Feb 202017
 

On this date in 1913 the first survey peg for the laying out of the new Australian capital, Canberra, was driven in ceremonially by Minister of Home Affairs, King O’Malley. The founding and development of Canberra is a curious story in its right, but today I am more interested in who King O’Malley was: a larger than life character.

O’Malley was not quite certain about his own birthday. He claimed it was either 3 or 4 July 1854, but he chose to celebrate it on 4 July. O’Malley claimed all his life (in public at least) to have been born at the Stanford Farm in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada, which would have made him a British subject, but it is more likely that he was born at his parents’ farm in Valley Falls, Kansas, United States. Late in his life, in a letter to the widow of the former Labor MP James Catts, O’Malley wrote “I am an American.” According to O’Malley, his parents were William and Mary O’Malley. He kept it dark because as a US citizen he would not have been eligible for elected office.

O’Malley was educated at a primary school in New York City, and then worked in his uncle’s bank and as an insurance and real estate salesman, traveling widely around the United States. While in Texas O’Malley founded a church, taking the title of “First Bishop of the Waterlily Rock Bound Church, the Red Skin Temple of the Cayuse Nation” in order to take advantage of a government land grant then being offered to churches. In 1881 O’Malley married Rosy Wilmot, who died from tuberculosis shortly before she was due to give birth in 1886. O’Malley found he had contracted the disease from her and in 1888, having been given six months to live, he sailed for Queensland, Australia.  As it happens he lived to be close to 100.

Landing at Port Alma, O’Malley reputedly took up residence in a cave at Emu Park, where he befriended an aborigine, Coowonga, who cared for him until he recovered. Once healthy, O’Malley decided to walk the 2,100 km from Emu Park to Adelaide arriving in 1893. In South Australia he again worked as an itinerant insurance salesman, also preaching evangelical Christianity and temperance.

In 1895 he settled in Gawler, South Australia, and at the 1896 election he was elected as a member for Encounter Bay in the South Australian House of Assembly as a radical democrat, opposed to the wealthy landowners who then dominated colonial politics. Calling himself a follower of Christian Socialism, his most popular platform among conservatives was to rid hotels of barmaids “hired for their physical attributes rather than their prowess in drawing ale”. Although O’Malley was unsuccessful at the time, laws were passed in 1909 to require registration of barmaids, who had to be a member of the owner’s family.

O’Malley’s narrow win in 1896 has been credited to his popularity among religious leaders and conservatives for his extreme puritan views, but it seems his popularity with women voters was a bigger factor. Women were much taken by his appearance and O’Malley’s “oratorial buffoonery” was the popular topic of discussion throughout South Australia. He called hotels “drunkeries”, alcohol was “stagger juice”, opponents were “diabolical rapscallions” and he referred to himself as the “bald headed Eagle from the Rocky Mountains”.

O’Malley was defeated at the 1899 election, and the following year he moved to Tasmania. He drew immediate attention for his public preaching and speaking and was elected in the 1901 federal election (the inaugural national parliamentary election) as a member for Tasmania. In 1903 he was elected as the member for Darwin (Tasmania, not Northern Territory). Although there was no Labour Party in Tasmania at this time, he joined the Labour Party Caucus when the Parliament assembled in Melbourne.

Middle row, third from left.

Gavin Souter describes O’Malley at this time:

O’Malley’s monstrously overgrown persona seemed to be inhabited simultaneously by a spruiker from Barnum’s three-ring circus, a hell-and-tarnation revivalist, and a four-flushing Yankee Congressman. He was a moderately big man, auburn-haired with watchful grey eyes and a red-brown beard, wearing a wide-brimmed felt hat, blue-grey suit with huge lapels and a low-cut vest, loose cravat with a diamond collar stud, and in the centre of his cream silk shirt-front a fiery opal.

O’Malley was one of the more prominent and colorful members of the Parliament, but his radical ideas were not widely accepted, and many regarded him as a charlatan. He became a prominent advocate of a national bank as a means of providing cheap credit for farmers and small businessmen. He was not a member of Chris Watson’s first Labour ministry in 1904, or of Andrew Fisher’s first ministry in 1908. But in April 1910 the Caucus elected him to the ministry of Fisher’s second government. In the same year he married again, to Amy Garrod.

O’Malley became Minister for Home Affairs, and played a prominent role in selecting the site of the future capital of Australia, Canberra. He declared US architect Walter Burley Griffin winner of the town planning competition. Consequently on 20 February 1913 O’Malley had the honor of driving in the first peg marking the start of the development of the city. He was also present at the ceremony for the naming of Canberra on 12 March 1913.

