunity to represent matters. Chief Secretary Brisbane”

    The interesting aspect of this communication is that it came from the Queensland Premier and not the Prime Minister. The cable requests Keid’s return to Queensland, not Australia. This is perhaps an indication of a political aspect to the matter. Ryan’s Labor government was strongly anti conscription, unlike Prime Minister Hughes who had been expelled from the Labor Party for his pro conscription policy. In invoking the assistance of Andrew Fisher; a former Labor Prime Minister who had close connections to Queensland (Fisher had been the member for Gympie in the Federal Parliament), Ryan’s representations may be seen as an attempt to circumvent the Prime Minister.

    In due course, Henry Keid was repatriated back to Queensland on the orders of General Officer Commanding Australian Imperial Forces, Lt General Birdwood.

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