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The art of consensus: Edmund Barton and the 1897 Federal Convention

Bolton, G. (1997) The art of consensus: Edmund Barton and the 1897 Federal Convention. Papers on Parliament (30). pp. 33-48.

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Edmund Barton first entered my life at the Port Hotel, Derby on the evening of Saturday, 13 September 1952. As a very young postgraduate I was spending three months in the Kimberley district of Western Australia researching the history of the pastoral industry. Being at a loose end that evening I went to the bar to see if I could find some old-timer with an interesting store of yarns. I soon found my old-timer. He was a leathery, weather-beaten station cook, seventy-three years of age; Russel Ward would have been proud of him. I sipped my beer, and he drained his creme-de-menthe from five-ounce glasses, and presently he said: ‘Do you know what was the greatest moment of my life?’ ‘No’, I said, ‘but I’d like to hear’; I expected to hear some epic of droving, or possibly an anecdote of Gallipoli or the Somme. But he answered: ‘When I was eighteen years old I was kitchen-boy at Petty’s Hotel in Sydney when the federal convention was on. And every evening Edmund Barton would bring some of the delegates around to have dinner and talk about things. I seen them all: Deakin, Reid, Forrest, I seen them all. But the prince of them all was Edmund Barton.’ It struck me then as remarkable that such an archetypal bushie, should be so admiring of an essentially urban, middle-class lawyer such as Barton. I resolved that one day I would find out more, and that is an important reason for me to be writing Barton’s biography many years later…

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Department of the Senate, Parliament House
Notes: This paper was presented as a lecture in the Department of the Senate Occasional Lecture Series at Parliament House on 23 May 1997.
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