As a teetotaller he was responsible for the highly unpopular ban on alcohol in the Australian Capital Territory. He could also claim credit for beginning the building of the Trans-Australian Railway from Port Augusta to Perth. O’Malley also agitated for the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, a state-owned savings and investment bank although, contrary to his later claims, he was not the bank’s sole creator. He later wrote that he had led a “torpedo squad” in Caucus to force a reluctant Cabinet to establish the bank, but historians do not accept this. Prime Minister Fisher was the bank’s principal architect. Partly to allay fears of “funny money” aroused by O’Malley’s populist rhetoric, Fisher ensured that the bank would be run on firmly “sound money” principles, and the bank as established did not provide the easy credit for farmers that the radicals desired.

O’Malley’s other legacy was the spelling of “Labor” in the Australian Labor Party’s title in the American style. He was a spelling reform enthusiast and persuaded the party that “Labor” was a more “modern” spelling than “Labour”. Although the American spelling has still not become established in Australia, the Labor Party has preserved the spelling.

Labor was defeated at the 1913 federal election, and when it returned to office at the 1914 federal election, O’Malley was not re-elected to the Cabinet. In October 1915, however, Fisher retired and O’Malley returned to office in the first ministry of Billy Hughes, again as Minister for Home Affairs. But a year later the government split over the determination of Hughes to introduce conscription to fill the ranks of Australia’s armed forces in World War I. Although he was not an active anti-conscriptionist, O’Malley was pressured by Hughes to resign his portfolio but he refused to do so. He finally lost office on 13 November 1916 when Hughes and twenty-four other Labor members walked out of the Caucus and formed the National Labor ministry.

Hughes called the 1917 federal election, and O’Malley was heavily defeated in his northern Tasmanian seat of Darwin by former Labor colleague Charles Howroyd, a conscriptionist who was running for Hughes’ Nationalist Party. O’Malley suffered a swing of almost 15 percent, and was one of many Labor figures swept out in that year’s massive Nationalist landslide. He stood unsuccessfully in the seat of Denison in 1919, and in Bass in 1922, but he was never again returned to elected office. Although he was only 63 at the time of his defeat, he retired to Melbourne and devoted his time to building up his own legend, particularly in relation to the Commonwealth Bank, and to polemical journalism on a variety of pet causes. He lived to be 99, outliving his nemesis Hughes by 14 months. At the time of his death he was the last surviving member of the first Australian Parliament and last surviving MP who served when Edmund Barton was Prime Minister. Furthermore, he was the last surviving member of Andrew Fisher’s second Cabinet.

O’Malley’s importance in developing the national capital is remembered in Canberra with the suburb of O’Malley being named after him. A pub in Canberra, King O’Malley’s Irish Pub in Civic, is also named after him – a tongue-in-cheek reference to his sponsorship of the unpopular alcohol ban in the Australian Capital Territory during Canberra’s early years.

I’ve almost run out of Australian cooking ideas because there’s not much to it, even though bush tucker and native plants have seen a resurgence of interest in recent years. Instead I’d like to focus on the Granny Smith apple, a true son of Australian soil – unlike O’Malley. The ‘Granny Smith’ cultivar originated in Eastwood, New South Wales, Australia (now a suburb of Sydney) in 1868. Its discoverer, Maria Ann Smith, had emigrated to the district from Beckley, East Sussex in 1839 with her husband Thomas. They bought a small orchard in the area in 1855-1856 and began cultivating fruit, for which the area was a well known center in colonial Australia. Smith had numerous children and was a prominent figure in the district, earning the nickname “Granny” Smith in her advanced years.

The first description of the origin of the ‘Granny Smith’ apple was not published until 1924. In that year, Farmer and Settler published the account of a local historian who had interviewed two men who had known Smith. One of those interviewed recalled that in 1868 he (then twelve years old) and his father had been invited to Smith’s farm to inspect a chance seedling that had sprung near a creek. Smith had dumped there among the ferns the remains of French crab-apples that had been grown in Tasmania. Another story recounted that Smith had been testing French crab-apples for cooking, and throwing the apple cores out her window as she worked, found that the new cultivar sprang up underneath her kitchen windowsill. Whatever the case, Smith took it upon herself to propagate the new cultivar on her property, finding the apples good for cooking and for general consumption. They looked like cooking apples but they were not tart but sweet and crisp to eat raw as well as being good for cooking. She took a stall at Sydney’s George Street market, where the apples stored well and were immediately popular.

Smith died only a couple of years after her discovery (in 1870), but her work had been noticed by other local planters. Edward Gallard was one such planter, who extensively planted ‘Granny Smith’ trees on his property and bought the Smith farm when Thomas died in 1876. Gallard was successful in marketing the apple locally, but it did not receive widespread attention until 1890. In that year, it was exhibited as “Smith’s Seedling” at the Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show, and the following year it won the prize for cooking apples under the name “Granny Smith’s Seedling”. The apple was successful and the following year many were exhibiting ‘Granny Smith’ apples at horticultural shows. Thenceforth the Granny Smith was promoted and became a worldwide standard. Granny Smiths are easily obtainable here in Mantua where I use them for apple crumble and apple pie. You can search my recipes here or use your own favorite apple recipe.

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