In the century and a half since Victoria was granted responsible government in 1856, 44 premiers have presided over the state and colony, from ‘Honest’ William Haines to Steve Bracks. Here is their story.
For the first time this book brings together a comprehensive collection of biographical and political portraits of the Victorian premiers written by leading Australian historians and political scientists. The result is a compelling journey through a turbulent, occasionally anarchic, political landscape. A cast of fascinating characters is brought to life—the mercurial Graham Berry, who in the 1870s threatened broken heads and flaming houses in his heroic struggle to tame the colony’s intractably conservative upper house; the roguish Tommy Bent, the turn of the century ‘can do’ premier whose development enthusiasms were unhindered by probities of office; the bohemian Tom Hollway, who conducted Victoria’s affairs from his suite in the Windsor Hotel; the ‘accidental’ leader Henry Bolte, who became Victoria’s longest serving premier; and the larrikin metropolitan, Jeff Kennett, who turned the state into a neo-liberal laboratory in the 1990s.
A tale of premiers, the book is also a narrative of politics in a state that has vied with New South Wales as Australia’s most prosperous and powerful. It recounts many extraordinary episodes: the precocious development of democracy in a fledgling colony turned upside down by gold immigrants; the titanic bicameral struggles of the 1860s and 1870s that brought Victoria to the brink of insurrection; the bank crashes of the 1890s; the police strike of 1923; the great Labor split of the 1950s; the hanging of Ronald Ryan in 1967; the social democratic adventurism of the Labor decade of the 1980s brought to a shuddering halt by another era of financial collapses; and the neo-liberal experimentalism of the Kennett government. This carefully researched and engagingly written book will leave the reader in no doubt that politics in the ‘Garden State’ has seldom been sedate and its premiers rarely predictable.