Comprised of a series of portraits of Queensland’s premiers to 1987, The Premiers of Queensland maps the political game in this north-eastern state of Australia from Robert Herbert’s inaugural administration following separation from New South Wales in 1859, to the world’s first Labor Government in 1899, to Johannes Bjelke-Petersen’s two decade grip on power across the 1970s and 80s.
Often labelled the “Deep North”, Queensland has long been regarded with a mixture of suspicion and disdain by the southern elites of Melbourne and Sydney. Historically decentralised, underpopulated and with an economy perched on a narrow base of pastoralism, agriculture and mining, Queenslanders have displayed an entrenched “country-mindedness”, a fervent belief in the propriety of living and working off the land. The portraits in this work – each compiled by one of several professional historians – personalise the various leaders which have occupied the state’s seat of power and demonstrate the extent to which Queenslanders have responded to men who respect this mindset, and the God-fearing, pro-monarchist conservatism that has attended it. The Premiers that have succeeded present as strong, authoritarian leaders, keenly attuned to populist sentiment and never afraid to bludgeon opponents – particularly the Federal government – with chauvinist parochialism as policies or polls required.
Highlights in this collection include Murphy’s portraits of the larger-than-life Labor leader TJ Ryan and his successor “Red Ted” Theodore, a remarkable figure who moved from trade unionist to Premier to newspaper magnate, his evolution smoothed by a consummate pragmatism that enabled him to evade political enemies and the repercussions of shady business dealings.
Five men have held power since the book’s final chapter covering Bjelke-Petersen’s conservative reign was inked. Perpetuating their historical dislike for change, the Queensland electorate has entrusted power to the Australian Labor Party, led by populist managerialists Wayne Goss and Peter Beattie, for all but three of the last 15 years.