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Dunstan, Thomas (1873–1954)

by Ian Carnell

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Thomas Dunstan (1873-1954), newspaper proprietor and politician, was born on 20 April 1873 at Waiokaraka, Thames, New Zealand, eldest son of Nicholas John Dunstan, miner, and his wife Esther Mary Ann, née Connon. In the early 1880s the family ventured to Gympie, Queensland, and Thomas was apprenticed to the Gympie Times; later he sailed to Sydney to work as a compositor. He returned to Gympie in the mid-1890s and after a short time as compositor on the Gympie Miner joined the Labor Gympie Truth as reporter, secretary and canvasser at the request of Andrew Fisher, a director of the paper. The following period of financial hardship and political ostracism taught Dunstan the necessity for strict party solidarity. Modest and unassuming, he received much encouragement from Fisher with whom he shared lodgings and, for a time, a tent. In 1901 Henry Boote left the Truth and Dunstan became editor-manager. With Jack Priddy he purchased the newspaper and eventually, with Fisher as guarantor, became sole owner. He ran the paper, with the assistance of his sons, until publication ceased in 1942.

Dunstan was the Legislative Assembly member for Gympie (later renamed Nash) from 22 May 1915 to 11 May 1929. Unsuccessful in 1932, he was again returned on 11 May 1935 and held the seat until at 80, the oldest member of the House, he retired on 6 March 1953. In what had become a rural electorate, Dunstan used the two themes behind Labor's establishment of state enterprises—the lowering of prices and the attack on monopolies—particularly well, constantly arguing that these were the basis of a close identity between workers and primary producers. As the local member he 'always had an ear for the requirements of the district and the difficulties of his people'. Pragmatic in approach, he believed in an evolutionary development of a new order—'We do not propose as a party to pull down the social edifice, in order to build a new one, and meanwhile ask the people to sleep beneath the trees'. But after Labor's first years in power he felt that the workers had not fully seized the opportunities with which the government had presented them.

Dunstan was minister without portfolio under W. N. Gillies from 26 February to 22 October 1925 and then secretary for public lands from 22 October 1925 to 21 May 1929 in the W. McCormack government. While he did not make great initiatives, he gained a reputation as a sympathetic administrator. It was said that many soldier settlers had reason to thank him for his kindly support. In 1920-24 and 1939-49 as temporary chairman of committees, he did much to make the parliamentary library an excellent collection. A strong democrat with a firm belief in the dignity and importance of the assembly, Dunstan was also noted as a keen artist who would busily sketch 'the features and gestures of some member who was haranguing Mr Speaker and a bored house'.

On 27 February 1901 at St Andrew's Church of England, One Mile, Gympie, he had married Mary Lydamont, by whom he had five sons and two daughters. On 19 June 1954, two years after her death, he died in the Dunstan ward of the Gympie General Hospital and after a state funeral was buried in Gympie cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. L. Lack (ed), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1954-55, 8
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 11 May 1915
  • Gympie Times, 22 June 1954
  • Fisher papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Ian Carnell, 'Dunstan, Thomas (1873–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/dunstan-thomas-6058/text10363, accessed 24 November 2017.

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