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Collins, Thomas Joseph (Tom) (1884–1945)

by H. M. Boot

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Thomas Joseph (Tom) Collins (1884-1945), politician and stock and station agent, was born on 6 April 1884 at Yass, New South Wales, eighth child of John Collins, storekeeper, and his wife Mary, née Hartigan, both Irish born. Educated at a local Catholic school, in 1902 Tom enlisted in the 5th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, to fight in the South African War. The unit embarked in May, but hostilities ended before its arrival and he was back in Australia by August.

About 1906 Collins went to Young where he worked in the office of C. H. Ellerman & Co., stock and station agents. In February 1911 he started his own agency with a capital of £7. The business prospered. By the mid-1920s his firm, Collins, Ellerman & Co., was one of the largest stock and property businesses in the State, with connexions in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. He also operated various sheep- and cattle-runs. Collins had married Ruby Violet Summerhayes with Catholic rites on 17 February 1914 in her father's house at Young; Blair Athol, a nearby property, was to be their home for many years.

Long interested in politics, he had contested the Federal seat of Newcastle in 1913 and was a close associate of Charles Hardy, leader of the Riverina Movement. In the elections of December 1931 Collins defeated Parker John Moloney (Australian Labor Party) for the seat of Hume and entered the House of Representatives as a Country Party member. Although Collins could be an entertaining orator, he was never an important parliamentary performer. His speeches were mainly on rural issues, such as postal and telecommunications services to country regions, and on the development of the Northern Territory, which he visited in 1935. A tactful presiding officer, he served as a temporary chairman (1934-40) and deputy-chairman (1940) of committees. He was, as well, a member (1937-40) of the joint standing committee on public works.

Collins was involved in the conflict between (Sir) Robert Menzies and Sir Earle Page over the leadership of the United Australia Party-Country Party coalition, following the death of Joe Lyons on 7 April 1939. To prevent Menzies from becoming prime minister, Page tried to exploit divisions within the U.A.P. On 19 April Collins heightened speculation about Page's intentions by a radio broadcast in which he praised the accomplishments of Page, a man who had been 'five times Acting Prime Minister'. Next day Page attacked Menzies in parliament, dismaying his own supporters and causing (Sir) Arthur Fadden and Bernard Corser to resign from the Country Party. Collins, too, dissociated himself from Page's comments. A few days later he and Oliver Badman announced that they would not attend meetings of the parliamentary party while Page remained leader.

On 26 April 1939 Menzies formed a U.A.P. ministry. Page resigned in September as leader of the Country Party. In the election to choose his successor, Collins and his three breakaway colleagues were not permitted to vote. As a result, Page's supporter Archie Cameron became leader, prolonging the breach with Menzies and the division within the Country Party. Collins and the others returned to the party in November, but the coalition was not restored until 14 March 1940. When Menzies reconstructed his government in October, he made Collins minister assisting the prime minister (dealing with external territories) and minister assisting the minister for the interior. On 26 June 1941 Collins was appointed postmaster-general and held office until Labor took power on 7 October. He lost his seat in the 1943 general elections.

In his home town Collins was known for his charitable outlook, gifts as an entertainer, skill as a judge and breeder of livestock, and support of football, cricket, tennis and polo. He considered again standing for parliament, but died suddenly of coronary sclerosis on 15 April 1945 at Young and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Hasluck, The Government and the People 1939-1941 (Canb, 1952)
  • U. Ellis, A History of the Australian Country Party (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 July 1934, 24, 25 Apr, 6 May, 15 Nov 1939, 19 Aug 1940
  • Canberra Times, 19-21, 28, 29 Apr, 4, 5 May 1939, 17, 20 Apr 1945
  • Age (Melbourne), 22 Apr, 5, 6 May 1939
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sept 1939, 17, 20 Apr 1945
  • Young Witness, 17 Apr 1945.

Citation details

H. M. Boot, 'Collins, Thomas Joseph (Tom) (1884–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-thomas-joseph-tom-9794/text17311, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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