So Monstrous a Travesty: Chris Watson
and the World’s First National
So Monstrous a Travesty: Chris Watson and the World’s First National Labour Government tells the story of Australia’s third prime minister and his pioneering government, the culmination of Australian Labor’s astonishingly rapid rise. Chris Watson’s ministry included two future prime ministers, a practically blind ex-labourer, the only MP to be expelled from Australia’s federal parliament, the only MP to serve in a Labor ministry without being an ALP member, and a hard-drinking ex-premier who feuded with the British commander-in-chief of Australia’s defence forces.
Publisher: Scribe Publications Pty Ltd
Published: September 1, 2004
Praise for So Monstrous a Travesty: Chris Watson and the World’s First National Labour Government
The great strength of this book is in the writing … McMullin presents the story of the Chilean-born Australian Prime Minister in page-turning style … He makes the reader feel part of the story and his obvious enthusiasm and sympathy for the subject draws you in … Watson and Labor seized the opportunity to show the Australian people they were fit to govern and to disprove the hysterical views put forward by their political opponents and their supporters in the mainstream press. This argument is presented and sustained convincingly, using McMullin’s considerable narrative skill to sweep the reader along with the tide of events.
This book is beautifully crafted. McMullin does more than simply tell the story of the Watson government, although he does that well. With carefully placed chapters admirable for both their economy and readability, McMullin narrates the emergence of the Labor Party in Australia in the late nineteenth century, and compares it with parties of the left elsewhere in the world. Australian Labor, he reminds us, was on the agenda in contemporary European debates about the future of socialism. It provided an example to be emulated, or shunned, depending on whether you were a revolutionary or a moderate.
At its deepest level, this book is a lament to a lost Labor Party; one which knew what it was supposed to be doing, and whose members had a strong sense of identity. They relinquished government rather than compromise their principles of arbitration in workplace relations. Read this book for its account of Labor’s first program of legislation, which included the preposterous idea that Aborigines should be allowed to deliver the mail. Read it also for its paean to early Labor figures, such as the Queenslander Andy Dawson who rose from poverty and sank into alcoholism but, in between, led the first Labor government anywhere in the world …
There are many striking vignettes in this edifying tale. Soon after Watson was sworn in, for example, he had to attend a function in Melbourne’s Exhibition Building. The man on the door would not let him in. In an era before radio and television, he had simply failed to recognise the Prime Minister. Watson meekly produced his entrée card.