ANDREW FRASER reckons it’s pretty rough that only former prime ministers, some in the job for barely days, get explanatory signage in the Canberra suburbs named after them yet other prominent Australians are snubbed by the ACT government.
EDDIE Ward was a professional boxer, lifetime teetotaller and inimitable performer for Labor in the House of Representatives, 1931-1963.
It was Ward who said of fill-in prime minister Arthur Fadden, that the Country Party leader had, for 40 days and 40 nights, held the fate of the nation in the hollow of his head.
As unremarkable fill-in PMs go, Fadden was right up there with the record-holder, Frank Forde (Labor, eight days), and Earle Page (Country Party, 19 days), along with the many others who make up the latter two-thirds of Mungo MacCallum’s book title: “The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely”.
Unlikely as the three above-named undoubtedly were, each has a Canberra suburb named for him, simply because he was prime minister, for however long.
It becomes a double honour when you note that the ACT government conducted a program some years ago to add some explanation to suburb signage, to state who a particular conurbation was named for and briefly outline their public life as well as putting their picture on display.
But only for the former PMs, mind you.
This made second-class signage citizens out of such truly great Australians as our first Chief Justice (Griffith), a president of the United Nations General Assembly (Evatt), an international medical giant (Florey) and the hero of the Inland (Flynn).
The absurdity of this disparity is no better shown than at a roundabout in Tuggeranong where four suburbs come together.
On one corner, in all its pictorial and typographical grandeur is Fadden’s fine sign, while, on the other corners, are three different but all exceedingly plain signs, announcing, by surname alone, the cherished rights campaigners Caroline Chisholm (who is even on the calendar of saints of the Church of England!) and Mary Gilmore, and the father of the wool industry, John Macarthur.
Among the many others without pictures or words is a suburb that, absent that explanation, might confuse many people born since 1970. That is, the overwhelming bulk of those who walk, ride or drive past its signs.
This one hits home for me especially because it is the suburb of Fraser, named for my Dad, Jim, the lone local member of parliament here in the 1950s and 1960s (for Labor) and not for the more recent, and more prominent, Malcolm, who was of course a Liberal prime minister.
When Malcolm passed away, a federal electorate was to be named for him, as is the practice.
But there was already a federal electorate named for Jim.
That ACT seat (1974-2016) would go, and a new seat of Fraser would be created in Victoria, honouring Malcolm.
I appeared unsuccessfully at the relevant committee hearing, having suggested dual naming for both electorate and suburb, a la Cook (Joseph was a PM; James was the “Endeavour’s” captain).
More importantly, I had a very cordial correspondence with Mrs Tamie Fraser, in which we agreed that, on balance, a seat for a PM and a suburb for a loved local member was about correct weight.
Mrs Fraser insisted that the suburb should remain named only for Jim.
But who would know from the signage? Many might well think it is for Malcolm, and who could blame them?
Jim was the lone parliamentary representative for this Territory for 19 years, all of them in opposition and most of them with only a vote in the House on local matters.
It was said after his death in 1970 that no-one had taken his job – as a Representative – as literally as Jim.
He was certainly loved by the electorate, if not always by his party, who preselected a rival ahead of the 1969 election before a public outcry ensured Jim’s re-endorsement for what would be his final election.
He won that general election with the biggest majority of any Reps seat: a primary vote of 39,070.
At the by-election after his death, only six months later, the Labor candidate received 20,132 primary votes, and the seat went to preferences.
I wrote to the ACT government, seeking better signage for Jim and got a thoroughly unfeeling, bureaucratic response from Minister Mick Gentleman.
You might reckon a Labor minister might know his history a little better.
But what about all the other great Australians who remain unexplained on their suburban signage: Weary Dunlop, Neville Bonner, Nugget Coombs, Judith Wright and Albert Jacka, to name but a few more.
Come on, Minister.
This is a low-cost, no-brainer.
Andrew Fraser is a criminal lawyer and former journalist. email@example.com
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