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Andrew Fisher : Australia’s Prime Minister at the time of...

Andrew Fisher :

Australia’s Prime Minister at the time of the Gallipoli Landing in 1915.

100 years ago, Australian troops were awaiting orders to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Prime Minister at the time was Andrew Fisher, but he was not asked by the British government for his permission, at that time the Australian troops were considered Britain’s to deploy. On 31 July 1914, in an election speech, Andrew Fisher had famously declared that ‘should the worst happen, after everything has been done that honour will permit, Australians will stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling.

Andrew Fisher was born in Scotland and began working in coal mines at the age of 10. Seeking a better life, he immigrated to Australia in 1885, obtaining work in coal mines and later as an engine driver in Queensland. He became involved in trade unions and was elected as a Labor Party member in the Queensland parliament. His concerns for the working man were exemplified by his push for industrial safety, workers compensation, arbitration and a state railway and banking system.

He entered Federal Parliament in 1901 and by 1909 was Australia’s Prime Minister in a minority government that lasted less than a year. He was PM again from 1910-1913 in which time he established the Commonwealth Bank, laid the foundation stone for Canberra as capital and at the coronation of George V was a novelty as the first Labor Prime Minister in the Empire.

Although he pledged complete support when Britain entered the war, he was opposed to conscription and military glory. Upon re-election in 1914, he was determined that Australia would fund its own war effort, but was continually undermined by people within his own party, especially Billy Hughes, and unhappy with Australia’s lack of input into war decisions and the conscription debate. He resigned as Prime Minister in October 1915 and was appointed Australian High Commissioner in London. He was popular with the troops, visited the Western Front and was a member of the Dardanelles Commission that investigated the failure of the Gallipoli campaign. As High Commissioner he was also addressed by war correspondent Keith Murdoch in the famous Gallipoli Letter.

After a brief return to Australia, he settled in London, where he died in 1928.

His record reveals a legacy of reforms and national development.

These photographs are from the State Library of New South Wales collections.