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Joseph Farrar Coates (1878–1943)

by Murray Perks

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Joseph Farrar Coates (1878-1943), trade unionist and politician, was born on 21 September 1878 at Bathurst, New South Wales, son of James Farrar Coates, commercial agent, and his wife Honorah, née Mahony. Educated at a Patrician Brothers' school and St Aloysius' College, Sydney, he married Mary Teresa Hinchy on 17 March 1899.

Coates became a commercial traveller for the large Sydney firm of S. Hoffnung & Co. Ltd and enjoyed a successful business career. In the 1890s he joined the local branch of the Australian Natives' Association and became active in Labor politics: he was a member of the committee of the Early Closing Association of New South Wales and was a foundation member of the Shop Assistants' Union of New South Wales in 1902-43. In 1910 he was defeated for the State seat of Bathurst. In April 1921 he was elected to the executive of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party despite opposition from Jack Bailey's dominant faction. In August he was nominated by John Storey's government to the Legislative Council. He resigned from the State executive in 1923 in protest at its expulsion of James Dooley, incurring the ill will of the new parliamentary leader J. T. Lang.

In May 1925 Coates was elected by caucus to Lang's first ministry; however the premier gave him the post of honorary minister and 'told him he was to be honorary in every sense of the term'. Coates swallowed his disappointment when A. C. Willis became government leader in the council; he supported the government's unsuccessful efforts to abolish the Upper House. When Lang, at loggerheads with the caucus, reconstructed his ministry in 1927 he omitted Coates. In Opposition after the election that year, Coates was chairman and leader of the Labor Party in the council in defiance of Lang.

In 1931 he refused to support the 'Lang Plan', and broke away to lead an anti-Lang Labor Party supported by the Scullin Federal Labor government. He also acted as a State delegate on the A.L.P. Federal executive. Coates's own remedy for democracy was the creation of 'a vast system of private ownership … in which there should be a large body of small capitalists'. Remaining parliamentary leader of a disparate and dwindling group united by little more than hostility to Lang, he embarrassed his colleagues by vociferously supporting (Sir) Bertram Stevens's government's proposal in 1933 to reform the Legislative Council. Nevertheless, Coates retained sufficient support to secure election to the reconstructed council, and was a member until 1943. He was vice-president of the New South Wales branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association and for the remainder of his parliamentary career, generally sided with the coalition ministries but retained Labor sympathies.

Coates was a government director of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd from 1931, managing director of Universal Publicity Pty Ltd, a committee-member of the Food for Babies Fund and Good Samaritan Association, and a prominent Catholic layman. In the 1930s he travelled abroad several times. He died of cerebro-vascular disease on 4 May 1943 at Haberfield, where he had lived for many years, and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by two sons and a daughter. His estate was valued for probate at £9784.

Select Bibliography

  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • K. Turner, House of Review? (Syd, 1969), Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1943, p 2860
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Feb, 25 May 1932, 12 May 1933, 5 May 1943.

Citation details

Murray Perks, 'Coates, Joseph Farrar (1878–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 July 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


21 September, 1878
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia


4 May, 1943 (aged 64)
Haberfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.