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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


At the beginning of the 1950s, war again dominated. Australian units with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan were committed within months of hostilities breaking out between North Korea and South Korea in June 1950. Within a year national service had been introduced and, once again, instructing sergeants could be heard at Brighton military camp. Also in 1951, cuts of 10,000 in Commonwealth public service numbers were announced, intended to help balance a growing defence budget. Married women were nominated as the first category for retrenchment. A target of 4000 positions was set for the Postmaster-General's Department (PMG), the largest federal department and largest Commonwealth representative in Tasmania.

It is hard to nominate a strong theme for the decade, being more a series of one-off events and incidents, though they still generated records of interest. There was a royal visit in 1954; there were, as explained in Chapter 9, various inquiries, actions and appeals surrounding the University of Tasmania and Professor SS Orr; and German and Italian migrants continued to arrive under contract to the HEC. Then in 1959 a new stage was reached in mastery of Bass Strait when a crowd of 8000 on the banks of the Mersey greeted the arrival in Devonport of MV Princess of Tasmania, the first of the drive-on/drive-off passenger ferries.

The Commonwealth presence itself in Tasmania changed little. Essentially, post-war developments consolidated. The Commonwealth Office of Education, for example, established a State Office in Hobart (from 1951; CA 596), and the government's 1948 decision to establish a new modern replacement for Cambridge aerodrome saw Hobart Airport (CA 4595) operational from 1956.

In the 1950s, divisions in the labour movement's political and industrial wings were on full show in Tasmania. At the ALP's 1955 federal conference in Hobart, the issue of the so-called industrial groups surfaced and they solidified to form the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist). Two members, Frank and Dennis Hursey, objected to paying a compulsory union levy and several high-profile court cases followed. Through it all Menzies ruled, his second term as Prime Minister covering the entire decade, while for most of the same period Cosgrove served a second time as Tasmania's Premier. Though from opposite sides of the political divide, they cooperated when it mattered: 'Well regarded by Menzies', wrote WA Townsley of Cosgrove in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, 'he obtained good financial grants, enabling rapid expansion of the hydro-electricity scheme and attracting industries to the State'.


Chapter 1
The Commonwealth and Tasmania, 1901–2000