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Sir Earle Page

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Sir Earle Page

The Right Honourable
Sir Earle Page
11th Prime Minister of Australia
In office
7 April – 26 April 1939
Monarch George VI
Governor General Lord Gowrie
Preceded by Joseph Lyons
Succeeded by Robert Menzies
Member of the Australian Parliament for Cowper
In office
13 December 1919 – 9 December 1961
Preceded by John Thompson
Succeeded by Frank McGuren
Personal details
Born (1880-08-08)8 August 1880
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia
Died 20 December 1961(1961-12-20) (aged 81)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Political party Country Party
Spouse(s) Ethel Page
Jean Page
Children 5
Alma mater University of Sydney
Religion Methodism

Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page,   (8 August 1880 – 20 December 1961) was an Australian politician who briefly served as the 11th Prime Minister of Australia in 1939. To date, he is the second-longest serving federal parliamentarian in Australian history, with 41 years, 361 days in Parliament.[1]

Early life

Page was born at South Grafton, New South Wales. He played Rugby Union and was selected for Combined Australian Universities, and as a reserve for NSW. He was managing a rural family property when his father died.[2] He had three brothers: Donald, Ivan, and Douglas.[3]

He attended Sydney Boys High School and the University of Sydney, where he graduated in medicine at the top of his year in 1901. He worked at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where he met Ethel Blunt, a nurse, whom he married in 1906. In 1903 he joined a private practice in Grafton and in 1904 he became one of the first people in the country to own a car.[4] He practised in Sydney and Grafton before joining the Australian Army as a medical officer in the First World War, serving in Egypt. After the war he went into farming and was elected Mayor of Grafton.[5]

Political career

In 1919 Page was elected to the House of Representatives from Cowper in northeastern New South Wales. He ran as a candidate of the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, one of several farmers' groups that won seats in that election. Shortly before parliament opened in 1920, the Farmers and Settlers Association merged with several other rural-based parties to form the Country Party. He became the party's leader in 1921, ousting William McWilliams. The young party found itself with the balance of power in the House after the 1922 election. The Nationalist government of Billy Hughes lost its majority, and could not govern without Country Party support. However, the Country Party had been formed partly due to discontent with Hughes' rural policy, and Page's animosity toward Hughes was such that he would not even consider supporting him. When it was apparent that the Nationalists would have to turn to the Country Party in order to stay in office, Page demanded and got Hughes's resignation as the price for supporting the Nationalist government.[6]

Page began negotiations with Hughes' successor as leader of the Nationalists, Stanley Bruce. His terms were stiff; he wanted his Country Party to have five seats in an 11-man Cabinet, including the post of Treasurer and the second rank in the ministry for himself. These demands were unprecedented for such a new party in a Westminster system. Nonetheless, as the Country Party was the Nationalists' only realistic coalition partner, Bruce accepted Page's terms.[6][7] For all intents and purposes, Page was the first Deputy Prime Minister of Australia (a title that did not officially exist until 1968). Since then, the leader of the Country/National Party has been the second-ranking member in nearly every non-Labor government.

Page continued his professional medical practice. He was a strong believer in orthodox finance and conservative policies, except where the welfare of farmers was concerned: then he was happy to see government money spent freely. He was also a "high protectionist": a supporter of high tariff barriers to protect Australian rural industries.[7][8]

The Bruce-Page government was defeated by Labor in 1929 (with Bruce losing his own seat), and Page went into opposition. In 1931, a group of dissident Labor MPs led by Joseph Lyons merged with the Nationalists to form the United Australia Party, with Lyons as leader. Page and the Country Party continued in coalition with the UAP. The UAP-Country Coalition won a comprehensive victory in the 1931 election. However, the UAP was in a strong enough position (only four seats short of a majority) that Lyons was able to form an exclusively UAP minority government with confidence and supply support from the Country Party – to date, the last time that the party has not had any posts in a non-Labor government. In 1934, however, the UAP suffered an eight-seat swing, forcing Lyons to take the Country Party back into his government in a full-fledged Coalition. Page became Minister for Commerce. He was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the New Year’s Day Honours of 1938.[9]

Prime Minister

Further information: Page Ministry

When Lyons died suddenly in 1939, the Governor-General Lord Gowrie appointed Page as caretaker Prime Minister. He held the office for three weeks until the UAP elected former deputy leader Robert Menzies as its new leader, and hence Prime Minister.[10]

While ten Australian Prime Ministers were knighted (and Bruce was elevated to the peerage), Page is the only one knighted before becoming Prime Minister.

