Thursday, March 25, 2010

Family Politics

You may have noticed in the recent Tasmanian state election a number of the candidates were following in their father’s footsteps. I’m not sure if it’s genetic or learned behaviour but it got me thinking about my ancestors. My parents both love to tell us about our family history. It is quite varied between the two of them; my father’s family are from Tasmania and NSW, and my mother’s family fled post war Hungary for a new life in Tasmania. So I’ve grown up hearing stories about great, great grandfathers, mothers, uncles, different cultures and life experiences.

We do have a few political skeletons in the cupboard. Take this guy. My great, great, grandfather, Mr James Sinclair Taylor McGowen. What a great moustache!

He was born in 1855 on board a ship coming to Australia with his parents from Lancashire, England. They named him after his father, but his middle names were after the ship’s captain and the doctor. The title has been passed down through the first born sons – so my brother is the fourth J.S.T. McGowen. They eventually settled in Sydney, and following in his father’s footsteps he became a boilermaker. He became increasingly involved in trade unions and the Labor party of New South Wales. Known as “Honest Jim” he was well known and liked in working class circles, and apparently based on his amiable personality, public image, devotion to principles, loyalty to others, and his honesty, he became the First Labor Premier of NSW. Now you wouldn’t find many politicians these days being elected on those character traits!

His wife, Emily, wasn’t a quiet stay at home mum either (although could have been with nine children!) She was in London for the Women’s Suffrage Coronation Procession in 1911. She led the Australian contingent with Mrs Margaret Fisher, the wife of the Australian Prime Minister, and Australian suffragist extraordinaire, Vida Goldstein. Now there’s something to be proud of.

Emily McGowen (2nd from the right), picture courtesy of

My grandfather moved to Tasmania, and having looked up to his grandfather as a child, became involved in the local political scene. He was the Mayor of Launceston in 1958-59, and then elected as a Liberal member of the House of Assembly in 1961. Groovy 60’s glasses aren’t they. My grandmother remembers being hassled by the local press when she was the mayoress about what she was going to wear to functions so they could describe it in detail.

Photo courtesy of

So there you have it- a personal history lesson. The political bug seems to skip a generation in my family. So I do wonder if history will repeat itself amongst my siblings. I don’t think it will be me!


ut si said...

I really enjoyed reading this Hazel...

vicki of hobart said...

Me too - it is interesting the characteristics that lead the old guard - the men and women who fought fiercely to change the laws and regulations that governed ppls lives such as universal suffrage for women and a fair days pay for a fair days work.
Great photos and very interesting predecessors.

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