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Blakeley, Arthur (1886–1972)

by Norma Marshall

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Arthur Blakeley (1886-1972), by Solomons Studios

Arthur Blakeley (1886-1972), by Solomons Studios

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3666643

Arthur Blakeley (1886-1972), trade unionist and politician, was born on 3 July 1886 at Gilberton, South Australia, son of Simeon Blakeley, a house-painter from Yorkshire, and his wife Catherine Ann, née Greenwood. The family soon moved to New south Wales and he attended North Broken Hill Convent School, leaving at 13 to work in the mining camps. Next year he became a shearer and apart from a brief return to mining, continued in pastoral occupations. He became an organizer for the Australian Workers' Union in 1912, and secretary of its western (Bourke) branch in 1915-17. From 1912 he was a delegate to A.W.U. conventions and New South Wales Labor Party conferences, and was also a member of the State party executive in 1915-17.

In 1917 Blakeley was elected to the House of Representatives for Darling, defeating W. G. Spence. He campaigned against conscription in New England in 1916 and in his electorate next year. Although opposed to the Industrial Workers of the World, at the 1917 A.W.U. convention he sought support for a royal commission into the conviction of 'the twelve' for conspiracy. He was summonsed under the War Precautions Act in December 1917, with other anti-conscriptionists, but the charge was seemingly not pressed. He twice failed in July 1919 to have details of his case tabled in parliament.

Blakeley was general president of the A.W.U. in 1919-23. In 1920 he became secretary to the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, narrowly defeating J. H. Catts; he remained secretary until 1928 and served on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works in 1923-25. In April 1928 he, unexpectedly, narrowly won the deputy leadership of the party from E. G. Theodore who, however, next year defeated him, but he was elected to J. H. Scullin's ministry. As minister for home affairs in 1929-32, he was responsible for Canberra, and moved there with his family in 1929; he announced in 1930 the establishment of a university college and next year the abolition of the Federal Capital Territory Commission. He was one of Scullin's more loyal supporters. In 1932-34 he was again caucus secretary.

Blakeley's main interests were industrial affairs, particularly as they affected the A.W.U., and public health. In what Sir Neville Howse described as his 'excellent and lucid speech' on the 1924-25 budget, he showed his mastery of the statistics on tuberculosis, cancer, venereal disease and industrial diseases, and deprecated the small allocation for public health. Capable of sharp witticisms, Blakeley had claimed in 1917 that the country was run by the prime minister and the government printer.

Defeated in the 1934 election by a Lang Labor candidate, Blakeley moved to Melbourne and next year was appointed an inspector of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, becoming a senior inspector in 1940. On 13 November 1942 he became a conciliation commissioner, and was attached as industrial officer to the Allied Works Council; he resigned in June 1943 when his advice was rejected and an award made without consulting the unions or the court, but was reappointed in August. He retired in 1952.

Blakeley died at Glen Iris on 27 June 1972; after a state funeral he was cremated. Predeceased by his wife Ruby Pauline McCarroll (d.1962), whom he had married at Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, on 21 February 1914, he was survived by two sons and two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at $8175.

His elder brother Frederick (1882-1962), opal miner, was born on 1 October 1882 at Gilberton and moved with his family to Broken Hill. At 12 he joined a gang of navvies and a year later went to the opal-fields at White Cliffs. He spent the rest of his life roaming in the outback prospecting. In 1908 with two friends he cycled 2200 miles (3540 km) from White Cliffs to Darwin; years later he described the journey in Hard Liberty (London, 1938), one of the most remarkable books on the inland. He led the 1930 expedition to search for L. H. B. Lasseter's lost reef, although he doubted its existence. In his Dream Millions, published posthumously in Sydney in 1972, he questioned Lasseter's veracity, and suggested that he had faked his own death. Blakeley also wrote occasional articles for the Sydney Morning Herald on the Aboriginals and on fossil monsters in the sandhills of Central Australia; in World War II he suggested using wild horses for transport and pack bullocks in the New Guinea jungle. Unmarried, he died of cancer in Sydney on 31 August 1962.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Robertson, J. H. Scullin (Perth, 1974)
  • P. M. Weller (ed), Caucus Minutes, vols 1-3 (Melb, 1975)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 1917-19, 10660, 1923, 18, 1924, 2937-43
  • Australian Worker, 19 Apr 1917, 23 Jan, 6 Feb, 13 Nov 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Oct 1934, 4 Aug 1940, 3 June 1942, 29 May 1943, 30 Jan, 13 Feb 1947, 1 Sept 1962, 28 June, 29 Oct 1972.

Citation details

Norma Marshall, 'Blakeley, Arthur (1886–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/blakeley-arthur-5268/text8879, accessed 23 September 2017.

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