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Gordon Brown (1885–1967)

by Nicholas Brown

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Gordon Brown (1885-1967), by unknown photographer

Gordon Brown (1885-1967), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L21688

Gordon Brown (1885-1967), politician, was born on 11 February 1885 at Chesterfield, Derby, England, son of William Brown, a shoe salesman and Primitive Methodist, and his wife Jane, née Woodcock. Educated at Clay Cross Grammar School, Gordon grew up in modest, happy circumstances. He was apprenticed as an engineer's pattern-maker, joined the Social Democratic Federation and became 'steeped in Marxian theory'. A restless disposition led him through a range of jobs, from piano salesman to coalminer. Anxious to understand the lives of the 'submerged tenth', he left full-time employment to move through the workhouses: his radicalism was fuelled by experiencing the 'fearful conditions' of the itinerant poor. Brown sailed to Canada where he was imprisoned for street agitation, then came back briefly to Britain before migrating to Australia in 1912.

Although he took part in public meetings in Sydney, he grew dissatisfied with 'the reiteration of generalities' in socialist oratory. Yet, he continued his activities on moving to Queensland in 1913 and spent further terms in gaol. On 21 December 1914 in St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, Brown married Beatrice Agnes Hinchsliff. In 1918 he found work with a time-payment firm. Finally convinced of the necessity for more organized industrial politics, he joined the Shop Assistants' Union and the Labor Party. From 1925 to 1927 he was vice-president of the Trades and Labor Council of Queensland. He was elected to the Senate in 1931.

Throughout the 1930s Brown spoke often on the issue of economic protection. Arguing against Empire trade preferences, he maintained that Australia's secondary industries should be assisted to attain 'self-reliance and independence'. In his speeches, as well as his keen interjections, he called for thorough economic management and equity in welfare provision, rather than for more radical reforms. His preference for a 'lighter vein' in serious proceedings led to his suspension from the House. Deputy-leader (1935-38) of the Opposition in the Senate, he was chairman of committees from 1941 until 1943 when he became president of the Senate. While Brown refused to wear the wig and robes of office, he was proud to be the custodian of the chamber's privileges and authority.

Believing in the constructive role of propaganda and in the need to educate the young, he took a close interest in the morale campaigns of World War II and in the Workers' Educational Association, and criticized excessive censorship then and later. He emphasized the skills of oratory and counselled colleagues on the art of delivery. Brown was renowned for the 'stories' he told in Yorkshire brogue, regardless of the company. Following a serious illness and his replacement as president in 1951, his contributions in the Senate tended to be incisive—sometimes teasing—questions, rather than extended speeches. He later published his autobiography, My Descent from Soapbox to Senate (Brisbane, 1953).

Brown was over six feet (183 cm) tall, 'strong in t' arm' and an optimist by nature. Throughout his life he applied principle and conscience to public issues. He retired in 1965. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died on 12 January 1967 in Brisbane and, after a state funeral at St Philip's Anglican Church, Annerley, was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), vol 137, 1932, p 2859, vol 152, 1936, p 2360, vol 164, 1940, p 241, vol 168, 1941, p 599, vol 169, 1941, p 358, (Senate), vol 11, 1957, pp 237, 836
  • People (Sydney), 17 Jan 1951, p 8
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 Jan 1967
  • Sun (Sydney), 14 July 1977.

Citation details

Nicholas Brown, 'Brown, Gordon (1885–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Gordon Brown (1885-1967), by unknown photographer

Gordon Brown (1885-1967), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L21688

Life Summary [details]


11 February, 1885
Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England


12 January, 1967 (aged 81)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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