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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


The 1930s began with a worldwide economic depression and ended with the war in Europe. Though both started far away, they were felt at every level of Tasmanian society. There were four prime ministers (Scullin, Lyons, Page and Menzies). This was not especially remarkable save that one of their number, JA Lyons, was – and remains – Tasmania's only prime minister. Other Tasmanians who combined a premiership with federal politics were Premier and later federal Senator John Earle and Fraser government Minister and later Premier Ray Groom. Whether Lyons' leadership of three successful and underrated governments was especially Tasmanian is difficult to say, even with Anne Henderson's biography available, but the influence of a long-standing association with economist LF Giblin was without doubt important and special. State politics also saw four leaders (five if we allow the start of Cosgrove's long reign on 18 December 1939). As in Canberra with Lyons, Hobart was dominated in the middle years by one man, Albert Ogilvie.

The machinery of government (and thus records production) was small, and those few departments with state and regional offices throughout the federation remained unchanged. Only nine new agencies with any Tasmanian links were established, half in 1939 alone, signifying a return to relative prosperity but also, thinking of the new District Headquarters, 6 Military District [II], Australian Military Forces, 1939–42 (CA 1574) and an RAAF Recruiting Office, Hobart, 1939–91 (CA 6926), looming conflict.

The Commonwealth Grants Commission, formed in 1933 by legislation, was, like the Australian Aluminium Production Commission a decade later, established with Tasmania in mind. 'In July 1933', wrote Anne Henderson, 'it was Lyons' initiative as a former state premier to create the Commonwealth Grants Commission'. The idea behind it, however, was more that of Tasmanian economist LF Giblin, who served for three years as one of the foundation members and who exercised quasi-judicial power to take evidence. The commission was intended to bring principle and factual rigour to the assessment of requests from states, recognising their unequal advantages yet entitlement to an equal level of basic Commonwealth services.

In the 1920s, there was no telephone or air link to the mainland, and indeed no sea link from Hobart either. To arrive in Melbourne from Hobart, one caught the train to Launceston, arriving six hours later, then a steamer across Bass Strait, an often dangerous stretch of water seven times the width of the English Channel. Early in the following decade, that began to change. The Commonwealth developed and opened an airport at Western Junction, Launceston (CA 8569), and authorised Ivan and Victor Holyman to start an air service between Launceston and Flinders Island in 1932 and to establish a Holyman Airways Launceston–Melbourne service in 1934. The first commercial flights from the federal aerodrome at Cambridge, near Hobart, began operation in the mid-1930s, and in 1936 a submarine telephone cable service started between Tasmania and Victoria via King Island. The state was thus tethered to the mainland and thereby the world, though we may wonder how a Tasmanian Lawson would have described local efforts in 1938–39 to reinvigorate the Tasmanian Government Railways (TGR), described almost poetically by Lloyd Robson, summarising the century which ended in a Commonwealth takeover in the 1970s as 'financially pestilential and highly unprofitable though picturesque and quaint'. Even so, as the decade ended, the TGR performed an important war production role, particularly its Launceston tool annexe.


Chapter 1
The Commonwealth and Tasmania, 1901–2000