Joseph Lyons has so far been the only Tasmanian-born Prime Minister, serving a seven year term in the top job. For anyone interested in this chapter of Australian political history, the north west coast of the state offers two complementary heritage attractions.
Joseph Lyons: Honest Joe!
Joseph Lyons was born 15 September 1879 to Irish immigrant parents Michael and Ellen. He, along with his parents and seven siblings, lived in a humble cottage in Stanley. Joe attended school at both Ulverstone and Stanley and went on to become a school teacher.
Joseph Lyons Cottage
The 19th Century settlers cottage called home by the young Joseph Lyons has been restored, and now contains antiques, photographs and family memorabilia. Lyons Cottage is at 14 Alexander Street, Stanley (the north-western tip of the region), and is open for people to appreciate. Entry is free but donations are gratefully accepted.
One of the remarkable political feats of “Honest Joe” was his path to the federal leadership. After spending almost seven years as state opposition leader from 1916, Lyons became Premier of Tasmania on 25 October 1923. During that time however (in 1919) Lyons was an unsuccessful ALP candidate for a federal seat at a general election.
After losing power in the Tasmanian government in 1928, Joseph Lyons eventually did make the move to Canberra. Then he resigned his post as a federal minister in 1931, only to be elected as leader of the new United Australia Party. Nine months later he was elected Prime Minister!
Home Hill, Devonport
Joseph married Enid Muriel Burnell in 1915 and between them they had twelve children. That is another remarkable fact in itself. Imagine the time constraints placed on their family with Dad’s political commitments. Not only was Lyons leading a minority ALP government, as Premier he also managed the Treasury and Railways portfolios.
In 1916 Joseph and Enid Lyons built a lovely timber house in Devonport for their soon-to-be blossoming family. Since Dame Enid’s death in 1981, the family home has been maintained by the National Trust and provides a sneak peek into the life of the prominent Australian political family. Home Hill is at 77 Middle Road, Devonport and is open to the public at set times. General admission is $10-00.
Dame Enid Lyons
In 1939, Joseph Lyons died of a heart attack while serving as Australian Prime Minister. Four years later, at the 1943 federal general election, Enid Lyons became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, winning the Tasmanian seat of Darwin. She later became the first female in federal Cabinet. She resigned in 1951 citing ill health, after three successful election campaigns.
Also a former teacher, Enid Lyons was a champion for the rights of women, children and equality between genders. Surviving her husband by almost twice as many years as their marriage, Dame Enid was clearly a special woman. Following her retirement from politics, she wrote books and newspaper articles; and served on several boards. Her picture even appeared on a postage stamp.
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