Page had been very close to Lyons, but he disliked Menzies, whom he charged publicly with having been disloyal to Lyons. When Menzies was elected UAP leader, Page refused to serve under him, and made an extraordinary personal attack on him in the House, accusing him not only of ministerial incompetence but of physical cowardice (for failing to enlist during World War I). His party soon rebelled, though, and Page was deposed as Country Party leader and replaced by Archie Cameron.[7]

In 1940 Page and Menzies patched up their differences for the sake of the war effort, and Page returned to the Cabinet as Minister for Commerce.[7] Nevertheless, Page's accusations were not forgotten and were occasionally raised in parliament by Menzies' opponents (notably Eddie Ward). In 1941, the government fell; and Page spent the eight years of the Curtin and Chifley Labor governments on the opposition backbench.[11] He was made a Companion of Honour (CH) in June 1942.[12]

New states

In 1949 Page put forward a discussion paper on the redrawing of state boundaries. He proposed that Australia would be divided into 12 states. Queensland would be split into four states, Eden-Monaro and East Gippsland would become another state, Mount Gambier to Mildura and Cape Otway another state, and the Northern Territory divided into two.[13]

Return to the ministry

Menzies returned to the Prime Ministership in 1949, and Page was made Minister for Health. He held this post until 1956, when he was 76, then retired to the backbench.[14]

Upon the death of Billy Hughes in October 1952, Page became the Father of the House of Representatives and Father of the Parliament.


Page and his wife Ethel had five children, a daughter and four sons; one of Page's sons, Earle Charles (1911-1933) predeceased his parents, dying by lightning strike.

Ethel Page died in 1958. On 20 July 1959 Page married his secretary, Jean Thomas.[15] His grandson, Don Page, is a National MP in the NSW Parliament and served as Deputy Leader of the NSW Nationals from 2003 to 2007. Another grandson is Canberra poet Geoff Page. His nephew was the war hero Robert Page. His second wife, Jean Page, died on 20 June 2011.[16]

Later life and death

Page was the first Chancellor of the University of New England, which was established in 1954.[14] By the 1961 election, Page was gravely ill from lung cancer. Although he was too sick to actively campaign, Page refused to even consider retiring from Parliament and soldiered on for his 17th general election. In one of the great upsets of Australian electoral history, he lost his seat to Labor challenger Frank McGuren, whom he had defeated soundly in 1958. Page had gone into the election holding Cowper with what appeared to be an insurmountable 11-point majority, but McGuren managed to win the seat on a swing of 13 percent. Page had campaigned sporadically before going to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney for emergency surgery. He went comatose a few days before the election and never regained consciousness.[7]


He died on 20 December, 11 days after the election, without learning he had been defeated.[7][17]

Page represented Cowper for just four days short of 42 years, making him the longest-serving Australian federal parliamentarian who represented the same seat throughout his career. Only Billy Hughes served in Parliament longer than Page; but Hughes represented four different electorates in New South Wales and Victoria.


  • The Canberra suburb of Page is named after him, as is the House of Representatives Division of Page.
  • Earle Page College, a residential college of the University of New England, was founded in his honour, and is the venue for the Earle Page Annual Politics Dinner, which has had numerous prominent national and international guest lecturers.
  • In 1957, a new building at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was opened by Page and named the Page Chest Pavilion.
  • In 1975 he was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post.[18]

Further reading

  • Hughes, Colin A (1976), Mr Prime Minister. Australian Prime Ministers 1901–1972, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, Ch.12. ISBN 0-19-550471-2
  • In their autobiographies Ann (Mozley) Moyal and Ulrich Ellis wrote of their experience of working with Page.[19]Both had helped Page with his autobiography Truant Surgeon: The Inside Story of Forty Years of Australian Political Life (Angus & Robertson, 1963).


External links

Preceded by
John Thomson
Member for Cowper
Succeeded by
Frank McGuren
Preceded by
Billy Hughes
Father of the House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Eddie Ward
Father of the Parliament
Party political offices
New political party Leader of the Country Party
Succeeded by
Archie Cameron
New title Federal President of the Country Party
Succeeded by
William Moss
Political offices
Preceded by
Stanley Bruce
Treasurer of Australia
Succeeded by
E G Theodore
Preceded by
Frederick Stewart
Minister for Commerce
Succeeded by
George McLeay
Preceded by
Billy Hughes
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Harry Foll
Preceded by
Joseph Lyons
Prime Minister of Australia
Succeeded by
Robert Menzies
Preceded by
Archie Cameron
Minister for Commerce
Succeeded by
William Scully
Preceded by
Nick McKenna
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Donald Cameron
Academic offices
New title Chancellor of the University of New England
Succeeded by
Phillip Wright

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