Joseph Lyons

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Joseph Aloysius Lyons, CH (15 September 1879 – 7 April 1939) was an Australian politician. He was Labor Premier of Tasmania from 1923 to 1928 and a Minister in the James Scullin government from 1929 until his resignation from the Labor Party in March 1931. He subsequently led the United Australia Party and was the tenth Prime Minister of Australia from January 1932 until his death.


Early life

Lyons was born in Circular Head, at Stanley, Tasmania, the son of Irish immigrants. His father, Michael Lyons, was a successful farmer who afterwards engaged in a butchery and bakery business, but lost this on account of bad health, and subsequently was forced to work as a labourer. His mother, a woman of courage and endurance, did much to keep the family of eight children together, but Joseph had to leave school at nine to work as a messenger and printer's devil. But with the assistance of two aunts, he was able to resume his education at the Philip Smith Teachers' Training College, Hobart, and became a teacher. He also became an active trade unionist and was an early member of the Australian Labor Party in Tasmania.[1][2]

State politics

In 1909 Lyons was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly. From 1914 to 1916 he was Treasurer (finance minister) and Minister for Education and Railways in John Earle's state Labor government. As Education Minister he oversaw a number of reforms, including abolition of fees for state schools, improving teachers' pay and conditions, and founding Tasmania's first state high schools.[2]

In 1913, a participant in the Labor discussion groups, Eliza Burnell, introduced him to her 15 year-old daughter, Enid Burnell, a trainee teacher and they were married two years later.[3] She was a strong-minded woman who exercised great influence over Lyons, while raising their eleven children.

When the ALP split over conscription during the First World War in 1916, Earle, a pro-conscriptionist, followed Prime Minister Billy Hughes out of the Labor party. Like most Australians of Irish Catholic background, Lyons was an anti-conscriptionist and stayed in the Labor Party, becoming its new leader in Tasmania.[2]

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