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Bedford, George Randolph (1868–1941)

by Rodney G. Boland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

George Randolph Bedford (1868-1941), by unknown photographer, 1940

George Randolph Bedford (1868-1941), by unknown photographer, 1940

National Archives of Australia, SP1558/2:NN

George Randolph Bedford (1868-1941), journalist, mining speculator and politician, was born on 27 June 1868 at Camperdown, Sydney, sixth surviving child of Alfred Bedford, miniaturist, and his wife Elizabeth, née Wilcox. His father had migrated to Sydney from Yorkshire about 1859 and, to feed his family, had been forced into house-painting. Educated at Newtown Public School, Randolph at 14 found work as an office-boy with a firm of Sydney solicitors. Two years and several jobs later, he humped his swag across the western plains of New South Wales, earning 6d. a rabbit-skull and carrying copies of Carlyle's French Revolution, Shakespeare and the Bible. He spent a year in Hay as a clerk, then in Wagga Wagga joined Edmund Duggan's struggling repertory company and enjoyed 'the merriest and most irresponsible time I ever knew'.

At Albury Bedford read the Bulletin for the first time and 'thereby entered a new world'. Diverse jobs included four months as a clerk on a Murray River paddle-steamer. After working on a newspaper at Bourke, he was writing for the Broken Hill Argus by 1888 and was captured by the excitement of the mining-boom. He modelled his style on the Bulletin's and began to contribute. He worked briefly on the Adelaide Advertiser, then moved to Melbourne where he was employed by the Age for about two years. At Fitzroy on 14 February 1889, with the rites of the Free Church of England, he married Mary Henrietta Arrowsmith (d.1953), a vivacious strong-willed actress. In 1892 he briefly owned the Toora and Welshpool Pioneer, a small Gippsland newspaper.

Bedford survived the depression as a freelance journalist and in 1896 in Melbourne he launched his mining and literary journal, the Clarion; it was illustrated and part-edited by (Sir) Lionel Lindsay who became Bedford's lifelong friend. A militant Australian nationalist, he advocated republicanism, 'White Australia', vigilance against the Japanese, a parochial form of socialism, and a military alliance with the United States of America. The journal was supported with advertising from Lionel Robinson and later by the colonial governments in special numbers. The Clarion's notable contributors included A. G. Stephens, Louis Esson, Ambrose and Will Dyson, and Norman and Percy Lindsay. With the Lindsays and Dysons, Bedford was a founder of the Bohemian Ishmael Club.

Having launched the Clarion, Bedford visited the mines at Zeehan and Mount Lyell, Tasmania, and spent a year or more following gold in Western Australia where, through his habit of 'grub-staking' prospectors, he promoted at considerable reward the deep alluvial goldfield at White Feather (Kanowna); he was then at Chillagoe and Mount Garnet in North Queensland off and on for a year. Between visits to mining fields, he was defeated as a Liberal for the Victorian Legislative Assembly seats of Eastern Suburbs in 1897 and Bourke West in 1900. He did not join the Labor Party until after Federation, but he always sympathized with Labor, partly because it was the 'only Australian party'.

In 1901-04 Bedford took his wife and family to England and thence to Italy. His first novel, True Eyes and the Whirlwind, was published in London in 1903, and another, The Snare of Strength, appeared in 1905; both were largely autobiographical. His Bulletin travel-notes were later published as Explorations in Civilization (1914). After returning to Australia, Bedford visited New Guinea in July 1905 and severely criticized the delays in dealing with applications for land; after the findings of the 1906-07 royal commission on Papua, he took up 10,000 acres (4047 ha) at Milne Bay in 1908, but did not develop it. Meanwhile in 1906 he had been involved in mining syndicates on the Seymour and Leichhardt rivers, and near Cloncurry, in North Queensland. Later that year, after failing to get Protectionist endorsement, he unsuccessfully contested Cook for Labor in the House of Representatives elections.

