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Hoolan, John (1842–1911)

by W. J. H. Harris

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Hoolan (1842-1911), newspaper-owner and politician, was born in Tipperary, Ireland, son of James Hoolan and his wife Margaret, née Kennedy. Trained as a carpenter and married in Ireland to Ellen Lawlor about 1868, he probably brought his family to New South Wales about 1878. He worked briefly around Bathurst, then went to Queensland about 1880 and was first registered on the electoral roll for Charters Towers in November 1883. In October 1886 he was chairman of the Black Jack Deep Block Gold Mining Co. Ltd.

In 1887 Hoolan moved to Croydon to establish the Mining News and the Mundic Miner at Georgetown. The latter paper, which became his main mouthpiece, was soon notorious for its pungent prose. Hoolan himself acquired the nickname 'Plumper' because of his advocacy of 'whole hog' principles. Failing as a radical candidate for Burke in 1888, he entered parliament after a by-election in August 1890 and, because of his appalling flow of adjectives which 'paralysed' the House, he was known as 'the Wild Man'. As there was still no Labor Party, he joined forces with Thomas Glassey as a defiant minority. When the two arrived at Gympie on the same train as the governor and cabinet, however, the crowd welcomed them and ignored the official party. Both he and Glassey were elected to the executive which the Labor Party convention of August 1892 created. After his electorate was divided in 1893, Hoolan was returned unopposed but, although fifteen Labor members were elected, Glassey was defeated. Hoolan was chosen as leader. When Glassey sought to return to politics in 1894, Hoolan resigned his seat; Glassey won it easily in the by-election and Hoolan regained it when Glassey moved on to represent Bundaberg in March 1896.

Like Glassey, Hoolan became increasingly restive in the strengthening Labor machine. He refused to sign the pledge in 1896 and stood as a Labor independent, but was not opposed by a Labor candidate. About this time he acquired a small grazing property. He now openly branded the theory of 'Socialism in our time' as 'impracticable' and as 'hanging a millstone around the neck of the Labor Party'. In the debates on the Queensland National Bank Ltd (agreement) bill of 1896, the rift became obvious and he voted against the party on the Mareeba to Chillagoe railway bill of 1897. His activities as an emissary of Glassey in a bid to secure control of the Worker were investigated by a special party conference of 1897; he refused to appear. Having left the Labor Party, he abandoned Burke in 1899 and challenged Thomas Givens at Cairns on behalf of a Glassey faction, but was defeated. After failing in an attempt on the Senate in 1901, he abandoned politics permanently.

Able but unorthodox, Hoolan generated a host of anecdotes. When Charles McDonald was suspended in 1894 and ordered to retire from the House, Hoolan held him down by force and encouraged him to defy the Speaker. His own suspension followed. At one of his last parliamentary appearances, he was suspended again for defying the Speaker. 'Mr Hoolan thereupon proceeded to the table and, filling a glass with water said, “Here's luck all round”. The honourable member then left the chamber, raising his coat tails as he retired'.

In Hoolan's declining years he worked sometimes as a journalist and sometimes at his trade as a carpenter. He settled in Brisbane and died there in the Diamantina Hospital of a rodent ulcer on 15 June 1911. He was buried in Toowong cemetery. His wife, a son and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years (Brisb, 1919)
  • R. Gollan, Radical and Working Class Politics (Melb, 1960)
  • G. C. Bolton, A Thousand Miles Away (Brisb, 1963)
  • W. J. H. Harris, First Steps (Canberra, 1966)
  • Worker (Brisbane), 25 July 1891, 23 June 1894, 9 June 1897, 7 July 1900, 12 Dec 1903
  • Boomerang (Brisbane), 26 May 1888
  • Brisbane Courier, 2 Mar 1901
  • newsclippings book, 1893 elections (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

W. J. H. Harris, 'Hoolan, John (1842–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hoolan-john-6727/text11563, accessed 25 September 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012