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Jews have been active in all aspects of Australian public life - most notably in politics, law and public service, the arts and business.
Two Jews have held the position of Governor-General, Australia's highest ranking office: Sir Isaac Isaacs (1931-1936) and Sir Zelman Cowan (1977-1982). Sir Isaac Isaacs had the double honour of being Australia's first native-born Head of State.
Recommendations for the position of governor-general are made to the reigning British monarch by the Prime Minister of Australia. Since November 1930, there has been only one recorded case of a monarch declining a prime minister's advice.
Sir Isaac Isaac's nomination by Prime Minister James Scullin was initially opposed by the British government, not because of any lack of respect for Isaacs personally, but because the British considered it inappropriate for an Australian, no matter how highly regarded, to assume the role of the monarch’s representative in Australia. However, with precedents already set by South Africa and the Irish Free State, Scullin insisted that the monarch act on the prime minister's direct advice. The King remained reluctant to accept Scullin's recommendation but the Prime Minister stood firm. When George V finally agreed to Isaacs's appointment, on 29 November, he made it clear that he did so only because he felt that Scullin had given him no option.
It was this controversy, among other matters, that led to the 1931 Statute of Westminster which now ensures that the reigning monarch is bound to accept advice on Australian constitutional matters from the prime minister and state premiers.
One of the highlights of Sir Isaac Isaac's term as Governor-General was the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932. As the King's official respresentative in Australia, Isaacs was a key member of the official party which also included the Governor of NSW, Sir Phillip Game, and the NSW Premier, 'Black' Jack Lang. What happened next is now part of modern Australian mythology.
Jewish Lord Mayor: E.S. Marks
From July 1, 1930, to December 31, 1930, E.S. (Ernest Samuel) Marks (1871-1947) was Sydney's first Jewish Lord Mayor.
Alderman Marks was a member of the City of Sydney council for 27 years, an M.L.A. for North Sydney from October 8, 1927, to September 8, 1930, and made a C.B.E. in 1940. Connected with the wool trade for 40 years, E.S. Marks was a principal of the wool export firm of Joseph Marks and Co.
During his term as Lord Mayor of Sydney, as he was a bachelor, his sister, Miss Hilda Marks, assumed the role of Lady Mayoress. Already one of Sydney's leading hostesses, several years earlier Miss Marks had complied her own booklet of Home Cookery and Jewish Recipes to raise funds for the Red Cross.
For more than 20 years, Alderman Marks was associated with the N.S.W. division of the Red Cross. During World War I, he was chairman of the Red Cross Day committee which raised more than £1 million. A foundation member of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, E.S. Marks was a noted athlete and did much for amateur sport in Australia.
Vice-chairman of the City Council's Health and recreations committee, Marks believed the one sure way to personal and national prosperity was to teach young people how to play.
Through his position on the City Council, he put this belief into practice by working for the establishment of children's playgrounds and encouraging young people to participate in organised sport.
He represented Australia at several overseas Olympic conferences, and was vice-chairman of the Australian Olympic Federation and vice chairman of the N.S.W. Olympic Council.
E.S. Marks amassed a vast personal library of sporting books and data on athletics which he later presented to the Mitchell Library.