An incurable optimist, 'Randolph the Reckless' dreamt up a 'fourteen-million acre' cattle scheme in the Northern Territory but, as he himself said, 'no man could have had better chances or messed them up more by attempting out of mere exuberance of strength to do too much'. He got into financial difficulties: the Clarion failed in 1909 and in 1914 he had trouble paying the fees due on his remaining Northern Territory grazing licences. Meanwhile, between visits to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, China, Japan, Europe and the United States of America, he wrote his play, White Australia, or the Empty North, staged in Melbourne in 1909; he contributed articles in 1910-12 to the Lone Hand on mining, shipping and the potentialities of the Mount Kosciusko area, and also wrote short stories for the Bulletin and another novel.

By 1912 Bedford and his wife had separated, and about 1915 he settled in Brisbane with Ada Billings, who bore him a daughter. In 1915-16, in the columns of the Brisbane Worker, he bitterly opposed conscription. He wrote two more novels and in 1918-22 he spasmodically produced the trade journal, Australasian Timberman and Ironmaster.

A friend of E. G. Theodore, in 1917 Bedford had been nominated to the Queensland Legislative Council, pledged to its abolition. Next year he resigned to contest the Legislative Assembly seat of Carnarvon, lost, and was reappointed to the council, which was abolished in 1922. He won a by-election for Warrego, the Australian Workers' Union stronghold, in 1923 and held it until 1941; he resigned it in 1937 to contest unsuccessfully the Federal seat of Maranoa, but re-won Warrego. A formidable debater and master of caustic repartee, he was impatient with parliamentary formalities and rebellious against party discipline, so was never elected to cabinet. In 1921 he visited the United States on a publicity campaign for the Queensland government.

Politics did not prevent Bedford speculating in mining; he lost heavily in tin-mining in the Federated Malay States and searching for oil near Roma, Queensland. In 1924, with John Wren, he floated the Mount Isa Proprietary Silver-Lead No Liability Co.; its profitable sale for £125,000 was attacked in the Queensland parliament in 1929. In 1931 he was one of the first at the Cracow goldfield; as a director of the Golden Mile Cracow (No Liability) Co., he unsuccessfully sued the Brisbane Telegraph for £20,000 damages for publishing a letter criticizing the administration of the company, and on appeal was awarded negligible damages. In 1935 he was saddened by the death of his daughter Vera, a noted opera-singer and composer.

Resonant if sometimes rough in voice, Bedford broadcast intermittently in the 1930s, and in 1939-41 made three series of talks for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. A prolific author, he also penned verse, sometimes reputedly published under the pseudonym 'Martin Luther', and words for patriotic songs. He wrote at a furious pace, mostly without pause or reflection, and usually refused to revise his work; he excelled as a descriptive writer and was never dull. One of his short stories, 'Fourteen fathoms by Quetta Rock', was republished in standard anthologies. His writings reflect his adventurous spirit, romantic idealism and passionate love of Australia. With piercing blue eyes, hawk-nose and blond moustache, Bedford 'seldom removed his great slouch hat' because of his bald head. Warm-hearted and generous to a fault, he had an enormous sense of humour and was reputed to be able to out-drink any man in Queensland. To Vance Palmer 'there was no finer raconteur', but on occasions he could be coarse and devastatingly rude.

Bedford died on 7 July 1941 of coronary thrombosis in the Lister (later the Holy Spirit) Hospital, Brisbane, which he had planned, built and owned. He was survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, and by Ada Bedford and their daughter. His estate was insolvent, with its largest debt of nearly £2000 owing to John Wren. Bedford's autobiography, Naught to Thirty-Three, was published posthumously in 1944.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, Mines in the Spinifex (Syd, 1960)
  • C. Lack (ed), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • N. Lindsay, Bohemians of the Bulletin (Syd, 1965)
  • L. A. Lindsay, Comedy of Life (Syd, 1967)
  • R. Lindsay, Model Wife (Syd, 1967)
  • Overland, no 26, 1963
  • Bulletin, 12 Feb 1894, 4 Jan 1912
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 30 Oct 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 June 1924, 26 Oct 1929, 18 Nov 1933, 9 Feb, 28 July 1934, 6 Feb, 30, 31 May 1935
  • Bedford papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • A1 and A3 series lists (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Rodney G. Boland, 'Bedford, George Randolph (1868–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bedford-george-randolph-5181/text8709, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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