Labour Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Browse Lists:

Aikens, Thomas (Tom) (1900–1985)

by D. W. Hunt

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Thomas (Tom) Aikens (1900-1985), politician, was born on 28 April 1900 at Hughenden station, Queensland, second of three children of John Aikens, an itinerant labourer, and his wife Emily, née Wilkinson, both born in Queensland. After Tom’s father deserted the family in 1904, his mother moved with the children to Charters Towers, where she took in washing. In 1910 she went west to work in hotels, returning to visit each Christmas. Tom lodged with a friend and attended local state primary and high schools. He started work in 1915, first with the post office, and then as a roustabout in the Julia Creek area. In January 1916 he joined Queensland Railways at Cloncurry as a locomotive cleaner. He progressed to fireman and, in 1925, to engine driver. On 16 February 1921 at St Andrew’s Church of England, Cloncurry, he married Margaret Ann Myers, a barmaid.

A large man, 6 ft (183 cm) tall and weighing approximately 16 stone (102 kg), Aikens was a keen Rugby League footballer, a gifted bass singer and a drinker. He was an avid reader with a remarkable memory, eagerly consuming Voltaire, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Robert Ingersoll and Eugene Debs. Less enthusiastic about his paid employment, he earned the nickname `Energy’ or `Enjo’. He held various sub-branch positions in the Australian Railways Union from 1918 and was secretary of the local branch of the Australian Labor Party. In 1924 he was elected to the Cloncurry Shire Council and three years later became deputy-chairman. Transferred by the railways to Townsville in 1930 because of his `political activism’, he joined the newly formed Hermit Park ALP branch. He stood unsuccessfully at the 1933 Townsville municipal elections, but won a seat in 1936. At the 1939 election Labor won control of the council and Aikens was elected deputy-mayor.

Despite his electoral popularity, in October 1940 Aikens was expelled from the ALP, ostensibly for his drinking, which had reached epic proportions, but really because the Queensland party’s dominant Australian Workers’ Union faction opposed his brand of socialism. He was saved from political oblivion when the State branch’s central executive expelled the entire Hermit Park membership in September 1942, because of its connection with a local `aid to Russia’ committee. The ousted branch formed itself into a new party, the `Hermit Park ALP’, and welcomed back Aikens. In 1943 it won seven of the ten aldermanic positions (with Aikens topping the poll), and in loose coalition with the Communist Party of Australia ran the Townsville City Council for three years. The council instituted an extensive program of municipal ownership of facilities—an electrical appliance store, a wood depot, a fruit and vegetable mart, an ice-works and a child-care centre—which was more a response to the exigencies of wartime than to ideology. These circumstances, coupled with Aikens’s ability to articulate northern resentment of remote government, saw him elected to the Legislative Assembly as Hermit Park Labour member for Mundingburra on 15 April 1944. He resigned as deputy-mayor and gave up drinking for good.

In 1949 the party became the North Queensland Labour Party, and in 1960 Mundingburra was renamed Townsville South. By then the party name (from which `Labour’ was dropped in 1974) was merely a medium for Aikens’s political career. He was re-elected continuously until 1974, winning an absolute majority in eight successive elections from 1953 to 1972. Moving progressively to the Right, `Tory Tom’ was the `perfect provincial populist’, reflecting the views and prejudices of his electorate. He travelled around his electorate on his bicycle and worked hard advising and representing his constituents. As an Independent he did not exert much influence on government—although this did not prevent him from claiming responsibility for several legislative amendments.

Speaking often in parliament, usually without notes but with scattered literary references, he was fluent and loud, frequently humorous, but sometimes ponderous and verbose. He could be vicious and vindictive: he regularly denounced the ALP, and sharply criticised the medical and legal professions and, increasingly, the `bludgers, parasites and time-servers’ of the universities. Railing against the evil of pornography, he called for the castration of rapists and provided graphic descriptions of their crimes. In 1974 he was a member of the select committee on punishment of crimes of violence in Queensland.

By 1977 his views attracted fewer voters. Narrowly defeated by the ALP candidate in the election on 12 November, Aikens retired from politics. As president and later patron of the Townsville Choral and Orchestral Society, he continued to enjoy singing. He died on 30 November 1985 at Townsville and, although religion had played little part in his life, was cremated with Catholic rites. His wife and their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Hughes, Images and Issues (1969)
  • I. Moles, A Majority of One (1979)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power (1980)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 8 Aug 1944, p 74, 3 Oct 1944, p 666, 2 Mar 1945, p 2000, 5 Sept 1963, p 232, 8 Sept 1971, p 431, 26 Aug 1976, p 71, 15 Sept 1977, p 676, 4 Dec 1985, p 3199
  • North Australia Research Bulletin, Sept 1977, p 58
  • Australian, 12-13 Nov 1977, `Weekend Magazine’, p 2
  • Townsville Bulletin, 3 Dec 1985, p6.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. W. Hunt, 'Aikens, Thomas (Tom) (1900–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/aikens-thomas-tom-12124/text21719, accessed 28 May 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012