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Walsh, Edward Joseph (Ted) (1894–1976)

by D. B. Waterson

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Edward Joseph (Ted) Walsh (1894-1976), cane-farmer and politician, was born on 30 June 1894 at Mackay, Queensland, youngest of five children of Irish-born parents Michael Walsh, publican, and his wife Margaret, née Barrett. Raised in a Catholic children's home, Ted suffered from severe trachoma which required several long stays in hospital; he received only a rudimentary education. He began work as a rural labourer and railway fettler, and was active in the Australian Workers' Union. On 24 May 1922 at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Capella, he married with Anglican rites Jessie Winifred Bailey (d.1951), a schoolteacher. By 1925 he had acquired a cane-farm at Sarina. A member of the Plane Creek mill suppliers' committee, he was appointed to the Mackay district cane-growers' executive in 1932.

Persuaded by William Forgan Smith and Clarrie Fallon to enter State politics, in 1935 Walsh defeated (Sir) Arthur Fadden to take the seat of Mirani for the Australian Labor Party. He was secretary for public lands (1940-44) and minister for transport (1944-47). Losing his seat in 1947, he became a full-time organizer for the A.L.P.; his salary was paid by the A.W.U. He retained his place on the Queensland central executive of the Labor Party and was appointed with Joe Bukowski and T. W. Rasey to the industrial groups committee. In 1950 he captured Bundaberg for the A.L.P. from Frank Barnes. His pamphlet What Frank Barnes has Done for Bundaberg comprised a caption and six blank pages. Walsh's motto 'think big for Bundaberg', combined with parish-pump largesse and a prosperous sugar industry, enabled him to retain the seat until his retirement in 1969.

Treasurer (1951-57) in Edward Hanlon's and Vince Gair's governments, Walsh was cautious and competent. In the 1950s he coped with the effects of the Commonwealth's assumption (1942) of uniform income tax powers and its reduction to Queensland's share of financial disbursements. Walsh found it difficult to fund the free hospital scheme and a number of development projects; his last budget in 1956 showed a deficit of £1.75 million. This factor was one cause of Labor's disastrous election result the following year.

A strong anti-communist, Walsh nevertheless at first opposed banning the Communist Party of Australia, but in 1951 surreptitiously supported the 'Yes' case in the Federal referendum. He sought closer relations with B. A. Santamaria's National Civic Council. While never wholeheartedly accepting the philosophies of the National Catholic Rural Movement as articulated by Santamaria and Colin Clark, he was sympathetic to rural development through State investment. On 8 January 1955 at Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig's residence Wynberg at New Farm, Brisbane, he married with Catholic rites Ellen Virena Curnow.

Walsh was caught up in the growing conflict between the A.L.P. organization and the parliamentary party over policy implementation. When the Labor-in-Politics convention at Mackay in March 1956 instructed the government to introduce three weeks annual leave for public servants, he supported Gair in refusing to 'surrender' to the demand. Gair was expelled from the party on 24 April 1957 and the A.L.P. lost office four months later. The extent to which Walsh was responsible for the disaster has been the subject of debate. (Sir) John Egerton believed that Walsh had pushed Gair to the limit in order to displace him, and should bear a substantial portion of the blame. Walsh's refusal to capitalize on the impasse, however, demonstrated his continuing loyalty to Gair. This, with his insistence on treasury's financial rectitude, worked to his own ultimate political disadvantage. Expelled from the A.L.P. on 4 May 1957, he joined the new Queensland Labor Party and was re-elected to parliament in August that year. In 1962 he refused to support the amalgamation of the Q.L.P. with the Democratic Labor Party. He won as an Independent at the elections in 1963 and 1966.

When young, Walsh was a handsome, tall man with keen but hooded eyes, slicked black hair, and a drooping moustache. As he aged his weight increased to over twenty stone (127 kg). His recipe for longevity was pure Queensland: 'Mow your own lawn, eat T-bone steaks and adulterate the milk—and a drop of Bundy is the only way to do that'. A master of parliamentary procedure, he was a forthright debater. He was intensely loyal to his friends and implacably hostile to his enemies—of whom there were many—and was willing to resort to fisticuffs. It was alleged that Walsh had a 'little black book' in which parliamentarians' peccadilloes were kept for use in times of 'trouble' and 'difficulties'. Nor was he averse to using his position to bestow gifts in the form of Golden Casket art union franchises.

Torn between loyalties to his party and the Catholic church, and concerned for small-scale rural enterprises, he was a victim of ideological currents he could not master, and personal attachments that were often misplaced. Because he was not prepared to abandon old ties, his power and political creativity were essentially finished by the 'split'. Nevertheless, his energy, financial competence and grass-roots ability to 'deliver the goods' in a hostile political environment, marked him as larger than just a typical figure of his State and time. Survived by his wife, and by the two sons and daughter of his first marriage, he died on 26 February 1976 in South Brisbane and was buried in Hemmant cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (comp), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Labor in Power (Brisb, 1980)
  • R. Fitzgerald and H. Thornton, Labor in Queensland (Brisb, 1989)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1975-76, p 2601
  • Worker (Brisbane), 23 Apr 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 May 1957
  • Bundaberg News-Mail, 11, 16 Jan 1969, 27 Feb 1976
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 27 Feb 1976
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

D. B. Waterson, 'Walsh, Edward Joseph (Ted) (1894–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/walsh-edward-joseph-ted-11951/text21421, accessed 21 November 2017.

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